The Korean Spa

You’ll find this to be the perfect post, a contrast, to follow my last one about wrinkled knees and growing old.

Earlier this week, my best friend and I went to a Korean spa [or sauna.] There are several interesting aspects to a Korean spa, but the best is the whole body exfoliation that leaves your skin feeling…well, like a baby’s be-hind.  There is an entire bathing ritual that we Koreans go through that keeps our skin soft and supple.

*Yaaaawn*  What is she going on about??
Stay with me here, especially if you’d like to get your entire body feeling as soft as….

In preparation, I went to their website for Chung Dam Spa, which had some basic information and photos of services.  You can get a body scrub and/or massage, eat lunch there, work out.  You can go to a dry sauna, a steam sauna, clay room and mineral room. But  I wanted to know a little more – do I need to bring anything?  Where do I go?   In essence what happens when I get there?  I called and left a message and never heard back. Did I say I’ve done this before?  Would it be the same?  Will they start speaking Korean to me?  Will they speak English?  Will they judge me for not being fluent?  And the real question: Do I have to get nekkid??  [The answer is “yes.”]

Chung Dam Spa, apparently the only one in all of Pennsylvania, is located at the end of a strip shopping center in Cheltenham, the first northern-most suburb of Philadelphia.  Here, you’ll see many signs in Korean as you drive past several Korean groceries and a number of Korean restaurants. If you look over at the driver in the next lane, he/she will as likely be Korean as black.  But I digress.  The entrance is on the side, not visible from busy Cheltenham Avenue.  We entered the glass and brass doors and down marble steps to a very clean lobby lined in marble and granite.  To our right we saw a little café, and further down was a workout room.

At the front desk, when we asked for a Body Scrub, we were told that for just $20 more, we could get a 45 minute massage.  Oh yeah.  Who could refuse that?  We were given a locker key on a plastic holder to put around our wrist or ankle, and a set of towels and a robe.  [The towels are thin and small because  Koreans don’t like big, thick towels.]  We had to remove our shoes before entering the women’s area.  [Remember Koreans don’t wear shoes in living areas.]  We went through the curtains to an immaculate locker/lounge area.  Beyond, we saw some doors leading to heated treatment rooms.  We also saw glass doors to what looked like a shower area.  Nobody guided us, there were no signs or directions but a we  figured out we were to head in there to shower, soak in the tubs and/or use the dry or steam saunas.  Nekkid.  When we arrived, there were only a couple of women, but later on, there were nekid women all over the place.  The good, the bad, the old, the saggy.

The scrub and massage are all done in the Wet Area, which consisted of multiple shower stations, 3 soaking tubs, and the treatment area.  The treatment area had 3 tables with 2 spigots.  While my friend and I occupied 2 of the tables, there were other customers receiving treatment at the 3rd table.

The Scrub 
They use a special scrubbing mitt with a variety of potions to slough off your dead skin.  They get every nook and cranny of your body, from between your toes to the tip of your chin and everywhere in between.  They flip and fold your limbs around and scrub.  And scrub.  And scrub.  If you choose to look, you’ll wonder why there are rolls and globs of wet toilet paper on the table.  You’ll soon realize it’s your dead skin.  Eewwwwww!  Right?  The appalling realization is that you’ve been walking around with all that dead skin on.  THAT is the real Ewwww.  No wonder all those lotions haven’t been working!  Don’t be shocked when intermittently, they dump a basin of hot water over you.  They also use various potions, including warm milk, to clarify and nourish your body.  This goes on for 45 minutes. 

You shower again, and have a chance to go to the saunas if you choose before the next 45-minute session:

The Massage
This is a unique Korean method that every single massage therapist in Korea employs.  I remember these techniques from when I was a little girl as I watched my grandma getting a massage.    [Back in the day, the blind were trained as massage therapists so they could earn a living.]  It’s a combination of hitting pressure points, releasing knots in your muscles and somewhat shocking hits that feel good and wake your senses.  I’ve had American spa massages before, which leave me snoozing in a candle-lit room.  Afterwards, I feel very relaxed, but a little sensory deprived, unwilling to re-enter the real world.  This experience, however, left me relaxed but strangely refreshed and invigorated, with my senses made alive, ready to take on the world!   The first thing they did was apply a mashed cucumber potion on my face.  It’s got astringent qualities that left my face….yes, soft as a baby’s be-hind.  She finished off the 45-minute massage with a shampoo and head massage.  Aaaaaah.

