I’ve jotted down a quick to-do list for my time in Seoul. Four days with one big thing to tackle each day. Note that visiting a bathhouse is tops. The Korean Jimjilbang was a saving grace last time I was on the Peninsula. One place where I felt really comfortable despite being an Amazon from the West.
The elderly women (ajima) who ran the bathhouse I frequented were always glad to see me. And I them, too, because they offered a warm welcome and warm water.
The ajimas did overwhelm me the first time, though.
They wanted to wash the freckles off my back. Touch my hair. Dry my hair. The giggled over my, ahem, blonde-ness. Their attention was a tad unnerving–especially when you consider that I was naked–but I could tell they were well-intentioned. And just plain curious.
Bathhouse culture in Korea, and other places, grew out of the fact that people didn’t have a washroom in their home. Bathing was a communal affair. I was surprised to find that I rather liked it myself. Great water pressure! Hot tubs! Cold tubs! Saunas! Shelter from the Siberian winds outside!
But, as my story goes, there’s always some horror attached to the fun naked times.
The pal who introduced me to the bathhouse concept also helped cover up the details of my colleague’s murder. By concealing evidence and harboring a criminal–the exact words of the Korean Police, the Army CID, the CIA and the FBI–she let someone actually, truly, really get away with murder.
The ajimas’ affections were the least of my problems, but I didn’t know it at the time. I knew nothing at that time. What will I know this time? Time has always been my enemy.
On a lighter note, I’m thinking about what I might wear on Thursday when I visit the DMZ. Choi from dmztours has warned me to mind my manners. No T-shirts with flags! I have a strong sense that it may just be Choi and me at the DMZ that day. The 38th Parallel isn’t a major hot spot on a Thursday in mid-January. It’s a cold spot. Everyone in their right mind will be at a bathhouse.
Okay, so I could do a Nanook of the North look (a la Isaac Mizrahi, circa 1995). Or, a Sonja Henie take on snowbunny-ism. If this landscape is connected to my identity, then I want to be my best at the DMZ.
But there’s a problem with this idea, and when Korea and I are involved, there’s always a problem.
In fact, my wonderful, witty and wise son belted out this exact line from the backseat yesterday (think Sound of Music):
How do you solve a problem like Korea?
The problem is that I don’t have room for fancy clothes. I’m just taking a backpack. Even at my advanced age of 48, I travel with what I can fit on my back. I can’t be bothered with luggage check-in. I have to be nimble. I have to be quick. Everything I need has to be with me.
Because everything I need is in me.
I could be naked or draped in seal fur. At a bathhouse or a demilitarized zone. All I need for this trip are my wonder, wits and wisdom–inspired by my son.
How will I solve a problem like a Korea?
Climb ev’ry mountain
Search high and low
Follow ev’ry by-way
Every path you know
Climb ev’ry mountain
Ford ev’ry stream
Follow ev’ry rainbow
‘Till you find your dream