Life Lessons from the Korean Spa
It’s taken me more than 30 years to realize what growing up Catholic can do to you. This is a religion whose chief female figure is pretty much covered from head to toe and stepping on a snake for the heck of it. It kind of does things to you somewhere deep in your psyche when it comes to nudity. But every girl, regardless of creed or “ripply-ness” should confront her own body, whether it is in the high school gym shower (reference to Brian De Palma’s Carrie reference unintentional) or in my case, at the Korean spa. Los Angeles’ vibrant Korean community is full of these spas. They are usually not as glamorous as your typical day spa, for these are places of more functional use. You go for a long soak, a steam, a cold dunk, a sauna, repeat two more times – and then a nice long personal wash (said like “warsh”). And yeah, you have to doff it, ladies. Drop trou. Be nekkid. The men have their own entrance, and we have ours. In fact, it was my boyfriend who made me go to the spa in the first place. He seemed to intuit that I was going to learn life lessons behind the doors of the Korean spa. The first one, and most obvious one was:
Lesson #1 Nobody cares that you’re naked
Nobody cares that EVERYONE is naked.
And nobody really looks. Someone might glance when someone new slips into the hot soak nearby but that’s it. Everyone is so unconcerned with everyone else’s nudity that one night a woman fully stood in front of the TV, blocking my view, but giving me a great perspective of her damp flat butt – it wasn’t out of rudeness really, more like a complete relaxed attitude of where she was and she didn’t care if I had a great perspective of her damp flat butt. Get over it! It’s not a big deal.
Lesson #2 We are really, really dirty little bugs
I went for a vigorous body scrub, administered by a thorough Korean woman in black bra and panties (the uniform of many women working at these spas). The scrubbing was so fierce I wondered if I’d be red all over by the time it was done. No, I was just clean. I laid on my stomach a few feet away from another young woman getting a scrub (again, get over it!) as little bucket after bucket of warm water was poured over me. I watched the weird detritus from my body wash away and felt relieved. Being naked on a table in a room full of other naked strangers on tables was worth it, to feel absolutely squeaking clean.
Lesson #3 Korean soap operas are awesome!
Even when they’re not subtitled! Okay so this isn’t really a life lesson – but Korean soap operas are so different from American or Latin American shows. They seem to be all about what is not said, and romances that are stifled by family obligations or misunderstandings. It’s so old fashioned in a certain regard and that nice change of pace fits nicely with the relaxation you are offering your body in the heat of the sauna.
Lesson #4 Relax, American girl!
We don’t take enough time to relax, but so many other cultures use the bath as a place to detoxify and scrub all the funny areas and do it in the company of people you like. Korean women line up in little groups of three to scrub each other’s backs at the same time. We need this kind of camaraderie and relaxation. You can face the next day knowing you don’t have a dirty neck, and that nobody cared about your your belly pooch at the spa last night.
Did I mention that some of these places are open 24 hours a day? And that there are also nice clean warm rooms to take naps in? And that you can get a bowl of noodles while you wait for your massage? The benefits just get crazier and crazier. If your city doesn’t have a Korean spa, I suggest you come visit a city that does! You will learn things…