Bibimbap from maangchi.com
Afterwards, we went to our locker and gave the women their tips*.  Then we were allowed to stay as long as we wanted.  Really.  We could stay there from the moment they open until the moment they close.  What an escape!  We chose to get some lunch, so we put on the provided bath robes and scuffled over.  Yes, there were men there.  Yes there were people in their street clothes.  We ate, went back in, read some magazines, and when we were good and bored, we packed up and went home.  But it took us 4 hours to get bored.

Other things to keep in mind if you go:

  1. Leave your sexuality at the door.  Koreans don’t have the same view of their bodies, the self-consciousness of Westerners.  Oh, don’t get me wrong, they’re as vain as the rest of us.  Koreans have more plastic surgery per capita than any country in the world.  In.  The. World.  [Usually eye and nose augmentations to look more western.]  The Korean sauna is a very therapeutic environment.  If you act embarrassed by partially covering delicate areas, you make yourself become a sexual being.  If you stand in the mirror and preen and admire or even criticize your body, you are bringing something in where it don’t belong.
  2.  Do not expect privacy.   Everyone is walking around buck.  Naked.  Know what I’m sayin?  If you’re going to be shy, see #1 above.
  3. This is not your notion of a Zen experience.   Leave your preconceived notions about East Asians at the door.  [There might be a pile of stuff at the door!]  There are no tea ceremonies, geishas or submissive guides.   Do not expect Enya to be playing, fragranced candles, patchouli or life-affirming posters.  Water is splashing, the spigot’s running, people are talking… and loudly.  You are pampered in that when you get your scrub and/or massage, it is completely and totally about you.  It’s just that it's a bit more like…mmm, the kitchen let’s say, than the bedroom.  More like a workroom than a chapel.
  4. You must tip*:  These women expect a tip and there are clear guidelines for how much to give, which is 20% - 30%.
  5. Go Au Natural - Despite all my What I Wore posts, and fashion pleadings, don’t bother putting on make-up or doing your hair.  Leave all your jewelry at home, or in your locker.
  6. Bring your own beauty products - they have everything there - soap, shampoo, conditioner, lotions, hair spray, hair dryer, brushes, toothbrushes, toothpaste.  But you may want to bring your own little bucket of items.
As I sit in front of this screen trying awkwardly to convey the experience, I pause and subconsciously stroke my face or neck, or rub my arm.  My knees are still wrinkled, but my skin? Yup....


Fashion Friday - Growing Old - the Ajumma

There's a subtle change in my header.  I've added "over-50" to it.  But it's not a subtle change in my life.  It looms over me every day, aware of my mortality.

It's not anything deep, really.  It started out with the number of white hairs I'm getting. I still have mostly black hair, but the sprouting of white hairs in my hairline is becoming more prominent.  Then, as I sat at my vanity with the magnifying mirror, I noticed now different my skin is.  Suddenly.  Sags.  Bags.  And the full-length mirror?  Flat where it used to be pert.

I heard a comedian late one night on TV riffing on being east Asian.  He said that Asian women look exactly the same for decades - then BANG! they get old.  It's true.  I know a lot of Asian women accept this "mature" status - of becoming the "Ajumma."  That's what a young person calls an older woman.  Ajumma is permed hair and ankle socks.  Ajumma is a floral dress and shuffling steps.  Ajumma is the lady selling noodle dishes at the stand.  It's the "Ma'am" of Korean.  That word makes me shudder.  All my life, I looked young for my age.  Now, I actually look my age.  And I don't like it.  One bit.

Some of you may think it's alright, even laudable to see those Hollywood types get filled, plugged, sliced and spliced to look young.  To me, it's slightly ridiculous to hold onto your youth when that train left the station a loooong time ago.  When I do my Fashion Fridays or What I Wore Wednesdays, I'm always wondering how not to look ridiculous, if I'm trying too hard.

Now, as the weather turns warm and we have these unusual high-70s weather, I wonder -- can I wear shorts?  Cuz the latest thing?

My KNEES are wrinkled.

Maybe what I should do is stop looking at my knees and get ON my knees.

*grandma in Korean


What I Wore Wednesday: 3.21.12

What I Wore: My fave Calvin Klein denim jacket over a Land's End classic poplin shirt in a pale orchid pink, and black skinnies.  Silver accents: large stud earrings, circle link necklace and Old Navy kitten-heels.  And my orange purse.
Where: Out to dinner at our fave hang-out!
What I Wore: Fuschia jacket from Christopher & Banks over a Talbot's lemon yellow v-neck tee, and black skinnies.  Silver, yellow & blue earrings & necklace set from etsy, and spectator flats.  And "Greycian Goddess" nail color by L'Oreal  [I was wondering if I was too matchy-matchy but I was running late and had to just go!]
Where: To my son's chess club.

