I went to a Korean day spa for the first time.
Inspired by my heavenly bathing experiences in Bath, England, I woke up this morning and decided it was time to try out thermal bathing, LA style. I wasn't exactly sure what to expect, though one of my dearest friends has always raved about the Korean spas in LA. So I booked a last-minute appointment for a massage, and 3 hours worth of spa time was included. SCORE.
I arrived around 12:40 pm, checked in, received 2 towels and a seafoam green hairnet that I was instructed to wear at all times, and was then directed into an area sectioned off with tall Chinese folding doors that turned out to be the women's locker room. Slightly disoriented, I wandered around a bit, trying to get my bearings, but fortunately there were a few other women in the locker area who seemed to be pros, so I followed their lead. It was clear I was an amateur, being the only person showing up with a bathing suit on underneath my clothes, and I could have sworn one of the old Korean ladies shook her head and chuckled. "In the buff" was the way to go here, which was definitely outside my comfort zone, but, OK. When in Rome. Or ... Korea ...
You MUST shower before entering the pools. There are signs everywhere with warnings about being thrown out if you do not. Plus, while I was frantically searching the web in the locker room to confirm that YES, in fact you SHOULD walk around naked, I saw pictures of people that had gotten MRSA after receiving a body scrub at this place. So, I shower, and then enter the pool, which is apparently not treated with chlorine. Since this may be my final day on earth, I decide to push the MRSA images out of my mind and enjoy this freaking experience. I'm committed.
The water is HOT. But feels pretty amazing. And there's virtually no one here - looks like it's just me and the Korean grandmas that have their Thursday afternoons free for thermal bathing.
Five minutes after submerging myself up to my neck, I'm ready to pass out. I exit the hot pool, and step into the ice cold pool - but I only get as far as my knees. Hell no, I won't go.
I wander over into the hot sauna, and there is one very comfortable tattooed white lady sprawled out on the wooden planks. I sit over in the corner and close my eyes, pretending I'm alone. Five minutes later, I'm ready to pass out again. Normal? No idea, but I go with it.
I do this circuit about 10-15 times because I arrived at the spa TWO HOURS before my scheduled appointment, thinking I would just be chilling in the pool like I did in England. But the water temp here was much, much higher, so I did what I could to hang for 120 minutes. Fortunately, there was complimentary detox tea and cold water, so I stayed hydrated. Very hydrated.
At 2:30 pm, my name was called, and I was escorted back into a separate area of the spa, and greeted by a man named Kim. I typically do not get massages from male therapists, and I was a liiiiiiiiittle bit concerned this might be one of those places that attempts to end the treatment happily (if you know what I mean). But I wasn't backing out now. Whatever happens at the Korean Day Spa stays at the Korean Day Spa.
They give you these crazy knee-length cotton pink shorts and a hospital blouse to wear on your walking journey from the spa area to the treatment room (which were probably about 25 feet apart), so he told me to remove the blouse while he waited behind a white curtain, and then I laid face down on the table.
A few moments later, he entered back into the room and started the "massage," which at first were these strange, short bursts of tapping and punching on my upper back. UMMMMMMM.
However, very quickly, I realized this man was extremely skilled, and over the course of 60 minutes, he succeeded in turning my muscles into mush. The only tense moment was when he started to massage my abdomen, and my bladder, full to the brim with hydration, nearly exploded all over the bedsheets. Crisis was averted, gratefully, and I felt both relaxed and energized as the massage came to a close. I don't think I've ever experienced a treatment quite like this, and I must say, I may be a lifelong customer of Mr. Kim's.
After the massage, I took another shower because I wanted to go back into the thermal bath to help draw out all the toxins released by the massage, and you MUST shower every single time prior to entering the pool, especially if you have oil or lotion on your body. How many people actually abide by this rule? I push this question from my mind.
Post shower, I revisited the sauna to really sweat out the bad stuff, and then hopped back into the hot pool for what I hoped would be 10 full, glorious minutes, but I tapped out after 4. I stuck my feet and hands in the cold pool, and then called it a day.
I think I have a new Thursday afternoon ritual.