I met June in Thailand two years ago. She just so happened to be Korean and the kindest person on the planet. So when I arrived here in August, her family spoiled me with gracious hospitality for my first few days. June helped me move into my apartment and even accompanied me on my first grocery store run. This is where it all began. Where I started to change. More specifically, it was when my dear friend convinced me not only to buy sunscreen, but to also wear the sunscreen.
There must be something in the Korean air that encourages people to do crazy things like this, because the next week I was back at the store buying face lotion. I know it’s sad, but I am a changed person, my friends. Here’s how:
- I’m a Jimjilbanger
Jim-jil-bangs, or more precisely, a Korean tradition that invites everyone to get naked and take baths together.
I wasn’t convinced right away either, but fast-forward four months after landing in this country, and I am a proud Jimjilbang enthusiast.
For $5-$10 you strip down to your birthday suit in gender segregated rooms full of showers and herbal baths. The first step is washing off your grossness in the communal showers, then you hop from bath to bath to soak in their various health benefits. I like to relax in these for a while and watch the ajumas forcefully scrub (more like skin) each other’s bare bodies. When you get tired of all the nudity, you get dressed and move to the co-ed room. Now you hop from sauna to sauna and sweat till you can’t sweat no mo’. You can also get a massage, play ping-pong, order food, get your nails and eyebrows done, or get so relaxed you pass out. In fact, many people who travel through Korea actually use jimjilbangs as cheap accommodation. Koreans typically make it a family affair, detoxing and bonding while sitting in each other’s sweaty soup. The last step is showering off again and going on your merry way.
I know it doesn’t sound like heaven, and I don’t exactly know how health beneficial it is since all the information is in Korean, but I kid you not, I leave sweat palace on cloud 9 every time. It’s a strange, awkward, maybe not-so-sanitary experience, but it leaves you feeling euphoric for a few days after, and that’s enough for me.
- I go to the doctor
A few weeks into my life in Korea, I got sick. In the states, the doc’s office is a place many of us avoid, because we hate the hassle, the money, etc. So instead we resort to the fool-proof method of pretending not to be miserable for a few days, hoping we don’t get worse, getting worse, and then having no other choice but to walk our pathetic butts into urgent care. In Korea, people put going to the “hospital” on their weekly to-do list. So when I got sick I was told to do the same. But of course I didn’t. Well, working with gross, unsanitary, screaming kids all week and having no sick days changes the ball game. SO, I found myself playing charades with a non-English speaking man trying to understand my symptoms. I actually made it to the hospital.
And I can’t wait to go back. It was the easiest, quickest, cheapest visit of my life. I got a prescription then and there and was out the door!
- I’m a scarf-wearer
The definition of a scarf according to Google: a length of fabric worn around the neck or head. What Google doesn’t tell us is that scarves can actually keep us healthy! In addition to learning that a doctor can make you better, I also learned that scarves are not only worn for fashion. My Korean co-worker, Annie, told me to wear a scarf while I was sick. I ignored her. But when she brought it up a few more times, I finally asked why. Apparently, scarves protect your throat from the air and wind, which lowers the chances of it getting inflamed, sore and itchy. SAY WHAT! How can something you wear on the outside of your body, affect the inner parts of your body. I was skeptical, but for the next week I wore a scarf and in no time I was back to yelling at the kids without the pain:)
- I eat everything I’m told
If you ever eat with a Korean, get ready for some knowledge overload. It’s very common for them to tell you all the health benefits/consequences of whatever it is you are stuffing your face with. Every day at work, Annie tells me why I should eat the unappealing soup served with lunch. After learning that it’s good for my memory, or my skin or that it may make me live longer, I usually find myself forcing down a helping of it.
I’ve also learned that pomegranates supposedly make your boobs bigger. Those may have been added to my diet as well…
- I exercise everywhere
Even if you hate exercising Korea will probably guilt you into doing it a few times, because you can find more of these little outdoors gyms than Starbucks. I’m not kidding, they are everywhere; Even on top of mountains in case you don’t get enough of a workout climbing the damn thing.
It’s safe to assume that Korea is an incredibly health-conscious country, and it rubs off. Change is a part of life, so I guess I have no choice but to accept this new person I have become. However, I haven’t started brushing my hair yet, so this place still has some work to do on me.