Korean Spa Experience

*Warning: TMI and mental pictures that may be difficult to unsee.  Fortunately, no actual photographs exist.*

Although I had never been to a Korean spa, I had heard a few stories to think that I knew what to expect.  I was expecting a no-frills, matter-of-fact experience in which the sin of my benign neglect towards my skin would be expunged and a shiny, moisturized new self would emerge.  Good bye, epidermal chrysalis!  Hello, skin as soft as a baby’s butt!

So, yes, I decided to treat myself on my birthday.  I had the day off and SMS was working.  We had birthday dinner plans but the day was mine.  I went online and booked the “Goddess Treatment,” because why deny my true nature?  I drove to the spa about 45 minutes early so I could soak in the hot tub and steam in the sauna before my treatment. 

I paid up front and went into the locker room.  It was really nice and clean, which I expected for a spa in Palo Alto.  I stripped down, locked up my clothes, and went into the main spa area.  There were two shower areas, one Western-style shower and one similar to showers I had seen in onsens, with a hand-held shower in a chest-level holder, a mirror, a stool and a wash bowl.  I didn’t see the onsen-style shower until after I had taken my stand-up shower but next time, I’ll use that.  I went into the hot tub, which felt delightful. I would guess it was about 102-103 degrees F.  I sat for a bit and decided to brave the cold plunge, which felt so awful that I figure that in some twisted way, it has to be good for me, right?  I also went into the steam room with a hint of eucalyptus in the air.  I mainly focused on the tubs, though, since I wouldn’t be allowed to go into them after the treatments due to the oils and moisturizers used.

My number was called by Lisa, a small woman in a black sports-bra/granny panty set (bathing suit probably but cannot rule out underwear).  We walked into the adjacent treatment area. This back area had a bunch of tiled off stalls that each had a table in the middle with a pad similar to a diaper changing table- foam covered by a plastic-y wrap that was more comfortable than it looked.  I laid down on my stomach with my head turned and, since the partitions between the stalls were only 3/4 length, realized I could look directly into the eyes of the woman getting a treatment next door.  And that is when I closed my eyes. 

So, Lisa had an enemy and it was my epidermis.  She scrubbed with a vigor I thought I had been expecting, but the reality was far more impressive.  I started on my stomach, which seems a good way to begin since I feel that front nakedness is more exposed than back nakedness.  But then it was time to roll onto my back.  She put a folded up towel over my crotch, which at first I thought was for modesty but actually seemed more like a backstop to protect my vagina from an accidental overshoot of vigorous scrubbing.  Although I realize this sounds cringe-worthy don’t worry, it gets worse.

So, in David Sedaris’ book Me Talk Pretty One Day, he talks about how his sister Amy was so dedicated to obtaining a perfect, uniform tan that she would lay out in (un)intentionally lascivious positions to make sure that all areas were hit by the sun- inner thighs, side body, etc.    Well, those were the next two positions as I lay on my side with my legs posed in a way that would have been rather sexy in certain situations but in this scenario was anything but.  At this point, my eyes were closed because if I couldn’t see anyone or anything, maybe no one would see me.  I mean, don’t get me wrong.  It was just me and Lisa but still, that was two people too many to witness that awkward of a position.

After the scrub, I was sent to the shower to rinse off.  I craned my neck so I could look over my shoulder, since I was convinced I would see punctate bleeding.  I didn’t.  I know this sounds slightly ridiculous but this entire treatment was in the spirit of hurts so good.  

After the scrub and rinse, I had a massage that was nice.  Vigorous rather than relaxing still applied, but it felt pretty good.  The massage also made me think back to a time when a (female) dentist I worked with on the Kitty Hawk went to a couples’ massage session in Malaysia since it was cheaper to get the treatments in a shared room.  Well, I was super relaxed during my massage when I was slightly startled by the masseuse asking, popping up right next to my face, “Breast massage?!”  I had no idea of this was legit or totally shady so I said no.  When I asked my friend if the same thing had happened to her, it had and she had totally gone for it!   She said it was fine and mainly focused on the pec muscles rather than breasts proper.

Well, dear readers, life does give second chances.  

After the massage, I had a body wrap.  I know, if this is starting to sound like a lot, we are way past that but remember, it is the goddess treatment.

Finally, all the treatments were complete.  I showered off and sat in the dry sauna and steam room for 45 minutes.  I dried off and then lay in the heated Himalayan salt room.  

So, final verdict.  It was pretty awesome!  Definitely not as relaxing as most of my spa experiences (which aren’t that many), but very invigorating.  I would definitely go again, but I think a scrub alone will be my treatment of choice.  I know!  Even though it feels more like a endurance event than a beauty treatment, my skin did look pret-ty good afterwards.  

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