Wednesday, September 11, 2013

And That's How I Ended Up Completely Naked at the Airport

This is going to be one of those posts that brings in tons of people who are searching for "naked men" or "nude" or, oddly, "rats eating wonder bras," because there are always a few weird ones like that that I can never figure out.

The first stop on my mass exodus across the world over the weekend, a mass exodus in which I'm pretty sure I saw every human being who has ever lived, was in Seoul Korea.

I was already exhausted when I got to Seoul because every flight that leaves Palau takes off at the most inconvenient time possible in the middle of the night. So in order to leave the country, you have to basically forgo a night of sleep, leaving yourself in a zombie-like state by the time you get to your destination.

I wandered the Seoul airport, carrying my 37 extremely heavy bags, searching for a place to store them, and setting them down to cry every few minutes because I was SO tired. And confused. And I just wanted to be at home in my bed. With a pillow made out of cheesecake. And with Paul Simon singing me a song that he wrote about our friendship just after I surprise him with a collage-sculpture of what he and I would look like if we combined our DNA and lived at his house together and spent all day trying on his clothes and laughing really hard at his jokes.


That's all I wanted.

But instead I found a place to store my belongings and I ventured off into the city.

Seoul was wonderful. I saw and ate some great things. And the people were SO nice there. I loved every second of wandering the city.

But I had read about Korean bathhouses and they sounded kind of odd so naturally I really wanted to find one in Seoul. I have a goal to visit a traditional bathhouse in every country of the world that has traditional bathhouses. Palau kind of had one. There were these rooms all over the place there that were like 1,000 degrees and the majority of the adult population sat around in them all day doing nothing, sweating, and complaining about how hot it was. They were called "government offices."

I sort of had a hard time locating the one I was looking for in Seoul but I wasn't too worried about it because I had read that the airport actually had a really great one. So several hours before my flight, I made my way back to the airport.

I was a little concerned the moment I began attempting to communicate with the people at the front desk of the place because they didn't really speak English and I really didn't speak Korean. So without finding out what I was supposed to do there, they handed me some clothing and pointed me toward a hallway.

I walked down this hallway and started my way through a series of lockers. They had given me a very small key with a small elastic band that I was able to put around my wrist and this key opened lockers in a couple of different rooms.

Not really sure what I was supposed to do in each locker, I used the first small one to store my shoes and then I made my way into the next room. Where EVERYONE was naked. COMPLETELY naked.

It was a men's locker room. I had no idea what I was supposed to do, so I changed into the horridly ugly clothes they had given me and began exploring.

I walked into a room with a bunch of large baths, a sauna, a steam room, showers, and eleventy million naked Korean men. Immediately an elderly man briskly walked to me, started tugging on my shirt, and pointed at the door, all the time sternly speaking to me in a tone I recognize from my childhood when I was raised by Cathie McCann.

So I walked back into the locker room and decided to just go for it. I stripped naked and locked my things in the locker.

When I got back into the bath room, I wandered around it, looking at each room and bath as though I was at an art gallery and was just trying to decide which piece would look best in my front room. But in my head I was just going, "WHAT THE HELL AM I SUPPOSED TO DO! I'M SO FREAKED OUT! WHAT IF I GET A FOOT DISEASE IN HERE?! WHAT IF OTHER PEOPLE GET MY FOOT DISEASE IN HERE?!"

Eventually I settled into one of the baths, which was measured at somewhere around boiling temperature.

EVERYONE was staring at me the ENTIRE time. Just staring. And staring. And staring. And I tried to stare back but it didn't seem to matter to anyone and I got uncomfortable. So I just did this thing I do when I'm trying to make eye contact with a person I'm talking to but I feel really awkward about it so I make my eyes go blurry so I can't really see them but it still looks like I'm looking at them. But everyone kept staring at me anyway so it didn't make a difference.

Eventually I very ungracefully climbed over from the depths of Hell bath into the next one, which compared to the depths of Hell bath was like ice. I think they had the water imported from the Titanic.

It took everything I had not to scream.

I got out of this bath and awkwardly stood in the middle of the room, unsure of what I was supposed to do next.

