I took off my sandals at the door of the bathhouse as panic set in.
Struggling to recall the YouTube videos on bathhouse etiquette I'd watched, questions raced. Do I shower first? Do I leave my clothes in the locker room? WHY ARE THESE TOWELS SO SMALL?! The locker-room matron, patient with our language barrier, conveyed that I was to leave my jeans and T-shirt behind and take my naked ass down into the basement to join the all-female watering hole.
During a 10-day trip through Taiwan and South Korea with friends, we'd made our way to Seoul -- and it was there I'd announced my intention to visit a real-life Korean bathhouse. Traditional bathhouses, or jjimjilbang, are big in today's Korean culture; offering a place for friends and couples to socialize, practice beauty and health rituals, and relax. Sure, my decision to check the place out was partially fueled by a few beers and a waffle from a local sheep cafe -- but in that moment, I was determined to treat me, myself, and my easily sunburned 5'5" frame to the skin scrubbing of a lifetime.