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The Korean Spa Ain't My Cup of Tea

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Today I decided to embark on a new experience -- the Korean Spa. I am generally not a fan of spa treatments.

korean spa

Jennifer Ginsberg: Spa treatments actually seem to have the reverse effect on me -- instead of getting relaxed, I tend to get freaked out as some stranger massages me either too hard or too soft. Then I begin to obsess over how I should tell them to change their technique without hurting their feelings. If I finally do manage to unwind, the masseuse will undoubtedly be a Chatty Cathy who gabs nonstop while trying to squeeze some free therapy out of me, during my intended hour of peace and quiet. And frankly, I am not too keen on some stranger rubbing their cooties all over my naked body -- especially during flu season. Consequently, I tend to avoid massages most of the time.

But my friend told me about this incredible Korean spa which she claimed was "amazing, clean, and unbelievably cheap." Having had a stressful few weeks with work and family responsibilities, I decided to treat myself to a massage. As I looked at the spa menu online, I was pleasantly surprised by the options and prices. I booked a two-hour treatment, which included a body wrap, massage, facial, and conditioning hair treatment. All of this was only $130!!! I felt like I had struck gold.

When I arrived at the spa, I was impressed by how clean it was. However, I was not impressed by the fact that everyone was nude -- including the employees. Don't get me wrong -- I am not a prude, I don't have a problem with anyone's naked body. Personally, I prefer to be nude in a dim room while flat on my back (and not breathing) after my husband takes his glasses off. But I figured that when in the Korean spa, do as the Korean spa-goers, so I mentally tried to prepare myself for imminent full-frontal nudity. I felt badly for exposing these poor Korean women to my boobs -- which are really quite frightening after breastfeeding for nearly four years. Even the elderly woman who was getting out of the Jacuzzi (and looked to be around 80 years old) had perkier breasts than me!

My technician was a stern, husky, middle-aged woman (who happened to have great tits). She was armed with some scary-looking scrub brush and commanded me (in broken English) to get naked -- in a communal treatment room under fluorescent lights. I was terrified to drop my robe, but even more afraid to defy this imposing woman, so I did as I was told. As she surveyed my body, I could have sworn her eyes lingered judgmentally on my breasts. I gave her my most apologetic look and flung myself facedown on a plastic treatment bed, almost sliding to the concrete floor in the process.

She began to scrub, and scrub and scrub. Like she was trying to get the varnish off an old piece of furniture. I was in excruciating pain and certain my skin was getting rubbed right off, but as I looked at all the other nude Korean technicians scrubbing away, I was inspired by their milky, flawless skin -- so I decided to brave it out, repeating the mantra "beauty is pain."

The scrubbing continued and my skin felt raw. I considered voicing my concerns, but for some reason, I didn't think my technician would be sympathetic. It began to feel like she was using a brillo pad to scour a filthy roasting pan. Granted, I'm no spring chicken, but I happen to shower and exfoliate regularly, and I don't work in the coal mines. What the hell was she trying to scrub off of me? I lay there passively, paralyzed by fear and pain. At some point, I began to identify with my captor and convinced myself that this torture actually felt good. Finally it ended! Then she wrapped me up in what appeared to be a gigantic piece of tin foil and began violently scrubbing my head. I feared for my highlights.

Next came the facial, which was (surprise!) a super-aggressive cleansing followed by an ice-cold stringy mask that was aggressively slapped on. It seriously felt like worms were being dropped onto my face -- in retrospect, maybe they were, but I dared not ask any questions, for inquiries could be construed as challenging this woman's authority.

Next came the massage. She drenched my body in hot oil and began beating my poor muscles into submission. By this point, I was counting the minutes for this treatment to end. I'd really had enough -- my capacity for pain was maxed out. She got on top of me and began pounding on my back. I felt warm droplets splash all over me. I figured she was pouring more oil, but then I realized that both of her hands were occupied, as she was beating the sh*t out of me. I reached my head back and saw sweat pouring off her face and body and splashing down. All over my naked body.

I needed to get the f*ck out of there right now.

"Is it almost over?" I asked bravely, hoping that someone would understand me and respond. She sent another technician over -- a young woman who looked like a Victoria's Secret model -- to translate.

"Half hour!" she replied curtly, and continued to pound and sweat away. There was no way I could endure this torture for another 30 minutes.

I suddenly had a flashback to the novel "1984," when the lead character was forced to face his personal hell as he was locked in a tiny room with a swarm of rats. Having a stranger squatted over me and schvitzing on my naked body was my own version of hell. I needed to escape.

I abruptly sat up, and for an instant, forgot about my breasts, which were quite possibly in the most unattractive position possible, and declared, "I need to go now."

She put her hand on my chest and pushed me back down on the bed. "Not yet!" she barked, and continued the attack. Clearly, in the Korean spa, when a woman says "no," it doesn't mean no.

I sat up again and, with more urgency in my voice, I said, "I need to go NOW ... I am late for something." I darted over to my robe to wrap up my body, which was pink from all the scouring, pounding, and shame.

Now that I am home and mostly recovered, I am happy to report that my skin looks and feels great. My hair is shiny and bouncy, and I actually feel pretty good.

But God help me, I will never voluntarily subject myself to such abuse, humiliation, and sweat ever again.


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11 comments so far | Post a comment now
Robin October 22, 2009, 11:25 AM

I would have had to go home and scrub my skin off again if I had had that woman sweating all over me!

Kristin October 22, 2009, 12:32 PM

You poor thing! I have the same problem (unless I’m getting a pedi…then they can rub away) When I sit in those massage chairs at the mall, I usually end out fighting back against them and pulling something. lol

aurhynn October 22, 2009, 8:11 PM

The stuff you “endured” which, I admit for the uninitiated, can be shocking and sometimes painful, is normal practice here in Korea. The communal bath houses (separated by male and female) are where people come to get scrubbed and clean. I’ve gone since I was a toddler and at times STILL feel embarasses ‘cause I’m chunky. Sorry you had such a brusque and rough lady. Here, I’m constantly asked if they’re scrubbing too hard. That reminds me, I need to go get scrubbed next week …
p.s. please don’t let this one bad experience tarnish your views on Korean spas or Koreans in general.

Kelly October 23, 2009, 2:50 PM

Once I get to the spa, I start splurging left and right! Facials, pedocures, you name it!

Angie October 23, 2009, 2:52 PM

i love getting it

Pedro Beyer October 23, 2009, 4:33 PM

Sounds like it’s been way too long since you’ve been treated properly. Sometimes you need to be beaten a little by a naked woman on your back. If that sort of thing isn’t for you then why did you let it go so far? you didn’t like the nudity, you didn’t like the scrub and you didn’t like the facial, then why did it even get to the message??? Do you really think the $130 was worth you putting up with that? Maybe if you knew what you were doing in the first place you could have saved yourself the trouble and wouldn’t have wasted everyone’s time writing an article about it.

nonbeliever October 24, 2009, 12:20 PM

This is some kind of joke right?

Anonymous October 24, 2009, 8:52 PM

Yore doing it wrong! You forgot to ask for a “happy ending”.

Gypsy Wanderer November 4, 2009, 10:19 AM

I agree with Pedro.
If it was that bad, why did you stay the whole time? It may be that you are trying to offer a sarcastic, comical edge to the artical, but this reads as whiny, for the sake of being whiny…
As Cher famously said in Moonstruck,
Snap out of it!

Brianna November 24, 2009, 1:57 PM

That sounds terrible! I would have punched the lady and ran!

Angela Collins February 2, 2011, 8:24 AM

It’s funny and reminds me of my recent experience at a Korean spa!


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