Monthly Archives: May 2012

Getting Naked in Asia (the right way)

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Getting Naked in Asia (the right way)

In Japan they’re called ‘onsen’s, in Korea ‘jimjilbang’s.  What are these strange words?  Are they a type of noodles, a strange piece of cultural clothing?  No, it is the term used for the public baths.  If you’re British, the phrase ‘public baths’ may conjure up an image of a dirty government swimming pool made of rough concrete, but rest assured: these are anything but.

It is my opinion that you cannot say you have lived in Asia until you’ve experienced one of these.   I’d heard a lot about them before my first visit – my co-workers described them as incredibly relaxing and indulgent places to spend a day.  Jimjilbangs are bathhouses, or big spas, with saunas, jacuzzis, steam rooms, a variety of hot and cold pools and massage rooms.  You can get a full body scrub, any kind of massage you like, and you can even take in your own toiletries and use them as you wish.  They are dirt cheap (around £3) and you can stay as long as you like.  If you want to stay overnight, the price is about £5, cheaper than most hostels.  You can eat a meal there, have beauty treatments, and in some there are even singing rooms.  They are EVERYWHERE, in every few buildings you’ll find one.

Sounds great so far?  Why wouldn’t anyone want to go?  What the natives always neglect to tell you (probably because it’s so normal to them) is that you have to be naked….

So, this is why I was content with just hearing how great they are.  But they are so cheap, and they are meant to be so relaxing?!

My female friends and I pondered for a while, we all wanted to go.  The idea of sitting in a jacuzzi all day after working all week was heavenly.  Just not quite yet.  We needed to get to know each other a little better – after all, we’d only met a few months ago.  We were still uncomfortable drinking from the same bottles, let alone walking around together au naturel.

It wasn’t just that.  We are ENORMOUS white people (think about it: Asian women are stick thin!) with strange body shapes.  ALL EYES WOULD BE ON US.  I had heard horror stories about old naked Korean women going up to westerners in jimjilbangs and embracing them in welcome.  Which I’m sure is entirely well-meant and friendly, but I most certainly did NOT want a stark-naked old lady, with all her bits hanging out, coming to hug me.

Too soon for my liking, we were faced with a freezing cold weekend at the end of the month.  Meaning we had little money left and didn’t want to spend the day outside exploring (we feared we may turn into icicles).  Probably should have gone to a museum or something, but one of my friends decided it was the perfect time to brave the jimjilbang.  After a bit of reluctance, the rest of us were persuaded.  We’d agreed we would do it at some point, why not this weekend?

My friend informed us of a place near her apartment and we met at the subway station the next day.  As we walked apprehensively down to the basement of one of the buildings nearby, we reassured ourselves that, in reality, there would only be seconds of nakedness?  We’d get changed into dressing gowns in cubicles, and just take them off and jump into a pool.

This was NOT the case!  We walked in, paid (and were given a t-shirt and one of the minuscule towels that seem to be the preferred choice in Central Asia) and proceeded towards the door we were pointed in the direction of.  There we encountered a giant shoe closet (used to these now), and another glass door.  As we went to walk through the glass door, we were immediately confronted with hundreds of naked women, sitting on chairs and eating, or having their nails done, or just walking around.  This was the dry area!  Nobody was clothed, yet we had not come across anywhere to change.   Where were all the dressing gowns?  Actually, why didn’t we have one yet?  Nobody was wearing their giant t-shirts either.  Gingerly we walked through the door…

As we came face to face with a wall of lockers, it became apparent that there were no dressing gowns, or cubicles.  At first, we put on our t-shirts and decided to wander around.  Soon, we realised the only place we were allowed with t-shirts on was an empty room with mats (which we later understood was also open to the men), and we headed back to the entrance.  We’d have to go for it and strip right there in the middle of everybody.  We looked at each other in horror, this was not what we expected!  But, we had to do it!  Slowly, we began talking off our clothes, which was fine, until we got to our underwear.  We stood there, looking at each other, willing somebody else to go first.  In the end, there was nothing for it: we counted to three and just did it!

From that point on, there was no going back.  It was the strangest experience walking around a room full of naked strangers, naked.  With friends I barely knew.  At first, we were incredibly conscious of our GIANT WHITE FOREIGNER bodies.  The Koreans were probably judging us.  In the wet room, there were jacuzzis and hot tubs of varying temperatures, massage fountains, sitting down and standing showers, saunas, steam rooms.  Quickly we realised we had to bind our towels around our heads in some kind of Mickey Mouse shape (well, everyone else had done that).  It took us a while to get that right.  Despite feeling like we were being stared at (we were not), within about 20 minutes we had relaxed and were enjoying the facilities.

