From the October 2015 issue of The Rotarian
When you travel to Seoul for the 2016 Rotary International Convention, 28 May to 1 June, few experiences will bring you closer to the local culture than a visit to a Korean spa, called a jjimjilbang. But don’t expect plush bathrobes and dim rooms filled with candles. This is an entirely different kind of relaxation.
You will be required to undress completely and shower before you enter the gender-segregated baths, where you’ll find a number of pools for taking calming dips. You can get a massage, which here means an intense scrubbing over every inch of your skin with something akin to a Brillo pad.
Once you are bathed and buffed, the spa provides you with a clean T-shirt and shorts, and you can enter the mixed-gender part of the spa. Standard in most jjimjilbangs are assorted sauna rooms that use different natural elements, such as salt, charcoal, or amethyst – all believed to have healthful effects.
You’ll also find communal areas to relax, watch TV, or play games. Some jjimjilbangs are resort-like, with movie theaters, salons, and karaoke rooms. The menus are generally healthy but hearty, with a variety of rice, noodle, and soup dishes. Eggs that are baked in the sauna are a staple.
Families spend the day at the spa. Couples go on dates. Friends meet to catch up. Visiting the jjimjilbang is a habit that is deeply embedded in Korean life.
Register for the 2016 Rotary convention in Seoul at www.riconvention.org.