I hesitate to describe it because I'm not sure I can do it justice. We got there and put our shoes in one locker and traded the key to get a key for another locker. They gave us these uniforms to wear (blue for boys, pink for girls - think gym class uniforms) and after we changed we were led out to this open area that must be someone's idea of utopia. Men and women in uniforms were sitting around, chatting. Little children in yellow uniforms were playing. There were raised platforms under which there were little elongated indents where you can sleep while wrapped in hot sauna heat. All along the walls are different rooms, starting with what I would like to call 'the Oven' which looked so much like an actual oven that I was a little nervous about getting stuck in there.
Next they had the 'jewel room' which was a sauna with mosaics on the wall. Then the 'salt room' which had big blocks of salt in its natural form - pink - lying around. The floor was made entirely of salt. Then there was the 'charcoal room'. Charcoal being an great way to get toxins out of your body. Intermixed with these was a foot bath room, a dozen other saunas, a restaurant and a cafe. There was even a nore-bang (Korean Karaoke) that was also a sauna.
We went from room to room, soaking in the heat (or in the case of the ice room, soaking in the cold) and the minerals floating through the air. We have officialy found the place we are going to spend our Friday nights. No binge drinking for these twenty-somethings. Nope. Nothing but pure sweat lodge.
And you know how much it cost us? Try and calculate, if you can, how much something like this would cost in the states. Unlimited use of different saunas, a pool, an exercise room, showers, beds, lockers, clothing, towels, and even water in a clean, modern facility open 24 hours a day? Can you count all those zeros? In Korea it cost us 7,000 won. Less than $7.00 USD.
We are in the process of planning a sleep over at the sauna. Apparently its common to come and sleep there overnight. We're going to nore-bang until we can't sing anymore and then get some beers and wait around until we feel like singing some more. Tonight, we stayed there until 1 am before we realized how late it was.
Stephanie and Ryan's boss, Ji-he, took us all and showed us around. Which must have been weird for them. Especially when it was time to get naked. Along with their lack of personal boundaries, Koreans also have a lack of self consciousness when it comes to being naked. Of course, the men and women were separated so it shouldn't have been such a big deal. But it was. Have you ever walked through a room full of strangers in your all together? I haven't since I was old enough that streaking was no longer considered cute. Add to it the fact that we are way-gooks ('foreigners') and you've got yourself a recipe for uncomfortableness.
It was awkward but we chose to see it as a bonding experience. And a growing experience. And a I'm-going-to-start-working-out-more experience.