And that's when a very old naked man asked me to do a very uncomfortable thing.

He handed me a rag of sorts that felt like sandpaper and began pointing at his back. I figured he was asking me to rub his back down but I didn't want to go for it in case I was misreading the signs. Because I've been there before.

I'll never tickle another stranger's back on the bus again just because they leaned over.

He could see my hesitation so he took my hand and led it to his back where I began very lightly rubbing it and saying things like, "so . . . do you come here often" and "how 'bout them Yankees this year?" even though I knew he couldn't understand me and even though I don't know anything about the Yankees this year.

Frustrated, he stopped me quickly and took a new rag out. He then used it, while simultaneous pouring water on me, to rip ALL of the skin off of my back.

Holding in the tears, I turned back around to return the favor. And it was disgusting. And everyone was still staring at me. And I had yet another of those "how did I end up naked at the airport, rubbing the dead skin off of another naked and very old man?" moments. Not that this has happened to me before, exactly. But you know what I mean.

I turned to all the gawkers and said, "well this is the weirdest layover I've ever had!" But none of them acknowledged what I said, so I finished the job and moved on.

I was proud of myself for doing something gross but traditional in Korea but then I realized that NOBODY else was rubbing the skin off of each other and the rags that the guy had appeared to be brought from home. So that part might not have been traditional. It might have just been a thing between me and him. Our special airport activity.

I had had enough of the nudity and baths so I walked back to my locker to retrieve my clothes. And that's when I realized that the very small key they had given me was not around my wrist anymore.

A panic started at my toes and rushed through the rest of my body.

What are you even supposed to do when you lose a key!?

I walked back into the bath area and began my frantic naked search. I scoured every square inch of that place. I walked through each bath, examining the floor, and gesturing for people to move. I even looked in a few places I was pretty sure I had not got to at all.

This search continued for the better part of one hour before I started contemplating getting help. There weren't any towels lying around and the only towel I ever had in my possession was a small one that was locked in my locker. But I also couldn't find any employees, so going to the front desk, which was basically just out in the open airport, was starting to seem like the only option.

Eventually I made my way out of the locker room where I was able to stick my head out into the hallway that led back to the front desk. I saw a woman and man sitting there. So I started calling for their help. And if ever there was a time I wished I knew how to say, "can you help me? I'm naked and lost the key to get my clothes back" in Korean, this was it.

I caught their attention and the woman started awkwardly walking in my direction. I frantically waved my hand and whispered loudly and slowly, "NO. THE GUY." While pointing at him.

They understood this, and the man came down the hallway to greet me with surprise.

I had him follow me back to my locker where I showed him the key hole and made the "I don't know" gesture and face. This is when he started smirking. And everyone in the whole place seemed to be standing around us at this point, and they all started smirking too.

A new key was retrieved and I quickly grabbed my clothes, got dressed, and ran out there.

An hour later a woman at security asked me to please remove a key from my ankle before walking through the metal detector.

~It Just Gets Stranger

38 comments:

  1. someone should seriously let paul simon know he's got an admirer...

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  2. I'm at work and I'm trying desperately to not laugh too loudly and interrupt all the attorneys around me and get *that* look (probably much like the one you got when you were naked in the airport, Eli). Love it!

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    1. My attorney is out at the moment, so I can laugh as much as I want. :D

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    2. You are so lucky! LOL

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  3. I think I've finally met my match. Eli, we're part of an elite group that "special" things only happen to. It's both horrifying and some of the best entertainment around. Take pride, sir.

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  4. How do these things keep happening to you??!! oh my gosh....'Our special airport activity.' So funny!

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  5. I think I just threw up in my mouth a little. Morning oatmeal ruined.

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  6. I live about 45 minutes away from a Korean bath house that's in Dallas Tx. Everything you described, even the old man needing a back scrub, sounds perfectly normal. The only thing I think you might have missed though is the shower you're supposed to take before you get into the different baths! Maybe they were staring because they weren't sure how to tell you "Dude! Hit the showers!" LOL

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    1. Is it called King Spa? I went to the one in Niles, IL!

