Meeting the Jimjildong

For all their social conservatism, Koreans are not afraid to let their nipples and pubes hang out, so long as they’re in a bathhouse. At the jimjilbang (pronounced chim-chil-bong), men and women of every age strip down to their skivvies to soak in the gender segregated bathhouses. Massages and body scrubs can be added to your stay, for small fee; which, considering the 10,000₩ ($10) entrance fee, is a small price to pay for a luxurious day lounging and steaming. We’ve never been to the jimjilbang (yet!), but I really want to go. Marta, on the other hand, is too shy to expose herself. Come on, girl! Let’s get nekkid!!

Anyway, all of this is just to give you some context for my real story today. So, orientation week, you end up meeting a bazillion people from all over the country, some fresh off the plane from Canada or South Africa or where have you, and the majority of them like us: teachers that have been here for a month or more sans orientation. You hear so many names and places of origin that eventually all you can remember about a person is their face, and, thanks to a clever ice breaker activity organized by the EPIK team, some personality quirk or memorable detail.

The activity worked like this: everyone lined up into two concentric circles (or squares, since we were in the auditorium). Each person faced another for a “speed date.” You had one minute to answer the question or prompt announced by the MC, and when the bell rang, the outer ring of people shifted one spot and initiated the next speed date. It was a fabulous way to meet a huge number of people in a small amount of time.

So I met a couple of people in this fashion, answering questions like, “What’s the best piece of advice you’ve gotten in Korea?” and “What’s your favorite thing about teaching so far?” Eventually I came up with this tall black guy, who, and I mean this in the least racist way possible, looked kind of like Jay Z. It was the face, I swear!

We meet and exchange names, ask the standard “Where are you from” questions, when the bell rings and the announcer asks, “What was your most interesting experience at a jimjilbang?”

“I’ve never been to the jimjilbang,” I confessed, “So you’ll have to take this one haha.”

This guy thought for a short second and said, “I’ve only been to the jimjilbang one time. I mean, when I walk in to a place it’s kind of hard to blend in, know what I mean?”

He pointed to his obvious blackness, and I laughed and said, “Actually no, luckily I’ve never had to deal with being stared at or noticed. I’m undercover!”

“Oh lucky!” he said, the usual response I’ve been getting about that. I almost feel bad about bringing it up. Continuing his story, he said, “So when I went to the jimjilbang, I stuck out a LOT. So when I came in they all immediately turned to stare, and when I dropped my towel they were like WHAAAAA?!” He bulged his eyes and stared between my legs and holding his hands out for emphasis. “They stared the whole time! Oh man, it was so embarrassing.”

Just then the bell rang and he shuffled over to the next person.

“Nice meeting you Andrea!” he said.

“Nice meeting you too,  uh…” Shit, I totally forgot his name.

It was only as I stared after him, trying to see his nametag (I never saw it again) that I realized that for his one and only ice breaking detail, he decided to tell me that he had a huge dong.


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