Today my mom and I went out for a spa day. We went to a fancy shmancy spa in Santa Monica that has all the best facilities - 2 jacuzzi rooms, a steam room, sauna room, make-up room, quiet room, social room, room, room, room. The chairs are plush and artfully placed fruit bowls grace the rooms. The water is flavored with cucumbers and orange slices. Sounds amazing, right?
To my mom, however, nothing can beat an afternoon at a Korean spa. She grew up going to public bathhouses in Korea, but it still took her awhile to get used to the way Korean spas work. There are no fancy chairs or cucumber slices in your water at a Korean spa, at least not at the ones we've been to. The facilities seem utilitarian - they are about getting things done, not looking at pretty paintings on the wall. And the most shocking thing (at first at least) is that everyone walks around stark naked. No plush robes or towels. You are offered tiny towels that certainly don't fit around your whole body. All the women, young and old, walk around just as if they were completely clothed. Old ladies holding plastic tubs of water and scrubbing cloths stand in plain view under spigets and scrub their little granddaughters raw.
But the greatest thing about Korean spas are the treatments. There are facials and all the regular massages, but the real deal is the scrub. You lie on a stone slab in a room with several other women and an ajuma comes and scrubs every part of your body till the surface around you is covered with dead skin. There is no modesty here. She lifts and scrubs and rinses your body parts as if you were a fish. When she's done with your front, she briskly orders you to flip over before she begins again.
The first time I tried it I was absolutely mortified. I have to walk around naked? Are you kidding me? But the second time I just realized that nobody in that whole place cared one bit. Everybody was there to do what they needed to do and not to sit and compare bodies. And, more importantly, I never felt so clean in my entire life. Add to that the fact that the treatments at Korean spas cost probably half what a comparable treatment costs at a normal "Western" spa, and it's hard not to agree with my mom when she insists that nothing beats a day at the Korean spa.