About 2 months ago I joined a Korean gym. I had been running outside, but the summer was so humid that I wanted an indoor option. Sometimes I would run in the morning and it wouldn't be hot yet, yet in 10 minutes I would be sweating. I had never experienced sweating the the cool weather before. Korea has plenty of "fitness centers" around town, and for the most part they are pretty similar to a small American gym. Luckily this one is right in my neighborhood since convenience is key for consistent workouts.
Hey, have you ever seen these weighted hula hoops with the bumps? The bumps poke you and leave red marks, but apparently it's good for weight loss. I don't understand the science behind it but they are really popular here. Anyway, the gym has one main room with modern weight machines, free weights, treadmills, and stationery bicycles. It has locker rooms, sauna, and one classroom that is open during the day, and holds yoga and aerobics classes in the evenings.
I took yoga for about a month, but have decided this particular style is not for me. I enjoyed it for awhile- a good age mix of students, a tiny, burly instructor, and a good workout- even while not speaking Korean. But in addition to adjusting students' poses, the instructor would also push on us, and more than once I left class with my shoulders or knees hurting, and not in the good way. I would love to have a regular yoga practice here, but going to a class separate from the gym would be expensive and impractical, so I'll have to wait on that. I considered the aerobics class, but that's a different beast altogether- mostly 30 and 40-something women in outfits that look like a jazzercise/cheerleading/punk rock combo. The energy is high, the look is defined, the music is deafening, the pace is fast, and the room is already packed to the brim, so I've stayed away.
What I do really like about this gym is that it's incredibly chill. Every one is there to focus on their workout, and no one bats an eye at the foreign girl panting over by the chest press. I get stared at less at the gym than any other public place in Gunsan, so it's sort of like my safe haven. Two of my foreign guy friends in the neighborhood also go there, but I'm the only foreign woman.
Of course, there are some differences from a gym back home. You keep your workout shoes there, so they are indoor exercising shoes, not the same ones you would use outside. You don't wear shoes in the locker room-they provide slippers. The locker room etiquette is much more open, with loud talking while taking a long shower, or women standing in front of the mirror brushing their hair before bothering to get dressed. It's also common to see a bare leg propped up on a bench while a woman blow-dries her lady-region. It never, ever occurred to that that area would need any more than air-drying. From friends I've talked to, the men's locker room sounds pretty similar.
Workout clothes are different too. The gym provides shorts and a T-shirt for members, blue for the men, red for women. You can change into a clean set when you get there and put it in the hamper when you leave. There is only one size, which in the U.S. would never work, but here the one size really does fit all. It makes me feel a little bit like I'm in a middle-school P.E. class, but I actually like it. Less stinky clothes for me to take home and wash. Most members wear the uniform, but if they don't, they sport outfits like these ones: shirt, short skirt, flesh-colored tights, and leg warmers.
There is also an assortment of massage-type machines. This wooden one rolls around while you set your legs on it. It feels great on the calves. There is one where you stand and put a big belt around your torso and it vibrates, massaging where ever you move it to. And another one you stand on and it rock/vibrates you from side to side... I'm not sure what it does. There are a few large "inspirational" pictures of people working out, but they are all white people, which I find odd. Why don't they hang up pictures of fit Koreans?
The only other things of note are the funny signs or translations. The weight machines have instructions in English which are dubious, and the TV on the treadmill warns us against "watching too much monitor". And there is a garbage can in the women's locker room with a picture of two rabbits, the boy holding carrots and the girl holding flowers. It says, "It is a strange rabbit who prefers flowers to carrots." Anyway, I'm really enjoying the gym, going consistently, and it will be great to have the sauna when the weather gets even colder.