He Touched My Junk… No Arrests Made

January 27, 2011

Ok, I will be the first to admit I could have gone with a classier title for this entry. Still, I’m a Google whore; if someone does a search for TSA regulations, comes upon my blog, and learns a little about Korea in the process, so much the better.

It’s no exaggeration to say I am a hot springs aficionado. Ever since my first soak in Hokkaido, Japan, I’ve been obsessed with finding a living situation in close proximity to a good bath. I’ve enjoyed the waters of Japan, Thailand, New Zealand, South Korea, and the US… but nothing compares to the bathing culture of Japan; I can never feel completely clean back in the states. Even though I’ve got a pretty good setup in Korea, being only 10 km from Deokgu Oncheon, I still wish there was some variety: good clothing-optional outdoor baths; sulfuric water, massage services.

때밀이 수건

One of the customs in Korean public baths is scrubbing yourself down with a kind of coarse cloth “glove” to remove the dead skin cells. I’ve seen children who come to Deokgu with their parents and receive a good scrubbing. Even between male friends it’s perfectly naturally to wash and scrub another’s back. However, if you don’t feel comfortable having a friend do this, paid services are available in the form of the ttaemili (때밀이), a full body scrub offered at most public bathhouses.

Sidenote: before I came to Korea, I saw the scrub being advertised at my favorite capsule hotel in Fukuoka. As Hakata is a major international hub and the departure point for ferries to Busan, it’s not surprising the staff would cater to Korean businessmen. Despite the fact that there are kanji to express the removal of dirt – 垢擦り – one is more likely to see the term written in katakana, アカスリ:


When I arrived at the front window of Deokgu Spa, I paid the standard 4,500 Won for a soak in the inside bath, and requested the body scrub. This proved to be my first mistake; the lady at the counter didn’t even bother to try and tell me to pay inside the locker room. The scrub cost 15,000 Won. She provided me with three vouchers: one for 4,500, two for 7,000. Apparently she had given me two tickets to the outdoor baths to prove I had paid for the body scrub. This only served to inconvenience everyone involved. The vouchers didn’t even add up to the correct price, and this mistake would be hard enough to explain if the staff spoke fluent English… I was a little peeved walking down the stairs.

Next challenge: entering the locker room. Greeted by an attendant spouting “외국인!” (foreigner!) I’ve always been sensitive to people who yell this right in front of me as though I couldn’t possibly understand them. When I stood in front of him and made eye contact to show I understood, he didn’t even acknowledge me… perhaps I should have squealed “한국인!” (Korean)? I’ve been to this spa tens of times. Most of the staff know me. It was just rude.

When I handed over three tickets, the staff were, understandably, confused. They sent over their “English representative” to ask if I had a friend with me. In Korean, I told him no. My own fault for not clearing up what the front window lady had done then and there. I went back to the desk a few minutes later and asked for the body scrub very casually: “때밀이요.”

In Korean, it’s easy to order things or request services if you just know the word of what you’re looking for; simply add 요, “yo”, to the end of the noun. This is a polite request, and perfectly common for things like bus tickets, taxi services, and apparently body scrubs.

The man I asked immediately turned to the English rep, only to receive a laugh from another worker who had understood me perfectly, and wondered why he would need an interpreter. In any case, they understood I wanted the scrub, but had not yet comprehended the messed-up ticket payment… who can blame them.

In Deokgu Spa, the waiting list for a scrub is marked on individual post-it notes, which are stuck to the mirror next to the scrub table. My time was set for 5:00, so I had plenty of time for my bathing routine: 42-degree bath, 45-degree bath, 17-degree bath, just waiting my turn. As the clocked ticked down, one of the attendants called me out of the warm bath to ask me why I had two 7,000 Won tickets. Exasperated, I said they were payment for the body scrub, and I thought the matter was finally resolved.

Anyway, onto the scrub itself. A man in a flashy pair of swim trunks tapped me as I was resting on the stone “beds.” It was time. Despite the sentiment of many of my non-hippie American compatriots, I don’t really have a problem with public nudity. Nor is there an issue with me getting a massage from a man (though I do feel more comfortable with women). But this “procedure” was a tad more invasive. Even more so than the new TSA regulations in the US. Maybe I should start learning the Korean for “don’t touch my junk”… ok, it had to be said.

Korean Body Scrub (때밀이)

Step 1

Lie on the scrub table facing up. The attendant (perhaps a “scrubber” by trade?) will place a towel and scrub pad on your chest to fold, then water you down in very much the same way you would from the gourd bath.

Step 2

The scrub. I honestly expected this to be a tad more painful than it was. I had heard many say their skin was left raw following the scrub, but I found it to be nothing more than a gentle rubbing. I know the goal is cleanliness rather than relaxation, but I don’t think I’ll order one again. Ignoring the fact the guy had to “reposition” me to scrub some areas, it just didn’t feel more effective than using a hand scrubber myself. Don’t touch my junk… last time, I promise.

Step 3

Soap down, followed by another quick rinse.

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