I can still remember the day when I could run for days without breaking a sweat. When I could walk down a flight of stairs without holding onto the handrail. When I could sit down and stand back up without having to hold onto something, awkwardly readjusting my body into my “I’m going to stand up now” position, and making a hrrmmph noise.
Gone are those days.
I could blame this on my recent ACL surgery and arguably, my decision of playing soccer exactly 6 months after having my knee sliced open.
But honestly, I think that it’s just because I’m getting older. Older, fatter, and slower.
When did that happen? When did I round the corner from youthful vitality into old, crotchety-ness, where I shake my fist at loud teenagers and get concerned about the sugar intake of kids these days? Also, when did I start saying “kids these days”?
This all came to a point when I decided to go on a run around the neighborhood.
Full of blind ambition and excitement, I started running. Excruciatingly slowly. With each step, I could feel pain pulsing through my knee, but I kept going. I figured it would feel better if I kept going.
It did not. In fact, it felt worse.
Twenty minutes later, I hobbled back to the apartment, feeling like a huge failure. A huge (old) failure.
My birthmom saw that I was in pain took me to a jimjilbang (찜질방).
A jimjilbang is a Korean sauna/bathhouse where people can go for the day or stay overnight.
We were given tiny towels and clothes to change into. The shorts that they gave me were tiny and it was quite the feat to squeeze my gigantic American body into them. I think I still have marks where the waistband was slowly constricting the life out of me.
We started out in the sauna. It wasn’t like a western-style sauna, where there’s only room for 10 people sitting on cedar planks. It was a huge room with carpeted floors and a television.
After sweating for 15 minutes in the sauna, we went into the cold room (my favorite room!). It was like walking into a giant refrigerator and the rapid temperature change felt phenomenal. I think it was about -19°C.
After we switched back and forth between the hot and cold rooms, we went to this room with large logs on the ground. People were sleeping everywhere. I also fell asleep, using a wooden block as a pillow.
I absolutely loved going to the jimjilbang and will definitely go back before I leave Korea. Maybe it will magically heal my broken knee.
In the meantime, I’ll continue struggling with stairs and the whole “sitting down and standing up” thing.
For a great video of Conan O’Brian visiting a jimjilbang in the States, check this out! (Mom, there is cursing and censored nudity in this video.)