Saunas…scrubbing, splashing and soaking naked

In our small town, there is a large sauna. You pay 4000W (less than $4) for entry and a few towels. Bring your own shampoo, soap, plastic bucket to hold them, and a scrubbie. (We didn’t know to bring them so were loaned these items. Apparently, this would be like going swimming but not bringing a swimming suit. We were the only ones this didn’t occur to.)

Walk into the first room where you take off and leave your shoes in a small locker. Grab the key bracelet and proceed to the locker room. Here, take off all your clothes, lock your locker and bring one of the little towels. Wearing only the key bracelet, head to the women-only sauna area with your toiletries (I was going to say ‘cleaning supplies)’.

You can rinse off at the standing showers first, but most of your pre-bath cleaning is done at the sit-down area. Here you sit on a plastic stool. Spray it off before you plop down. Then use soap and scrubbie and the showerhead at each station to clean yourself off. Shampoo your hair there too. If you’re with a friend, it’s common to scrub each other’s back. While this sounds odd, it feel pretty natural to do so here.

Then take your pick of temperatures, sizes of pools: very hot, mildly hot, cool, with whirpool seats, or the small ‘swimming’ area. This is long enough to swim 10-15 strokes of breaststroke and deep enough (almost 3′) to make it pleasant for swimming or walking. Take a turn in the steam room, where you can rest your head on a wooden block that has a head-size niche in it. Or head to the dry sauna. Repeat.

Soak quietly near the old ladies, or frolic in the largest area with the little girls. (The girls were the same ages as our students. We wondered, would be strange if they were? I think the answer is, that it wouldn’t be strange to them, so really, no!)

When you’re ready to leave, stop at the scrubbing stations again and wash or rinse off, then head into the dressing room, where combs and hair dryers are available for common use.

Feel great! The community sauna was born of necessity here since most Korean homes don’t have tubs. But, more than that, it’s a lovely part of Korean culture.

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