My friend described it as an extremely liberating experience.  She said she realised nobody has a perfect body (don’t think she was aware of the insult to the rest of us there) and everybody has insecurities, we’re all women, and we are all the same.  I totally disagree with all of that – there are definitely women with perfect bodies, and in no way are we all the same!  BUT, I did enjoy the place, although I can honestly say that I just FORGOT I was naked.  Let’s not romanticise it, there was no epiphany or any feelings of liberation, I just forgot.  And then it was okay.

Overall, I would recommend one of Asia’s public baths, just for the experience.  It’s a bit of a bucket list thing I think.  Would I go again?  Maybe, but I’m not a convert.  I don’t like to ponder on whether it is super-hygienic or super-unhygienic.  But, call me a prude of you like, my nakedness is not for the world to see.  One of the girls I went with has since gone multiple times, she loves it, but I’m much more a fan of our Western spas, where we wear bikinis..

Miss L

Mixed Signals and Learning to Love Thailand

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My room in the UK looked like a cross between a budhist shrine and a fortune teller’s den according to an articulate friend. Ok, so I did have a lot of bhuddas, hanging things and shisha pipes in my room but a room is to chill right? So atmosphere is important! Am I buddhist? No, but I liked some of the philosophies of Buddhism. Appreciation of all living things, self control and elightment. So I had a pretty ignorant take on it, elightment sounded great, I lack self control and appreciation is never a bad thing.

Fast forward six months and here I am in the midst of Thailand, Buddhism and culture as far away from my little English boudoir as possible. Thailand fascinates me and undoubtly will continue to. It’s beautiful, diverse and different. I still have yet to see a lot of it but from what I have seen I have been ‘enlighted’ – not via a vow to monkhood but more a realisation that I was ignorant to before. Contradictions or mixed signals. Thai people have a beautiful nature, most are calm and polite. It is not in thai culture to be critical or ‘unpolite’. This is also a teaching of Buddhism, to keep a neutral emotion. So if this is the case is politeness really politeness as we know it? Or is it generic? Wow now!!! prob a bit too phylosphical but I’m sure you get what I’m saying. How do you know if someone in thailand actually likes you? Thais also are non-direct, talk will circle before you are aware of it. This is because Thais are non- confrontational people, but then when you finally hear the ‘talk’ you are then aware that everyone has been talking about you so prob best for the person to discuss it with you in the first place. This would surely create less conflict?

Now don’t mis read this, this is not a blog that is meant to be critical, its more a camparison of cultures. Who really is right and who is wrong? It used to really irratate me when people got over aggressive in trivial situations back home. I remember going to fill up at a garage and drove past a patiently waiting queue of cars as I was in a world of my own and went right to the front. Waiting by the pump, I could hear this shouting. I remember turning round to a guy that was literally screaming at me. ‘What the fuck??!!!’ ‘what the fuck??!!’. So I wind down my window and say, ‘Sorry, how can I help you?’ He goes into this rant. I wait for him to stop and simply say ‘Ok, it was a mistake. I’ll drive to the back of the queue’. He looked puzzled, slightly embarassed and left. Sooo, I feel we could have done with a bit of thai culture there for sure!

I guess it ties in with culture ‘shock’, you leave a country where you know most things and come to one where you are like a baby. You have to re learn how to read people, situations, what’s appropriate, what’s not and just what’s not what they do all over again. The most hilarious story I heard of late is where Miss L stood up along with another teacher and ‘whai’-ed from stand up to the floor in honour of their director. Except it wasn’t their director. A ‘whai’ is where you place your hands together in a praying postion and bow ur head. The lower you bow, the greater the respect. I think it’s not whether you love or hate a culture that matters, it’s how you deal with it. Thailand may be confusing to me at the moment but with time it will all make perfect sense.

Miss J

A one night stand with the past…

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I am sure that those of you that have travelled will know what I mean when I say that the life you left behind seems like another lifetime ago.  You still talk to the people in your past life, you miss them but you dont miss that life.  The life that you are living now is reality and you dont want to go back.  For those of us that havent come straight from university or college, we all have a story, a reason we finally took the leap of faith and left reality behind for the dreamlike life that tends to be the existence you lead as a traveller.  For most people I have met, it is to do with love.  I know it was for me.  That and the frustration of a job that didnt pay enough and worked me too hard.  Whatever it was that finally made me leave, I am thankful for it everyday. When people at home say ‘I miss you, when are you coming home?’  it is hard to say – I don’t know because right now I can’t think of anything worse than leaving this paradise of anonymity, new experiences and lack of stress just to go back to my previous existence of working and going out with couples.  At least as a single traveller one thing you can guarantee is lots of new single friends and having the most random nights, days and weeks, because as a traveller it is not a relationship that you are looking for just some fun for the night and a new experience.