You know where to click to to see the others!


Nation and Culture

On the one hand, the United State has a dominant WASP culture.  The powers that be are still, on the whole, white Protestant males.  And many, I can say, think of America as being a WASP nation, and consider anything else to be, at best, suspect.  Why else is there the persistent rumor that Obama is a Muslim?  As if being a Muslim were proof that he is un-American. It wasn't long ago when being from Ireland was un-American.  Éirinn go brách.

On the other hand, we recognize the variety of cultures that make up this nation.  Melting Pot and all that.  These cultures could be ethnic heritage, national origin, religious practice, religious heritage and even variances of regional norms:

We may have been here for over 100 years, like the ethnic Koreans of Hawaii, or over 200 years like ethnic Africans brought over into slavery.  Or even recent immigrants like my family.  There are those, that on the surface fit the stereotype of an American but are clearly from another country, like Ahnold.  When I walk down the streets of my little town, I can't go but a block without seeing a black American woman wearing a burqa.  Even those that may not practice their religion clearly harbor the cultural norms instilled in them - like those who dress up for church on 2 Sundays a year.  When I went to graduate school in St. Louis, I was shocked at the regional differences in manners and speech from my Pennsylvania ways.  And anyone who has crossed the Mason-Dixon line will immediately feel the difference. 

And we're all Americans, right?  Different cultures, one nation.

Maybe the Melting Pot is only nice in concept.  NIMB: Not In My Backyard.  It's all nice to have "interesting" folks around, but don't make me have to smell their funny cooking, or try to understand their accent, or translate documents for them.  Maybe the Melting Pot is only nice if it looks and smells like mashed potatoes.

Today I heard that former Senator Santorum said, in effect, that if Puerto Rico wants statehood, they have to speak English.  He said this in Puerto Rico.  To Puerto Ricans.

I'll let you take that in.


I hope he knows there's no such provision in federal law.

[Oops, I think I'm breaking my guideline for succinct posts.]

A nation of monolinguals may, of course, consider language to be merely a flamboyance, like a fancy scarf.  Leave it in the closet, unless you want to make others feel uncomfortable or show your disdain for them.  Language is not a feather boa.  It's a ladder.  To your soul.  The more languages you know, the more you can know.  It's like love - the more you love, the more you can love.

On the one hand, Americans seem to be proud of the Melting Pot.  On the other had, Americans seem to insist that things melt into White.  Mashed potatoes.  Or would that be English?  Is English the line in the sand?  Stand on this side of the line and you're American.  Stand over there, and you're un-American.  Unpatriotic.

Must we be a nation of Either/Or?
Because me?  I want to be a nation of Both/And.

One nation, many cultures.


What I Wore Wednesday, Pi Day 2012

It's Wednesday, the daffodils are out and the birds are singing! This is my favorite time or year when I don't have to bundle up and I can run out with a denim jacket, which I was able to do this past week!

What I Wore: Trina Turk wrap-front cotton poplin shirt [here's a better view] over skinny jeans.  Cap by Nine West, two-toned jewelry by J.Lo.  Patent black, round-toe wedges by Me Too.  The orange bag is by Tignanello.  Which I love.  LOVE.  I remember my 5th grade teacher telling me you love people and like objects.  Well, in this case, she was wrong.
Where: to my son's school for a meeting.

What I Wore: Flutter-sleeve empire-waisted tunic top from H&M over a chartreuse cami, wide leg trouser jeans by apostrophe (Sears.)  Two-toned jewelry by J.Lo.  Patent black, round-toe wedges by Me Too.  Yeah, and my orange bag.  Yumm!
Where: We were in Baltimore recently, which allowed us to visit dear friends for a delicious meal at their home. Double-yumm!

What I Wore: Talbot's classic navy double-breasted wool jacket over a cotton poplin shirt in celery and Ann Taylor gray wool slacks.  Farragamo aqua wool scarf and Etienne Aigner cut-out pumps.  Two-toned jewelry by J.Lo.
Where: HH (Handsome Husband) gave a presentation at a local church on the explosion of diabetes and its affect on our ministries.  And yes, we still have poinsettias in our hall!

What I Wore:  YAY denim jacket weather!  Calvin Klein over-dyed fitted jacket over a bright melon scoop-necked tee by Ann Taylor and skinny black jeans.  Simple silver-stud earrings and link necklace.  Modified Mary Jane shoes by Naturalizer.
Where: out to dinner at our local hang-out on a Tuesday night

Check out the other mom styles at The Pleated Poppy!