A Korean Bathhouse Experience
By Ania Trzecieski
Ulsan, South Korea — I’d been to a bathhouse twice before.
I just wash, shave my legs, (as my apt is too cold) and I settle into one of the two hot tubs to enjoy the heat and the experience. The Korean women spend vast amounts of time meticulously scrubbing every part of their bodies.
I’ve seen women get massages from the “agimas” (older ladies who work there). My body had been sore lately because of my Hapkido classes so today I decided I would check out the massage thing.
I lay naked on the padded table surrounded by steam and naked bathing Korean women. I could hear the steady babble of Korean with the occasional child’s scream when he or she got some soap in their eyes. The agima came and gave me a face scrub; she then applied some grape scented oil to my face followed by beaten egg whites.
Mud and Grated Cucumber
After carefully removing this mask and cleaning my face, neck, and deep inside my ears she applied mud and grated cucumber mask. She smiled understandingly when I flinched, as it was quite cold. She mumbled something in Korean and began to clean me – scrub me.
I’ve never been scrubbed so thoroughly before. I shower daily, of course, I wash with soap, but she insisted on how dirty I was. She scrubbed my front, she asked me to turn on one side and then the other, and she scrubbed the same limbs over again from different angles, at last she scrubbed my back.
But the scrubbing was not finished, she turned me on my back again and once more proceeded to scrub my front and my feet and my ankles and my knees and, well you get the picture. The agima was sweating in the saunic environment as she labored to exfoliate every pore on my body.
I guess Korean women routinely scrub their bodies so vigorously! I felt like every crevice of my body was being scrubbed and cleaned. And the thing is that before I came for the massage, I had bathed! When she was satisfied, she directed me to the shower.
Pounding and Thumping
Upon my return to the padded table, my massage started. She covered my body with the grape scented oil and the beaten egg whites. She pounded and thumped my muscles. There was hardly any kneading involved, as people from the west would normally expect in a massage.
There was thumping and pounding and audible but painless slapping. Lastly, the agima opened a cup of blueberry yogurt and smoothed it over my body, her hands running over and over my skin. It smelt and felt great. She finished and directed me to the shower once more. My massage was over and my body glistened. I don’t think my body has ever been so clean before.
The bathhouses are one of my favorite things about South Korea. The entire experience lasted an hour and cost about $US 30.