I visited my first Korean spa today and it was unlike any traditional spa I have ever been to. If you have not yet had this experience, I highly recommend it. My body and brain are profoundly grateful—the body grateful, of course, because of manipulation and massage, knot busting magic fingers, and intense exfoliation and beautifully silky skin; the brain grateful because my edge, my angst, my anxiety were sanded down to almost non-existent. And boy, do they sand, a scrub and buff extraordinaire.
You shower, you hot tub it, steam room, hot tub, all in preparation for the treatment. You are naked. Naked in a room full of other naked women. Tired bodies, tight bodies, wrinkled, stretched, bodies beaten by time and bodies that defy time. If you are concerned about being naked, if you anguish over the American definition of beauty and your shortcomings, don’t go—and what a shame that would be. It’s not a beauty spa. It’s where women work on your body parts, while something in their methodology, something in their Asian sensibility, works on your body image.
You lie on a slab like a wet fish (really, a massage table with a plastic top), the attendants salt you and oil you and flip you with spatula like hands—how they keep women from falling off the table is a testament to their strength and focus. They pour buckets of warm water on you and loofa you into submission, giving your body four distinct turns and working every angle, every crevice. You don’t have to buy the scrubbing piece. The older Korean clientele (and 90-95% of the clientele is Korean) sat on stools at a trough with a hand-held shower and sanded themselves—don’t do the self-serve, buy the scrub. The exfoliation over, you go back into the shower, then back to the table for the grand finale. They cover your face in cucumber and massage and oil and prod places that you didn’t know you had. They straddle your ass, they slap you and flip you some more and oil and massage your scalp and then wash your hair. It is amazing.
The spa building is three stories high and in a semi-industrial part of town. I’ve been told that other spas are similar in size and location, with some in strip malls. There are additional saunas, detox rooms, massage rooms and specialists. There is no spa music, no fancy-schmancy lotions to buy, no snooty young thing behind the reception counter. Everyone wears the same baggy shorts and tee shirt outfit handed to you at check-in. There is a restaurant, a tv room, relaxation rooms, and in a nod to that which is an integral part of both eastern and western cultures, a computer room. Find a Korean spa, take a friend, plan on spending hours—and incidentally, when you buy into the treatment, or any treatment, you can stay 24 hours. My companion had been to several Korean spas in Los Angeles, and this was her third trip to this particular NJ spa. My 2 1/2 hours there cost only $150.00. Worth every single, shiny, silky penny, and then some.
photo credit: thetravelersway.com