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    2. It is called King Spa! I love it, well after I get over being completely naked in front of a lot of strangers, woman strangers. :)

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  7. Whenever I have a bad day, I can always could on you Eli, to tell a "how I ended up naked in a foreign country with people staring at me" story. It just doesn't ever get old..... Maybe for you it does.

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  8. HA love the ending. As I was reading it was like watching a show where you cringe because you know what's happening is totally embarrassing and you can't help but feel the embarrassment as well.

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  9. WHY do you always end up naked, Eli?

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    1. My daughter in law is a very modest young lady. She spent a semester teaching in China and discovered there was no bathroom privacy at the school she taught at. She was often surrounded by women taking photos of her 'doing her business.' She can laugh about it now!

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  10. Maybe when you get to a safe destination, you should be checked for diseases...

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  11. What a magical experience. Hahahaha I love how you write!

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  12. Oh, so you thought the key was a timing chip? I suppose it was your own personal triathlon in there :-)

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  13. Haha, I make my eyes blurry too!

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  14. I had a similar experience when I was in South Korea. Soooo many women were sitting there watching AND pointing at me! Luckily they provided me with the back scrubber, so I was okay in that department!

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  15. Hilarious.

    I wouldn't normally recommend this, but with the amount of naked awkwardness you've found yourself in I would strongly suggest you become a never-nude.

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    Replies
    1. Hahahahaha! Love it!

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    2. AMAZING suggestion!

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  16. This is the BEST. STORY. EVER. And kudos to you for daring to go into a bathhouse. I never, never, never had the guts to do it when I lived in Japan. I'm not sure which would bother me more, being naked with a bunch of strangers or seeing a bunch of strangers nakedness. Good on you for having an adventure! :)

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  17. The fact that you're human and make mistakes, makes you like the rest of us.
    The fact that you're willing to share the good, the bad, and the naked makes your a superhero!
    Thanks :)

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  18. All I ever have to do when I am having an awful day is read this blog and I can just laugh for a few minutes. I always feel better. Thank you, Eli.

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  19. They have baths very similar to this in Japan. As far as I can tell, the old people just look for the most unsuspecting person to help them with whatever awkward or weird business they need. The last time I went to one I watched an old lady make the employee help her apply some sort of ointment to her bottom. Just think....it could have been worse.

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  20. oh bless. thank you for sharing.

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  21. Loved this. I have been the awkward naked American in a bathhouse in Seoul too! What a club to be in, amiright? Yes, the naked strangers scrubbing each other's backs thing is totally "normal." The whole bathhouse thing is an experience I'll never forget!

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  22. Wow! I gotta get out of Utah more... sounds like an interesting experience.

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  23. Hahaha! I thought this was going to have something to do with a 9/11 full body search....

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  24. So how exactly did the key end up on your ankle?

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    1. I wondered the same thing
      ....

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  25. You just made my whole day. Naked in a Korean airport, if I had a nickel for every time...

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  26. Did they not have any on your mission? My hubby still remembers them from his childhood in Russia.

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  27. I spent 17 hours in the Seoul airport for a layover on the way from Nepal to New Zealand. My team and i had just spent 3 months in Nepal and half of us thought it would be nice to pay for a sleeping room (it was 1am in Seoul when we arrived and therefore there was no access to anything in the airport except for wooden chairs.) And after taking a nice long nap in the sleeping room they would spend much of the next day at the spa. The rest of us very unwisely thought, we're not spending money on that, and ended up shivering on wooden chairs for the next five hours until the cafes opened where we took advantage of Korean hospitality and camped out on their couch for the whole day. Of course everyone in Korea is dressed very stylish and the three of us had been wearing the same three shirts for the past 3 months so I'm sure we weren't drawing any attention to ourselves at all. Everything smelled like fish and eventually the rest of our team that had spent the better part of their day having awkward naked experiences in other regions of the airport (I know that one of them got yelled at in the shower by an old Korean lady wearing lingerie) had to call us over the PA system cause we were all too delirious to realize what time it was. We missed the page on the PA cause we were all asleep on a couple of couches that we found surrounded by Korean people. Then I got stopped at security for having not one, but two pairs of scissors in my carry on that I had no trouble getting on the plane with in Kathmandu.

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