So today was quite the day. I developed a new (to me) cultural stereotype. Positive, don’t worry.
I had my first day at a Korean Spa a.k.a. jjimjilbang, at Riviera Health Spa in Torrance. What an experience it was; rather upset that I had waited three decades to try it out. As someone who doesn’t necessarily appreciate unfamiliar situations, figuring out the whole Eve’s birth suit and single towel affair was quite the test. I’m never uncomfortable walking naked – my next door neighbors whose kitchen windows face our window-walled living room can testify to that, but I wouldn’t want to flaunt my bod in public places in ways that would be inappropriate. Asking for directions was pointless because I could not understand the Korean-English if my life depended on it.
I somehow managed and left the spa unscathed a few hours later.
After leaving my shoes in a cubby by the entrance, I was lead into the locker area where I had to remove any fabric covering my body; for a while I was able to hide my postpartum figure in a bath towel. Not that I really needed it from a psychological point of view. I find it a bit silly to be self-conscious about or ashamed to show your body. Your body is your body and it is just that – it was given to your at birth, you had no say in what was handed to you, so why feel the need to hide something that you had no control over and which anyway should not define you in the least? If you were blessed with a pregnancy or two, or blessed to reach a certain age, or unfortunate to deal with a sickness, that have taken their toll on your body, again, the same reasoning, carry your marks and scars with pride, and do not be ashamed of your outer shell, it shows the journey you’ve been on. Your body is part of you, but does not define you. And as it is nobody’s business to judge you for your body, it is not your business to care how others choose to judge you.
But I digress. Back to my story. It was when I was taken to the women’s spa area and directed towards the showers that I saw all these Korean ladies grooming themselves and it hit me – the Koreans must be the cleanest people on Earth. Not a bad stereotype to define you, right? I definitely started feeling dirty as I was comparing my, at times only bi-weekly, mother-of-two five-minute showers with what was performed in front of me: women of all ages and all body types seated on low stools in front of mirrors and what looked like vanity tables, loofahs and soaps in hands, scrubbing themselves all over their bodies (including their netherparts like this was the most natural thing to do in public, in a communal bath…).
I then proceeded to the steam sauna, per the earlier instructions of my fully-clothed Korean hostess. As I didn’t know what else to do, I grabbed the one towel they gave me and laid it down so I could sit on it. Needles to say that towel rendered itself useless after it became soaking wet, but luckily right as I was coming out of the sauna my Korean guide, who turned out to be my “esthetician/masseuse” and was now wearing only a bra and undies, was waving at me calling “108! 108! 108?” (my guest number because Ana was too difficult to pronounce or too personal, who knows) and herded me towards the massage tables corner. The whole time I was on the other side of the spa I was trying to figure out what those women wearing their bras were doing behind the four-foot-tall wall— to me it looked like they were doing laundry by hand; it was all confusing. I mean, Asians are crafty and all, but why in the world would you combine a spa and a manual laundromat under the same roof?
There I was now, one of about six women naked on top of pink massage tables wondering what would happen next when this lady pours a bucket of warm water all over me. Felt good, but a bit of advance notice wouldn’t kill anyone. It may in fact keep some weak-hearted women alive. And so it started. The scrubbing. Nicely called: exfoliation. The first 15 minutes felt like sand-papering a sun-burn. I grew my tolerance fairly fast, and somehow I learned to relax into the process. I was scrubbed all over, I was asked to turn on my tummy, on my sides, back on my back, back on my tummy, a few times. For one hour Yung Yung Kim (sp?) removed at least one pound of dead skin off my body; she then transitioned into to a deep tissue massage which, unfortunately, I cannot recommend. It felt like I was being beaten with a baseball bat and in between hits the assailant would stop for a moment to spastically roll the bat over my back to make sure my bones are reduced to fine grains. No, this did not feel like a massage for one second. Apparently, as someone familiar with the Korean spa menus suggested, you should get the body scrub done downstairs in the women’s spa and get a massage upstairs in the co-ed area, where you can order different styles of massages. Dully noted for next time.
The last step of my Premium Gold Combo Package involved a large aluminum blanket, lots of oil, and a gold facial mask. I was practically marinated; rubbed well with some mineral oil, then wrapped like a burrito in aluminum foil. She also washed and conditioned my hair, and while she did try to massage my scalp, that felt wrong; it was more like angry cat scratches than anything else. God bless her though, she did work me for close to two hours and didn’t stop for a minute. She deserved her tip alright.
The Korean Spa will become my go-to for regular self-care; while you are able to get a good body scrub at regular spas you cannot beat the Korean prices, plus you have all-day access to all those different saunas that I did not get the chance to try as my exclusively breastfed kid was starting to wail for me. Oh, also, it sounds like you can make your visit to a Korean Spa a family outing – there is a co-ed area where you can lay your towel and chill* or nap, there are TVs around, and there’s even a restaurant – they do make sure to meet all your basic needs.
I came home all excited and told my husband he needed to try out this place. Sadly, we had the bad fortune of watching together Conan’s experience at a Korean Spa which is discouraging to say the least. See below.
What are your experiences with Korean Spas? Do you have a regular regimen of self-care that you wouldn’t mind sharing with me and my readers? Caring for ourselves and setting time aside for it is important. In order to get it done, it may help to schedule “SELF-CARE” in your calendar or planner. I’m going to pencil in my next month’s Korean Spa date with self – I am thinking about trying out Wi Spa in LA.
Happy scrubbing, mommas and daddas! It will be delicious!
* Actual chilling, not “netflix & chilling“