Thursday, January 5, 2012

Working up a sweat...

A couple of days ago, I joined a gym here in Seoul that is right across the street from my school. The gym is in the basement of an 8-story office building and takes up the lowest three floors. Included is a pool (big selling point for me!), billiards tables, darts, aerobic classes, and your usual workout equipment (treadmills, bikes, free weights, etc.)

One of my co-teachers assisted me with the signing up process. Yesterday (Wednesday) was my first day of actually using the facility. Had quite the experience.

After swiping my card at the front desk, the lady working there gave me a key to a locker and asked if I needed any clothes to work out in. Being always prepared, I had brought my own and kindly declined her offer. Before you can even walk into the locker room, you need to take off your shoes. Without even thinking, I took my shoes off and placed them on the shoe rack with all the other shoes. I walked into the locker room and found my locker and started getting changed to go work out. It suddenly hit me that I had no other shoes than the ones that I wore in, so I had to sneakily head back out to the entry way, retrieve my shoes, and avoid the glaring stare of the older man "guarding" the shoe rack (with a hot plate, nonetheless!) Lesson #1: Buy extra pair of "gym only" shoes.

Having finally changed, I headed down the stairs that connect the locker room with the workout area down below. As I entered the workout facility, I was given a sideways glance/glare by another lovely Korean. Maybe I'm not supposed to wear my shoes down the stairs either? Mission #1: Figure out gym stair etiquette.

Instead of trying to stir up trouble, I just headed over to the treadmill and started my workout. The rest of my time working out went by smoothly without any interruptions, evil glares, or cultural blunders (at least I think). The second great adventure occurred as I headed back up to the locker room.

My co-teacher had told me that the locker rooms here in Korea were a bit different than those in the United States. That is a bit of an understatement. There is no sense of shame here in Korea. Men walk freely around the locker room, baring all for everyone to see. I have found that body image and nudity is accepted much more around the world than it is in the United States.

I go to take a shower, using my towel as protection device. Before entering the showers, there are two different rooms. One is the equivalent of a lounge area. There are couches, a mini-bar, TV, and tables and chairs set up for patrons to use at their leisure. A couple of Koreans were taking full advantage of this accommodations. This area though is a clothes only zone. The other room that you walk through reminded me of the large dressing rooms at the Gallagher-Bluedorn in Cedar Falls. Large mirrors adorn the walls, along with chairs to sit in. There are also robes that can be used while "grooming" yourself following the shower.

The shower area is a treat all in itself as well. There are about 16 personal stations complete with a stool that you sit on. I'm guessing this is used for the "pre-soak". Then there are two massive hot tubs to "soak" in before concluding with the "final rinse." It also turns out that there is no need to bring a towel or shampoo, as both are provided. It is also expected to walk around the shower area bare footed. Lesson #2: Leave your sandals outside the shower door before entering.

It was a good first go round at the gym. I'm intrigued to see if I get the same locker when I go back again tomorrow. I'm also really excited to start using the pool and get back into swimming. This membership will turn out to be a positive thing, just as long as I don't step out of line along the way.