I had never even heard of a jim-Jil-bang or imagined that I would travel to South Korea one day. The destination wasn’t really on my bucket list, per se. I have always believed in the power of positive thinking and the notion of ”be careful what you wish for!” Little did I know that when I went to the training at the National Association of Interpretation (NAI)to become a Certified Interpretive Guide that I would see it all in action.
I remember hearing about the upcoming International Conference in Suncheon Bay, South Korea from the new Executive Director of NAI, Margo Carlos. She mentioned that there were scholarships available. I distinctly thought, “Wow…what if I could have the opportunity to go to that!” The seed of possibilities was planted!
Next thing I knew I was on a 14 hour flight to Suncheon, South Korea. Gifted with a “buddy pass” for flying stand by, I was praying I got on the flight; and praying even harder that I might be blessed enough to get first class. The first class prayer wasn’t answered; but I did get three empty seats. Amazing, especially after having slept in the airport to get on the flight!
South Korea is 70% mountains. The South Koreans are known for their love of nature and the outdoors. During the occupation by Japan much of their land was deforested and used by the Japanese for military, industrial and domestic uses. South Koreans responded by replanting and got their forests back to their rich state in about thirty years.
I attended many informative sessions on how to improve my interpretation skills facilitated by people from all over the world. I explored the beautiful gardens of Suncheon Bay Ecological Center and learned about the mud skipper that lives in the wetlands. I visited a Buddhist Temple and participated in a traditional Buddhist monk’s lunch. It was quite a challenge to sit cross legged for 2 hours. Westerners are just not conditioned for that. I had the privilege of learning about the Korean tea ceremony and got to try some amazing green tea.
I immersed myself into the Korean culture by eating kimchi, cooking over a hot pot, and going to the jim-jil-bang and bath house every night. The jim-jil-bang is an igloo styled room with large salt rocks grouted into the wall. The ceiling was another type of stone and the room was 74 degrees Celcius! When I first walked in, a gentleman was constantly moving his feel because the tile was so hot. I made sure to stay on the bamboo mats that lay around. The gentleman gave me a clean towel and gestured for me to sit with my back against the salt stone wall. It felt amazing; I could almost feel the toxins and tension being melted away from my body. The jim-jil-bang and bath house are part of the South Koreans everyday social life with their families and friends.
After being melted down in the jim-jil-bang many Koreans lounge around, men and women together, on mats watching television or having a light drink or snack. There were several areas to do this and the lighting was dim and created a relaxing environment. There are men’s only and women’s only baths, as well, and some people sleep at many jim-jil-bang’s for 6,000 – 12,000 won, which is equivalent to $6 – $12 US dollars.
Despite the ferry boat tragedy, which occurred just two days prior to my visit, the South Koreans were proud to show off their culture. Thanks to NAI I had an experience of a lifetime that I will always cherish.