Turns out that I enjoy going and soaking at a Korean Bath house otherwise known as jjim-jil bang (derived from the word: Heating). Living in Fullerton, CA we have very large Korean population here. I respect other cultures and appreciate the history and traditions that families are able to maintain while living in this melting pot called “home”.
I’ve been to the local Korean Spa 3 times in the past year. The first time I went during a month long strict eating regime called the Whole 30. I was half way through my 30 and needed a reward. I went and had a full body scrub and massage, this was the 1st time I’ve had my every inch of my body scrubbed by an older Korean woman with black lace underwear. The second time, I just lounged for an hour and half wandering in between the rooms dressed and undressed exploring what each one had to offer. This time while it’s fresh in my mind, I’m going to explain my experience and also note that I’ll go back… again and again.
I was discussing the “nakedness” with my husband and how, for me, I was raised in a very modest household, just like most western countries. I never saw my parents naked, why would I want to? Unless you have a perfect body as in what today’s media society has depicted, revealing ones self to anyone other than your spouse is unheard of. Body image is all around us, on TV, magazines, facebook, you name it, there’s constant reminders that being slender and having a toned body is the way we should be. I struggle with it sometimes, I’m constantly feeling I should 5-10lbs lighter than what I am. Though I’m getting less focused on the scale and more focused on the size of my clothes.
So if you have body image issues, going to a Korean spa to be around other naked people of the same sex might seriously put you out of your comfort zone. I was clearly out of mine the first time, and even the second… and yes, slightly the third time too, though it is getting easier. After relaxing for a while and shutting down all of the days issues, I started to feel invigorated in my birthday suit and caring less and less what anyone else thought of what I looked like naked, they don’t care, I started not to as well. I actually felt more comfortable with myself that I ever have. I was around strangers, if people were judging me, who cares? There were so many shapes and sizes there, I’m not different than anyone else.
The Korean Spa is segregated to rooms that are for women and men. Clothing is not allowed in pools, saunas or Jacuzzis, but you are given shorts and a matching top allowing you to go into the common areas to either relax in the main room and watch TV or eat your lunch in the restaurant. There were several common areas like the Ice Room, the Salt Room, and Bio-light Room. There are sleeping rooms that resemble caves. I found these rooms comforting, areas to decompress.
On my last visit I decided that I’d do another body scrub and have a massage too, totaling 80 minutes. I arrived right on time and found that I should have arrived 15-20 min earlier, time enough to shower and soak in to the spa warming my body in preparation for a few layers of skin to be removed. When you read the word “scrub” it’s exactly that. Think of your body as a potato that needs to be peeled and that’s exactly what happens. I went up stairs and found my room with my lady. She’s wearing regular clothes and asked me to rinse my body down and sit face up on the table. She then proceeded to change into her black lace underwear as I showered. It was a very intimate moment, not really. This woman was going to touch every part of my both over the next 80 minutes. Every crevice. Why was I surprised she’d strip down naked in front of me?
I lay on the plastic lined table and for one second, I glanced down at my toes saying to myself “this is how I’ll look in the morgue with tag attached to my big toe” Cold room, butt naked with a stranger determining how I pegged out. ha ha! sorry
It got better though starting with the very warm buckets of water being tossed on my body, it felt wonderful. Then came the scrubbing, these little green mitts As I mentioned, think of a potato, lightly washed at first, then the peeling back of layers until you have a smooth surface. That’s the best way I can explain this fully exfoliating body experience. There’s a methodology to this scrub, very symmetrical. Arms, legs, thighs, stomach, breasts, sides, back, legs, inner thighs and my hair. I think at one point there was a finger in my nose as well as both ears. You are clean after this visit, make no mistake about it. While I’m not sure if I’ll ever be 100% comfortable with it, the more I do it, the more natural it becomes. It’s almost painful both internally and externally. This inner struggle of the normalcy, the mix of cultures and what is considered comfortable and as I mentioned before, testing the limits of my comfort zones.
After the Scrub came the massage. I dried off and was laying naked on the table feeling slightly vulnerable. I was thankful when I was asked to lay face down and she covered by body with a warm towel. I noticed two towels to each side of me, I didn’t know what they were for until I realized that she would be getting up on the table and straddling me, each towel was for her legs. She poked and prodded and massaged every inch of me. She put a mask on my face that after was peeled off and my face was massaged. What a great experience. After she was done, she basically lifted me up and wrapped a towel around my body (almost a hugging fashion) and sent me on my way.
I went downstairs and sat in the wet sauna, it must have been 110 degrees (I don’t know exact temperature). After, I showered again, sat in the spa for another 5 min then went and dressed. I decided I’d not rush home just yet, instead, I sat on the sofa in my pink uniform and read my book for a time, while in the background Korean movies played on the TV.
I love this video of Conan O’Brian and Steven Yeun, it’s comical yet accurate.
This is a place where families go to relax, tradition is carried on and the cultures are remaining strong. I noticed a mom with her two young daughters. They arrived at the same time as me, and after my 80 min, they were just finishing up with their own scrub in the bathing area I find it fascinating that women will sit here for a hour and scrub the layers of skin off their own bodies, it seems like a ritual almost, like a cleansing. We are always so rushed in todays society, in the mornings we hop in the shower, scrub ourselves with either a wash cloth or a luffa, wash hair and in 6-10 min, we’re done. Are we really clean? I’m not so sure now, especially after I’ve seen the layers of skin rinsed off of me!
As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, I said I’d go back. I will. I’ll go back if I can, once a month, it’s good to check out for a bit, stop thinking about the worries of the day, of the week and of the year. Being there brings a form of peace for me. I hope my explanation hasn’t turned you off, but instead enticed you to try it. I have yet to go with friends, that’s a different story and I think maybe in time, I’d love to feel comfortable with a group of women I know that feels the same way, thinking “this is so cool” instead of being self conscious like we all are in the beginning, (myself included). I noticed women chatting in there sitting naked and indian style – ha ha, I’m not sure if I’ll go that far, but what’s so natural for them will always be foreign to me and I have to really force myself to open up my mind and be natural in the truest sense.