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The latest craze in South Korea: the jimjibang

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• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

In public, South Koreans worry about social conformity, but in a “bang” they can let their hair down.

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“Bang” simply means “room,” in Korean, and much of the popular entertainment here takes place in private rooms that let Koreans have fun and relax away from the disapproving gaze of a rigid society. There’s noraebang (Korean karaoke) for those who want to sing along in a private space where they’ll only be entertaining their companions, not a roomful of strangers. There’s also Game-bang (video-game-playing rooms) and DVD-bang (to rent and watch DVDs).

Jjimjilbang (Korean saunas) are the ultimate in “bang” entertainment. Unique to Korea, jjimjil-bang have sex-segregated hot pools but also many special sauna rooms that both sexes may share after they’ve donned the requisite uniform: color-coordinated cotton shorts and shirt. Popular sauna rooms include boseokbang (jewelry room), whose special gemstones are claimed to cleanse the skin, and sogeumbang (salt room) for sweating out “impurities.”

Moon Lee, public relations manager for Arirang television, goes to the jjimjilbang often. “It’s my once-a-week to meet friends and relax,” she says. Many jjimjilbang also have noraebang and PC-bang in case visitors feel the need to entertain themselves after their sweat.