Thursday, November 20, 2008

exercise culture in korea: ajummas on bicycles

well it's 10:15am in suwon, winter's first snow is falling outside the dirty windows of my hagwon, and no students have come for my 10 o'clock class, which means i'm home free for the next 45 minutes. i'll take this time to update you on part of my daily life.

this month i started a membership at a local gym, as i was in desperate need of some physical activity. this seemingly small addition to my daily schedule has contributed a lot to my mental health as well, and my general satisfaction. i usually head to 홍익스포츠프라자 ('hongik supochu puraja' - hong-ik sports plaza) right after my last morning class finishes at 12pm. the place is rife with strongly 'korean' elements.


attempting to create a membership at hong-ik on my first visit to the place was an interesting encounter. unfortunately the receptionist did not understand my korean 'telegraphic speech', and it took quite a while for her to figure out just what i wanted. if only she could have slowed her speech down just a little, i might have been able to catch her words, but she instead talked to me at the speed of a native korean speaker with only a doubtful look on her face as a consolation prize. we eventually settled on a sort of game of charades and i was practically doing imaginary bench press on the countertop between us before we finally agreed on a membership plan.


so i began heading to that place everyday. it's actually pretty large, offering swimming lessons, dance lessons, even 검도 ('geomdo' - modern fencing, the korean kendo) and squash quarts, all of which i have yet to take advantage of due to the limitations of my membership plan. one curious feature of my gym is the basement shower room. the women's locker/shower room is on the main floor, but to get to the men's, you have to go down a dimly-lit flight of stairs and pass through what appears to be a storage place for old furniture and is likely a supposed 'amenity' (nobody, however, is seen lounging on the torn, 'fleather' couches and partaking of this comfort). every time i enter the locker room, i take off my shoes (as is the custom in korea as well as japan), place them in the little rack, and give a greeting to the old man who is always sitting in the same spot, day in, day out, and who i suppose to be the 'shower room manager', despite the lack of instances in which i have witnessed him 'at his duties'. the locker room itself is very cramped and low-ceilinged, but it's lighting coupled with the steam from the showers give it a friendly, dull glow that is quite relaxing. i meander through and nimbly tiptoe over the men and children lounging about (all of whom are comfortably naked) to get to my assigned locker and change into my 'workout clothes' which could be better termed: 'the clothes i wore yesterday'. i have yet to use the showers because i keep forgetting to bring a towel (no towels are provided due to the mysterious disappearance that befalls many of them). even though it's unnecessary due to the fact that i live just a few minutes away and usually shower at home after the gym, i still want to try a shower down there sometime.

the weight room itself is an otherworldly place as well. upon entering, i am immediately accosted by blasts of korean pop music ('k-pop'). these songs really dont match a workout atmosphere, but they are impossible to drown out even with my own i-pod. also distracting are the exercise videos displayed simultaneously on countless tv-monitors and featuring some korean work-out superstar who is actually a skinny, 30-ish woman wearing make-up and mini-shorts too small to blow your nose on. the videos (which play constantly on repeat) probably attract more viewers through this 'dumbbell madonna' (whose exercise poses are more than a little questionably erotic, no help from the camera man) than through the quality of their actual workout techniques.


nobody seems to pay any attention to the videos anyway, as the majority of the patrons to the weight room at 12pm are 아줌마 (ajummas - literally means 'aunt' and refers to all middle-aged women) on bicycles or stairmasters. this leaves me with relatively free-reign of the weights (except for the occasional 'hee-men' - slightly disgustingly muscular, short men who comprise the only male patrons). i usually take a short jog on the treadmill to warm up and do a few rounds on the weight machines before heading home, spending no longer than an hour and a half total.


1 comment:

  1. gyme tyme korean style. i love your description of the locker room and also burst out laughing when reading your interaction with the receptionist.