You can imagine my shock when on one of these nights of new experiences and new people, I was in a club on Khaosan road in Bangkok with a new friend I had made the previous day and ran into someone I went to uni with.  My university was very small and everyone knew each other: we knew all the same people had heard about each other but had never met. We had so much gossip to share about those we were still in contact with.  So here I am, in a club in Bangkok on the other side of the world, talking about my uni life and friends back home.  It was a bizarre realisation.  So after many more drinks the question was posed (or rather the statement) ‘How far is your place from here? I hope it is close, I cant be bothered with walking’.  Not the best line I have ever fell for but it felt rude not to, like someone above was making this happen and it would be like going against fate.

Oh and boy would it have been a mistake not to!  Many orgasmic filled hours later he had a bus to catch and I had a friend to meet.  We parted on good terms, very good terms in fact and although we shared a past in our previous life I doubt we will ever collide in the future, but this is not a bad thing.  One night of no holding back, filthy, hot and passionate sex was just what I needed.

This was during the first week of travelling alone and I realised that the world is an incredibly small place and no matter where you go you are never really alone or too far from friends, people you know or even random strangers that remind you of home.  The world is my oyster and this is only the begining.

Miss D

The 5am Pull

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The 5am Pull

It is safe to say that the days where boy meets girl, they date or court as my Nan would say and then fall madly in love before even considering indulging in the act of sex have well and truly seen their day. Whether or not you think this is a shame is kind of irrelevant as I have discovered. A friend of mine kept her virginity for years, refusing to be the ‘average’ modern woman, wanting to hold on to what is hers until she met that special someone. She prided herself on this decision greatly and everyone in school knew about her choice. She felt she was somewhat better respected for this choice. The guys in our schools take on it was, ‘we are not able to have sex so why do we care?‘. Majority always rules I guess.

Nowadays it seems there is no dating period as my Nan would know it. Its more of a case of boy meets girl and has sex with them, sometimes before they even know their name. I guess we have become more open to the act of sex and waste no time with getting it underway. We all have needs right? Especially when travelling. Miss L describes beautifully the rare case when you connect with a one night stand. The 5am pull differs from this. When you are constantly forming ‘three day friendships’ it’s hard to build a connection with someone. So you prey in on what you can, and sometimes quite desperately as I recently discovered.

We were out in the diversity and hustle of Koh San Road. A place that is unimaginable, seeing is believing there. Street acts which include beat boxers and of course the tuk tuk drivers. We must not miss them off, well actually how can we?  They ask if you would like a tuk tuk 5 times a minute. The smell of food there is enough to make anyone fat and the music booms out of every shanty bar. Dancing on the street with a bottle of beer is perfectly acceptable, along with many other things.

So, I had been away for a few weeks, no sex and no male interaction. Sometimes I crave the thick set arms of a man around me, not because I am in love, just because I think its inbuilt in us to crave the attention and affection of the opposite sex. The talent that night was not what it was a few weeks prior. Not a hottie in sight, actually that is a lie. There were a group of lovely bachelors who eyed us up and moved on. So I spot this well built, tanned male. Brazilian name… wait for it.. Pedro… nope I am not joking. That was his name. He spoke English very well. Did I fancy him as I sat down to try and force down more beer from a long beer tower? No was the answer. But I was kidding myself. Trying to draw more things that I found attractive about him. Ohh he has nice eyes. Yeh he did but was I about to make love to his eyes??? C’mon. Nonetheless, he ended back at my dorm. There he took his hat off, I forgot to mention that didn’t I? Vital information, as when he took his hat off he reminded me of my Mum’s friend’s Spanish pervy boyfriend. It was that moment where I thought this well and truly is a 5am pull. I went through with it, gained satisfaction. Well, we were not really that sexually compatible. The sex was awkward and just did not really do it, probably for either of us. Either way I wanted him to go. I started to fumble with my phone and say, ‘my friends are coming back soon,‘ and like a bolt of lightning from the heavens the door went. The girls. I could not believe it, I hadn’t asked them to come back, they just kind of knew. The numbers were over in the hostel dorm and the owner knew this. He practically frog marched the guy out of the hostel and that was it.

My lesson from all of this: use a vibrator as a 5am pull really is not what its cracked up to be.

Miss J

The Love Stories of a Traveller: The Success Story

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The Love Stories of a Traveller: The Success Story

Despite never being in one place for more than a few nights, sometimes we do fall in love – albeit, more often than not, just for a night.  Amongst the hairy, sunburnt and just downright ugly, I’ve often spied a tall, muscular, blonde haired, tanned and just pure beautiful backpacker-esque man on my travels and thought, I wouldn’t mind some of that at all…  Occasionally, it appears that he was thinking exactly the same, and so, a transient love story unfolds..

