A friend of mine on Facebook asked that question, and then she tagged me so I would answer it, and when I was answering it, I thought it would make an interesting blog. To begin with, everyone probably knows that all foreigners struggle with food in Korea, but there are Korean foods that are good and worth eating, so as long as they let me pick the food I like or that won’t hurt my stomach, I have adapted to the food. One thing I have never been able to adapt to is also in Japan, and none of the American girls in our group could handle it in Japan either: the public baths. The other thing I can’t adapt to is only in Korea and also have public baths in them, but are more than a public bath: the shinchil bangs.
When we first got to Japan, we were in Japanese apartments chosen by our school. However, there were no showers or bath tubs in those bathrooms, and the toilets in the bathrooms were like indoor outhouses. They didn’t flush, but someone came by and just cleaned them out occasionally. We were supposed to go across the street to the public baths to take a bath, but we refused. The missionaries opened their homes so we could take private showers at their houses. That is when the school changed our accommodations because they could see we would never adapt to having to use the public baths. We also traveled in the school group and stayed in Youth Hostels, and in the Youth Hostels, the only baths were the public baths. At least they separate the men and women in the public baths, but all the American girls were embarrassed at having to take all their clothes off and bathe in front of other women. We just were not going to get used to it. Americans just can’t feel as free with their bodies as orientals.
Here in Korea, they also have the public baths, and the men and women are in different rooms. If I go swimming, I can’t hardly take the locker rooms because they are just the same. In the swimming pool area, everyone wears bathing suits, however, in the locker rooms, they are just like the locker rooms of the shinchil bangs (the public baths and big room that would have no name in English, but I will describe.) In the locker rooms in these places, the women walk around without a stitch of clothes on and don’t even wrap a towel around themselves. They don’t sell big towels here like we have in America. All their towels are the size of a dish towel, so they just don’t bother to wrap a towel around themselves, but walk around naked in these places. The women even stand in front of the mirrors completely nude fixing their hair. It is shocking to see, and I will never adapt to their locker rooms.
In the shinchil bangs and some of the swimming pool locker rooms, they also have a hot tub. The women get in the hot tub without a stitch of clothes and all sit there in a group. They think it is a big party. I refused to take my clothes off and get in. A friend of mine from Europe got in wearing her bathing suit, and they made her get out. They told her unless she took her bathing suit off, she wasn’t allowed in. I have a Korean friend from church who says she goes to shinchil bangs all the time with her mom just for a good time, and she wanted my daughter and I to go with her and her mother on her birthday, but my daughter and I can’t take those places. We don’t understand how they can be so free with their bodies.
In the shinchil bangs, they give you a pajama type outfit to wear that looks like everyone else’s. You get a locker, and you leave your clothes, purse, whatever you have, in the locker. When you leave the locker room, you are supposed to wear these pajama type clothes. However, those pajama type things never fit me right because I am not made like a Korean. I am too tall and broad to wear the women’s pajamas, so they tried to give me the man’s pajamas, and they don’t fit right either. After you get flashed by a million women in the locker room and dress in their non fitting uncomfortable clothes, then they lead you into a big room with a hard wood floor and no furniture where both men and women go.
In that big room, everyone sits or lays on the floor. There is a big juice bar, so you can drink juice while you are there. In some, there is also exercise equipment. My daughter and I went and stayed just a few minutes and left because we had had enough. We didn’t know where the Korean lady was taking us. She called it a resort, but it is nothing like a resort I have ever been to. The people go into the shinchil bangs and sleep on the hard floor without blankets or pillow all night. Both men and women are in the same room, and you don’t now most of the people in the room. To begin with, I have been forced at times here in Korea to sleep on the hard floor without a mattress, and many of them do it at home, but my body just won’t take it. I have been on school retreats where they put me in a room where I had to sleep down on the floor with no mattress, so afterward, I bought myself an air mattress to take with me if I ever go on a retreat. When I wake up after sleeping on the hard floor without a mattress, everything is out of place, and I am a wreck. Besides me not being able to sleep on a hard floor, I can’t imagine sleeping in a big room with strangers like they do at the shinchil bang, especially strange men. I have been invited on more than one occasion to sleep in a shinchil bang, and I just refuse. I have never slept in a shinchil bang, and after my introduction to them, I will never go back. For the Koreans, it is one big party, but it isn’t for me.
There you have it. That is what I will never adapt to in Korea. Yes, I can’t eat some of the food, but I can eat some of it. What I can’t take is the naked people in the locker rooms and hot tubs and sleeping on a hard floor in a big room with lots of strangers. I love Korea, but that is just part of Korea I stay away from. I love Japan too, but those public baths were hard in Japan too. They tell you it will be fine because the men and women are separated into different rooms, but it will never be fine for me even if there are only women in the room to take all my clothes and parade around like they do. If it didn’t hurt me, I would be fine with sleeping on a hard floor like the Koreans do, but I need a mattress because my body rebels if I don’t have one. The Japanese sleep in the floor, but not on a hard floor. They sleep on a couple of mattresses on a straw mat, but the Koreans sleep right down on a hard concrete or hard wood floor and like it. They even sell beds that don’t have mattresses and have just a hard slab for you to sleep on and they fix it so those hard slabs can be heated. These are the things that I will never adapt to in Korea.