The gap between walls is 30cm. There are 12 households close together on each floor of a four-story building in Dongja-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul. A woman surnamed Kim in her 70s is also staying in a room measuring about 2 pyeong on the second floor of this building. When you spread your legs, the small space becomes full. There is no bathroom for private use. In the washroom on the same floor shared by 12 households, there was a dirty, old washing machine and two small washbasins. I can’t even think of taking a shower or bath, even in the bathroom. This is because it does not block other people’s gaze. Mr. Kim said, “Men just take a shower, but I’m like that.”
At 2pm on the 26th of last month, when the midday temperature was over 30 degrees. It was a day when my entire body was drenched in sweat even if I just walked for 10 minutes. Ms. Kim received a bathing voucher along with her food voucher from a nearby jjokbang counseling center, giving her the opportunity to bathe and shower once a fortnight in the hot summer, but she doesn’t even use it often. “I want to take a shower too, but even the slightest movement makes me sweat. “It’s not like I can wash it every day, so I try not to move as much as possible.” You have to walk 20 minutes from his house to the bathhouse where you can use the bath coupon. As an elderly person, Mr. Kim’s walking speed is even slower.
Prior to this, on the 22nd of last month, Mr. Baek, a man in his 60s, who had agreed to accompany the Hankyoreh to her bathhouse, suddenly changed his mind and canceled his appointment. The next day, on the 23rd, she planned to stop by the bathhouse with a bathing pass before going to church, but she kept coming up with reasons why she couldn’t go to the bathhouse, perhaps because of the long distance. She said, “I think it’s going to rain.” Although it did not rain, contrary to the weather forecast, Mr. Baek hung up on her, leaving only a vague promise, “I will do it later.” Two bathing vouchers that could be used during the month of July were thrown away like that.
The situation of residents of other side rooms who receive bathing coupons is similar. Mr. Jeong (57) said, “I sweat more when I go to the bathroom, so why would I go there? “I either throw away the bathing passes or give them to people who need them,” he said. Instead, he said he often uses the shower room that is open for free within the counseling center. However, it cannot be used at night after closing hours, so on tropical nights, I always go to the park to cool off.
■ Bathrooms have decreased by half in 10 years.
In fact, there is no ‘space to wash’. If you need a place to shower or bathe, there is a public bathhouse nearby, but even that suffers from lack of accessibility. As public bathhouses are closing across the country, people are losing more opportunities to wash.
According to an analysis of public bathhouse business data by the Ministry of Public Administration and Security on the 30th, there were 3,591 public bathhouses that closed nationwide over the past 10 years from 2013 to the end of last year, with an average of 359 public bathhouses closing each year. During the same period, an average of 115 new public bathhouses were reported for business every year across the country. Considering this, 244 bathhouses disappeared per year across the country (2,442 over 10 years).
Looking at Seoul alone, the number has decreased by about half in 10 years, from 1,294 in 2013 to 688 as of the end of July this year. The population per bathhouse also increased 1.5 times from 7,838 10 years ago to 13,679. In Seoul, the number of public bathhouses closing each year over the past 10 years is 3 to 10 times higher than the number of public bathhouses reporting new business. The rate of disappearance of public bathhouses is relatively fast compared to other regions. There are currently 5,941 public bathhouses in operation across the country, and if we consider this level of decline every year, all public bathhouses in the country will disappear in 25 years.
As public bathhouses disappear from the map, areas where many elderly people live are hit hard. Bathhouses are considered one of the important welfare policies in most regions for the reason that “a comfortable opportunity for washing must be provided.” This is why cities and counties sometimes operate public bathhouses and provide bathing discounts or vouchers to residents.
However, it is difficult for public bathhouses to be revitalized unless they are operated by the private sector. In particular, many bathhouses have reported closure due to business difficulties due to COVID-19 or the recent increase in gas and other fuel costs due to management burden. Unlike in the past, it is difficult to ignore the fundamental impact of changes in the bathing culture itself, such as a decrease in the number of young people who feel that ‘you have to wash off the dirt to be refreshed’ in the bathhouse. The fact that bathhouses are becoming large-scale facilities by combining them with exercise facilities such as saunas, fitness centers, and swimming pools also appears to have contributed to the decline in the number of pure bathhouse consumers.
■ We are helpless even as the price of public bathhouses rises.먹튀검증
As public bathhouses are disappearing across the country, there are also regions that are worried about the lack of public bathhouses. Yeongdong-gun in North Chungcheong Province is a representative example. In Yeongdong-gun, North Chungcheong Province, where 44,601 residents live (as of the end of July), there is only one public bathhouse in the town. A bathhouse in Yeongdong-eup is the only place in Yeongdong-gun with the name ‘Mokyoktang’ as one bathhouse closed for business reasons a few years ago. The situation is similar in surrounding areas, and residents of Muju, Jeollabuk-do are said to come all the way here to visit the bathhouse.
Kim Hak-bae (70), a resident of Yeongdong-gun, said, “In the winter, there are times when there is no hot water at home, so I visit the bathroom every two days. However, there is only one public bathhouse in the county, so it is not easy to get there.” Park Young-ae (70) said, “Even if there is a shower facility at home, it is better for elderly people who live alone to go to a public bathhouse and get help to wash.” She added, “I wish there was at least one more public bathhouse in the county.”
The inconvenience caused by the disappearance of the bathroom is not simple. Since there is only one public bathhouse, residents have no other options even if the price is raised. Yeo In-ho (65), a resident of Yeongdong-gun, said, “They said fuel costs have risen recently, so they raised the price again. People who visit the bathhouse are mainly elderly people in their 60s or older. Wouldn’t 7,000 won be a burden for them? “That means people won’t come to the bathroom anymore,” he said. “Because the bathroom itself is not making money, the business owner may want to quit. “I’m worried that even this might disappear,” she said. Mr. Lee (79), who runs a kitchenware store in Yeongdong-gun, also said, “The only public bathhouse has also raised its prices for the past few years due to rising fuel costs, and it is frustrating because there is no other alternative.”