This is not as romantic as it sounds.  There are more than a few obstacles that stand in the way.  Number one is approachability and timing.  So, you’ve noticed him.  He’s noticed you.  You’ve noticed him noticing you, and vice versa; you know you’re both appreciative.  But it’s 10am.  You look next to him and spot a backpack.  Pleasetellmehe’sjustarrived, you pray to some unknown wish grantor.  Pleasepleaseplease.  He’s leaving.  Or he’s arriving but you’re leaving.  Or you’re in the middle of Bangkok’s MBK and you’re eyes have met across dozens of people: he’s on an escalator in the distance, and in reality, there’s absolutely no way of talking unless you turn into a crazy stalker.  You’re a little bit in love for about a minute before that ship has sailed away on the sea of no opportunity.

If you manage to pass that hurdle (are able to converse and are both staying in the same city overnight) you then face what is morally a more difficult dilemma.  Now, everyone would agree that travelling is 400%, scrap that, I’m going to say 1000% more fun when you stay in a dorm room, especially as a solo traveller.  If you are travelling alone, the dorm room is where you meet the majority of your three day friends.  And likely to be where you will meet the man of your [insert current location] dreams.

If you haven’t identified what the problem is here, quite frankly, I’m ashamed of you.  You are both staying in a dorm, perhaps with eight other people.  You are ‘in love’ for the night – where do you go to do the deed?!  We’ve all witnessed dorm room sex: the couple two beds down moaning and breathing heavily, everyone else so consciously aware of it but fighting to blot it out as they try to sleep.  It’s not nice, but dorm room sex is sometimes a necessary evil.  Can you really blame them?  Who knows how long they’ve been on the road for.  Sometimes it can be a while, and unless you want your standards to drop to those hairy, sunburnt, ugly men I mentioned earlier, you have to take these opportunities with the beautiful men whenever you can get them..

Of our trio, one will admit to having succumbed to dorm room sex.  And we’re not saying who.  Sometimes, it’s just too hard to resist…

Back to the problems.  Most commonly, the problem is alcohol, of course.  You’re too drunk to feel anything, and he’s too drunk to do anything.  Nothing is more disappointing than the old whisky dick.  If alcohol isn’t causing these prevention problems, then it’s doing the opposite, and (without you realising) putting you closer than you would ever desire to be to those hairy, sunburnt ugly men.

But I don’t want to write about that.  That’s a story for another day.  Once in a while, none of these problems are existent.  So there he is, the tall, muscular man of your dreams wherever you may be.  Completely accessible.  You both know what’s going to happen, but probably haven’t thought through the details.  He’s incredibly hot – it doesn’t matter anymore whether it’s uncomfortable sex on the beach, a quick but passionate session in the hostel showers, or back to that dorm room.  Once in a while, you get the moment where you realise, he’s more than gorgeous, and somehow – it’s got to be fate – you’re not in a dorm room.

This happened to me not long ago.  The successful pull.  Not the 5am beer goggles pull.  Not the completely lost my memory mistake pull.  But the successful pull.  He was so hot I’d sleep with him at home.  As soon as I saw him, I knew that he was going home with me, and I was mentally thanking the universe that the dorm room had been full and I’d been forced to switch to a private room that night – in a hostel where the security wasn’t too stringent.  Of course he came back with me.  We left the bar probably within fifteen minutes of meeting – why waste time?  Travelling can only lead to one night love stories – especially when one of you is deviating from the typical backpacker trail – so you may as well leave early and make the most of your one night of passion.  I can and will drink and drink and drink anytime, and he could have been a model.  I know my priorities.  He kept telling me I was so beautiful, which I normally despise, but absolutely any words could have come out of that mouth and they would have turned me on.  It was a shame I had to be up so early the next morning because I know he wanted to stay, and I would have been quite happy to use that room until the staff forced me to check out.

But, I was forced to check out abnormally early the next day in order to move on.  And though he was amazing, I wasn’t too sad to leave.  The love stories of a traveller: one night love affairs.  The memories of him may pleasure me for a while, until the next real beauty comes along.  The image of him might comfort me and offer me some redemption next time I wake up and realise I’ve made a beer goggles mistake.  But I won’t remember his name for more than a couple of days.  I won’t remember age, his job, or even where he was heading next or had come from.  It’s unlikely I’ll ever remember him as a real person.  These one night successful travelling pulls (without any of the complications) are so transient and rare, that even though it’s a reality, it really is, just like a dream…

Miss L