Kimchee Capers – Some Like it Hot
Note: This installment of Kimchee Capers might make some of you uncomfortable. I am being totally honest with my experience at the Korean Hot Spa. Read on if you don’t mind some personal information.
And they love their hot baths and saunas. And now I do too.
I was a little apprehensive about going into the sauna the first time. Only apprehensive because I’m not used to walking around naked with people I don’t know. This apparently is not a problem for the Koreans. And frankly why it is for Americans I don’t know. We do obsess a great deal about our bodies. God knows mine is far from perfect. But what is perfect anyway? Wouldn’t it be great if we all just were satisfied with ourselves?
I tried to think like this in the sauna. No one paid any attention to me here. You shower first, then choose between three different pools; hot (44 C), medium (41 C) and cool (21 C). There is also a 95 C dry sauna, a 73 C wet sauna and a sun lamp room in addition to several stations to wash and scrub yourself.
After two days of visiting the spa I decided to tackle the massage and body scrub. I was met by a tiny little lady,
the only person in the spa wearing a bathing suit (or perhaps it was her underwear, I’m not exactly sure). She motioned me into the small room adjacent to the spa and encouraged me to get up on the bed face up. She spoke only Korean except for the word “okay” which she used to show me I was following her instructions correctly.
She then proceeded to scrub the hell out of my skin. Using what I think was mitts on her hands that were abrasive and using some abrasive concoction she scrubbed and scrubbed and scrubbed. With my eyes closed I had the image of me in my kitchen at home using my Brillo to scrub away baked-on macaroni and cheese. She scrubbed every nook, cranny, crevice and crease of my body, and I mean every crease and crevice – she was very thorough and diligent in her task. For an hour she scrubbed away years of dead skin, old suntans and crud. She even tried to scrub away a few scars. I have a permanent mark on my sternum where my running bra abrades me. She did her best to scrub that sucker away.
I wear a patch on my belly that is hormone replacement therapy. I hadn’t even thought about the patch, but she scrubbed that away too. I have no idea if she knew what it was but I felt it rip off and I laid there mentally calculating how many more I had with me, hoping the loss of one wouldn’t make me come up short before I headed home to my pharmacist.
She scrubbed my armpits and I was wishing I had shaved that morning. She scrubbed my breasts and I opened my eyes to peek and make sure my nipples were still there. She scrubbed my neck, my ears and every toe and finger.
She then soaped me up and I nearly shot right off the bed like an oiled pig for being so slippery…she tossed large tubs of hot water all over me and I nearly drowned. And I loved every minute of it.
I returned and she was waiting for me and I laid down again, top up. She rubbed me down, starting with my face with an oil that smelled of the sea, fresh but also of seaweed. She used another implement that was wood and covered with nodules to rub my body head to toe. She occasionally would throw a bucket of hot water on me and then begin again. She covered my face with a hot towel and then I heard her scraping something. It sounded like my kitchen grater…and then the unmistakeable smell of fresh cucumber. She grated and grated and then proceeded to artistically cover my entire face with the freshly and finely grated cucumber mash. And suddenly I was hungry.
While lunch sat on my face she continued my massage. She found the knot in my neck where my massage therapist at home has spent a lot of time and energy. My Korean masseuse was hell-bent on un-tieing this knot and she worked and worked it. It was both painful and pleasurable. She even massaged my belly, almost as if she was trying to manipulate my liver and kidneys. Oops, and my bladder. I hoped she would avoid that area or else I wasn’t gonna make it through this torture without a potty break.
Finally she removed the salad from my face, lightly washed and dried my face and then it was time for dessert. Yes I said dessert. She drizzled honey all over my face and rubbed and patted it into my skin before saying “Okay okay” and had me roll over to my belly.
And then she started on my backside. During this 30 minutes she made my sciatica feel fabulous and my lower back feel young again. She used a pumice stone on my feet and scraped away the dead skin and calluses. She kneaded my neck further and worked my shoulders and arms.
“Okay okay” and I rolled over again, thinking we must be done, but no. She washed my face again, poured more water all over me and then had me scoot all the way to the top of the table where she proceeded to wash my hair and scrub my scalp. Really, when has your masseuse ever done this?
Finally, after nearly three hours, “Okay okay” and I am done. Off to the showers I was sent.
My day at the Korean spa was not just a body scrub and massage, it was a facial and a hair care and pure ecstacy. My inhibitions are gone forever and I am now a super fan of Korean Spa Life. I will absolutely do this again.
And by the way, three hours and all this only cost me $75. Wow. I’m really starting to enjoy Korea.