Just over two hours ago a was sharing a shower with the most beautiful naked woman. I'm not telling you this to brag or suggest anything sexual even. I'm merely pointing out a fact. This image has become the symbol of some very dramatic changes in my own personal psychology. I felt no awkwardness. This woman is my yoga instructor. I don't have to tell you, since you can probably guess that she has an amazing body. Something very strange (or strangey to those familiar with ko-rean/engrish speak) has happened to me. Something really amazing actually. I now feel more comfortable in my own skin than I ever thought was possible.
In the past three months I have seen more naked ladies than I have ever seen in my entire life. In addition to Yoga, I have also joined a local gym that has a nice big swimming pool so I can do m'laps. My awkward introduction to this world of naked Korean woman is worth describing since it is hilarious.
About a month into my new life in Seoul I decided to take a trip to a place called the Jimjilbong. My spelling is probably wrong, but that's irrelevant. Now from what I had heard around the water cooler this is a magical place where you are pampered and massaged and cured of all ailments and servants will feed you berries and fan you with those big banana leaves like you'd you see in old movies and cartoons. I just had to find out for myself. My only problem was that I didn't know anyone, or rather didn't feel comfortable going with anyone I had met-especially not The Republican! This is the name I have given to one of my co-workers who is of that conservative persuasion. So, I went alone. I mean Hey! I came to a foreign country from the other side of the globe without knowing anyone, so I think I can handle a little massage!
I was wrong. No one there speaks English and I mean NO ONE. I walk in and the woman looks at me and says something indecipherable. I get out my pocketbook ready to point at different colored bills until one is greeted with a nod, a skill I had acquired in my first week. She doesn't seem amused. She turns away and calls over another woman who apparently is the English speaker. Spoiler alert! Her English sucks, too. So this woman tells me "eighteen thousand" which I understand to be 18,000 krw which is roughly a little less than $18.00. Sounds totally reasonable to me. So, I give her 18,000 and she looks at me like I'm crazy. Then I'm all like Hmmm...well that's what you just said so...? Now, if there's one thing I know for sure, it's when I'm being made fun of. To my knowledge she then proceeds to alert everyone else in the room that I am fucking retarded and they all have a good laugh. Eventually the money gets straightened out (8,000 not 18,000). This involves lots more laughing and awkwardness, and I am given a key. The key is a mystery to me. I take my mystery key and start to follow some other people who seem like they know where to go, when the woman at the desk yells over in my direction. Again, I'm like Ok, WTF now?! Apparently my key was to a locker that was only for my shoes and I was now walking on sacred barefoot ground. She had also given me a slip of paper with a number. Hmmmm...curious. So I get into the locker room area after standing in the hallway for another awkward five minutes because I don't read Hangeul (Korean) so I don't know which is the mens and which is the women's locker room. And when I walk in I see nothing but naked bodies. A sea of them really; young, old, fat, thin. But, what shocks me is how casual everyone seems. I immediately avert my eyes out of embarrassment, which is funny because I'm fully dressed with my coat and scarf. And I probably look hilarious standing there.
So, I'm standing there trying not to see anyone's boobs and this woman is behind the desk. She can tell that I'm uneasy I think. The awkwardness is palpable. She takes my number slip, gives me shorts and a t-shirt, and shows me to my locker. I notice other people in these shorts and t- shirts all walking in the same direction so I follow them. The next part is boring. I get a massage. An amazing massage. But, the interesting part is when I go back into the locker room to brave the nakedness. So, I'm standing there for what seems like an eternity and then I take a deep breath and strip down to my bare ass. There are these sauna rooms and giant hot pools and hot tub type things with jets in the locker room. There's also these little personal shower stations to clean yourself after you've done all the sweating you can do. I'm feeling like such an imposter as I try to appear casual walking into the "naked room". At first I'm just in shock I think, and then I realize that every other woman and young girl is staring at me. Wow I thought. I have never felt so self conscious. Ever.
Of course, I knew that they were checking me out because I look different. I have boobs. Big ones. I also have a massive and quite provocative tattoo covering my entire back. Obviously they were curious. So I got in one of the smaller hot tubs with the jets and minded my own business. It was extremely relaxing. I closed my eyes and drifted off for a short while. But when I opened my eyes I began to notice that these woman were going out of their way to come look at me. And for some reason I started to feel...like...cool. They were looking at me, but I was looking at them too like Hey, you look just like that other girl over there...kinda normal. And then it occurs to me that I'm like a total fucking badass. Yeah, I have an ass...and it's awesome! And my boobs...they're awesome, too! Ha! I LOVE my body!
And with that, I began a love affair. A very personal one. With myself.