At least I didn’t have the chubby, possibly drunk Korean man constantly rolling over onto my feet or face depending on which direction I was facing at the time. But, I did end up losing my sleeping mat at 4 a.m., possibly to a pair of giggling girls.
Last weekend, a group of us traveled from Busan to Gwangju to explore the sixth-largest city in South Korea and hike to several peaks in Naejangsan National Park, a beautiful place.
Ideally, we would have been well-rested for the hike on Sunday. Unfortunately, the Star Box jimjilbang said “no.”
To be fair, it wasn’t Star Box (which sounds conveniently like a popular international coffee chain. Intentional?), per se, that made this first (and likely only) time I have slept at a jimjilbang a sleep-deprived, somewhat annoying, but nonetheless unique experience. Though, you could argue that, when the gaggle of drunk 20-something Koreans came in at about 1 a.m., the management should have told them to STFU or GTFO. But, I’m not Korean, and I hadn’t slept at a jimjilbang before. I’m not hip to the social mores of jimjilbang living.
We couldn’t argue with the price. 7,000 won (roughly $7) each got us all the time we wanted in the baths, hot and cold rooms and a place to pass out, whether that was in the main area (where most of the drunk 20-somethings also ended up being) or in these cave-live cubby holes nearby (which echoed the sound of the drunk 20-somethings around its narrow, circular walls), or in the dark room, where hard pallets sat side-by-side-by-side for segregated men and women to sleep in hopefully more calmer conditions. Given last weekend’s high humidity, however, without direct cooling, these stagnant rooms resulted in stale sweat, forcing me out to the cubby and then, when I was sweating there as well, to the main area.
I laid my mat and foam pillow down and attempted to fall asleep. The massive air con blew cool air in my direction, so temperature was no longer an issue. But, several chatty drunks continued being chatty, including a pair of girls one of our hiking group’s members later said kept telling him about Jesus.
Somewhere between the God Girls and the rest, I fell into a fitful doze. I may have been asleep for an hour or 10 minutes. But sometime at about 3 a.m., the room finally quiet, I opened my eyes and turned over.
Two of my friends, Alex and De Anne, also were stirring and looking pissed, as a somewhat large, probably drunk Korean male was rolling onto their mats. He himself had no mat or pillow, but it didn’t seem to matter. The ladies later said they had kicked him several times, including in the face. But it did not seem to deter our Korean Cassanova from trying to cozy up to a few fine foreigners…
I went to the bathroom and then to the cold room, which was at about freezing, to see if that somehow would be comfortable enough to sleep in. Whereas earlier I had said I possibly could sleep in there, by this point my body temperature had dropped to the point where I was beginning to shiver almost immediately, and quickly walked back out to the main room.
I passed a pair of girls, sleeping mats in hand, as they headed to the female dark room. They giggled. At the time, I didn’t think about it (Korean girls giggle all the time, it seems), But, I soon thought it must have been because they realized I was the person whose sleeping mat they had just swiped, and they were going to get away with it.
Giving up for the moment, I went back upstairs to take another shower and soak. When I began nodding off in the mild pool, arms floating as a pair of Korean men washed their balls nearby, I knew it was time to go back downstairs and give sleeping in a jimjilbang (now without even a vinyl mat and pillow to aid me) another try. I bought two hard-boiled eggs, walked past the bench outside the shower where another man was passed out (I assume because the thought of going down stairs to the main area at the time was too much) and ate them in the hallway, tossing the shells out the window to the ground several stories below. Then I headed back inside.
Surprisingly, sleep did come, eventually. It was a little after 5 a.m. by the time I first dozed off, head propped on one forearm, then the other. I must have dozed and woke about three times before our group roused itself shortly after 7 a.m. to clean up, pack up and head for the 8 a.m. bus to the park.
The six-hour hike, up four peaks, in the heat and humidity of summer in Korea went very well. This, especially considering how little sleep I (and, I imagine, any others not in an alcoholic stupor) got the night before. Is that a ringing endorsement of spending another night in a jimjilbang?
Hell. No. It’s a unique experience, one I am pretty sure I could not have back home in the U.S. (even at a Korean spa, where I am sure there are more western standards, such as time limits). But next time, I’ll just drop the extra 20,000 won or so and stay at a Love Motel. I suggest you do the same. Unless, you’re drunk. Then, it’s the best deal in town.