Braving the Public Bathhouse: Some Tips 

Today is Day 4 living without running water.

(Why? It froze. In some pipes under a bunch of cement.) Needless to say, it’s been interesting. I never appreciated water so much. While flushing the toilet manually has been fun and all, the most interesting experience by far has been going to the public bathhouse down the street to shower.

Here are some tips, in case you, too, find yourself braving the neighborhood bathhouse:

1. Avoiding eye contact with people makes it easier to pretend they aren’t there.

So if you’ve never been to a public bathhouse in Korea, let me paint a quick picture for you: it’s a big room full of naked strangers who are bathing.

No individual stalls. Nothing to hide behind. No self-consciousness whatsoever. No shame about staring at foreigners.

For me, shower time is me time. It’s not an experience meant to be shared with strangers. But despite a crowded, echoing room and blatant stares, privacy can still be simulated. It’s called using your imagination. Avoiding eye contact is key. Humming can also be helpful. And if you’re legally blind like me, then removing your glasses can also help, because you literally will not be able to see anyone else in the room.

2. Keep all your supplies inside a shower bucket (or plastic bag) of some kind.

That way no old ladies will get confused and start using your body wash. Or claim they got confused and start using your body wash.

3. Be prepared to defend the rights to your shower.

Today an older woman came up to me as I was between the body wash and conditioner steps of my routine. The spigot was technically off, but I was legitimately confused when she tried to take over my shower. Older people are generally used to getting their way in this country, but really? While we’re naked and everything? (Also, there was an unoccupied spigot a few feet away, so it really didn’t make any sense.)

Fortunately, I get to play the foreigner card. And I’m a pro at communicating with body language. So I non-verbally said: I really don’t understand what you’re saying, but no, I’m not finished.

When I was actually done, some girl promptly slid into my spot, a toothbrush hanging out of her mouth. I tried not to think about how long she had been standing there watching me, waiting for me to move.

4. Don’t worry too much about getting your money’s worth.

Usually I’m all about squeezing a dollar for all it’s worth, but in this case, I must admit that I didn’t take advantage of all the amenities available. The communal hot tub, for instance. I just got in and got out.

Only $2 to use unlimited hot water is already a pretty great deal in my book. (Apparently I live in the cheapest neighborhood ever for bathhouses, so sorry if you don’t manage to find as great a deal.) Honestly, I’m not sure how the establishment makes any money.

5. Fake it ’til you make it.

Basically, pretend it’s normal. Soon, it will be. Or not. Only time will tell.

I have to say, after being deprived of running water for days, a hot shower never felt so good. I couldn’t care less who else was there.

*Update: While writing this post, my roommate informed me that our water is now working! I am doing cartwheels right now! (in my mind)

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Elizabeth is an American living in South Korea who believes in destiny, miracles, and living life intentionally. She holds to simple faith in a complex world, values the beauty of the everyday, and strives for vulnerability with other imperfect humans. She is always learning, laughing, and finding herself in awe of grace.

3 thoughts on “Braving the Public Bathhouse: Some Tips 

  1. Hehe good to hear that your water is working again :)
    Luckily my first time at a public bathhouse wasn’t too awkward xp As a swimmer, I’m used to share dressing rooms with other women, so I guess I’m kind of.. a bit more used to it maybe?
    And I was lucky that I went together with my mother-in-law, so she could explain me what to do and where to put my stuff hehe
    And the fact that there were not that many people probably made the experience better as well :P

    1. Thanks! And I’m glad your experience wasn’t too awkward. :) The bathhouse I went to was pretty crowded since a lot of people’s water wasn’t working this week, so I think that increased the awkwardness for me. I’m glad that at least no one physically rubbed up against me! (That happened to my roommate.. haha)

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