Why do I love lying on a massage table butt naked in front of total strangers, while being scrubbed by a matronly Korean lady dressed in a black bra and panty?
I have always been a spa diva, whether at a resort hotel spa while on vacation or local day spas i.e. Burke Williams or Glen Ivy, usually for a birthday celebration, Mother’s Day, or a spa day with the girls. I would sit in the lounge listening to the piped in new age music, drinking tea, wearing a fluffy robe, smiling and using my quiet voice, and for the most part having a nice time. My name would be called and the therapist would place his or her hand on my shoulder and escort me back to a dimly lit private room. I would be left alone to disrobe and my masseuse would administer my chosen treatment over my modestly, strategically towel covered body. This was before I discovered Korean spas.
With summer officially around the corner it is time to polish up the body and shed that outer layer of dead skin. Why not try Natura Spa, my favorite Korean spa?
We checked in with the receptionist, selected our silver package service a ( 2 and 1/2 hour treatment) for $130.00, and were given our locker keys #13 and #15. During our visit we would be referred to as “Number 13” and “Number 15”. The locker area is small but sufficient, inside each locker there is a plastic tub with a robe and 2 small towels, flip flops are provided as well, but if you are a germophobic you should bring your own these are not new ones.
In the locker room women are in various states of nakedness, there is a no swimsuit policy at Korean spas. You quickly realize that we are more alike than different and that a boob is a boob, and some of us have hair and some of us don’t, some of us are old and a little saggy and some of us are young and perky. There are mostly Korean ladies with a sprinkling of other women, who realize that this is a good deal. Our treatment would cost at least $300 in a western spa.
We enter the spa area which is a sea of lady parts, there is no where to put your robe, no hooks strategically located by the sauna or showers, you realize the robes stay in the plastic tubs and you and whatever you may be insecure about just walk around exposed. There is a really hot jacuzzi, a cold pool, warm pool, steam room and a large dry sauna with a flat screen TV playing Korean soap operas. Low shower heads, about knee high are attached along the perimeter of a large tiled shower area, little stools are in front of the showers and a few women are sitting on stools washing and scrubbing themselves. Again if you are a germophobic you may have a problem with this since everyone is sitting on these stools bare bottom.
After we tried all the pools and saunas, we hear our names “Number 13” and “Number 15”. We go to the scrub area which is adjacent to the spa area, think open floor plan house where you have the kitchen and family room together. Massage tables are set up communal style, bodies are in various states of treatments, some oily, some being massaged, some even being wrapped in foil, so if you are with a friend you may be next to one another on the tables.
Let the scrubbing begin, with something that feels like a brillo pad every inch of your body is scrubbed, no area or crevice is left undone. Out the corner of my eye I could see what appears to be eraser shavings piling up on the table, I’m certain that when I am done I will be a few shades lighter. The scrub is aggressive but not unpleasant, I know the end result will be baby soft, silky skin like a newborn. Next I am throughly rinsed, think automatic car wash and then a seaweed mud is applied all over my body and I am wrapped in a gold foil paper like a sweet potato. Finally I shower the mud off with the assistance of the lady who makes sure none of the mud is left any where on my body. Back to the table for a facial, shampoo, vigorous head massage, deep tissue oil massage, and foot reflexology. I am reduced to a piece of jello. As I get dressed I am amazed at how satiny smooth my skin feels, I understand why they have monthly memberships to the spa.
Jjimjillbangs are a popular weekend activity for Korean families. Spas are part of maintenance for Korean women, not an occasional treat. This traditional Korean spa experience may not be for everybody, but it is something you should at least try once.