Friday, August 30, 2013


There’s something delicious, hedonistic even, about a trip to a day spa.  If I close my eyes, I envision lying on a cushioned table, snuggled in one of those fluffy, heated blankets, straight from the warmer, while an anonymous someone applies fruit or herb scented concoctions to my face and body after a 60 to 90 minute massage.   I’ve been to a few, but not many, as they usually don’t come cheap.

When one of my daughters announced we were going to spend a few hours at a spa in Los Angeles recently, the appropriate pleasure area of my brain lit up.  She saw my eyes roll back and quickly added a disclaimer:  it was a place she had never been to before, but thought it might be fun to check out together.  And, by the way, it was a Korean spa.  

 The lighted things in my brain paused, realigning their expectations.  Stereotypes and preconceived notions swirled as a weird mosaic began to take shape.  I envisioned a spa-version of a Chinese laundry with sweaty Asian men dressed in white tee shirts, aprons and head wrappings punishing me with their hands, beating my back like a drum while judging my wrinkles.  Female attendants tsk-tsked as they smeared octopus ink, shark fin serum and oils made from slaughtered endangered species on my skin, reserving the magical potions for their well-heeled, regular customers.  After all, what could I expect from a place that is open 24 hours a day and only charges a fifteen dollar entry fee?

I smiled bravely and entered the double doors of the Wi spa, somewhat apprehensive about the exact translation of the word “jjimjilbang”.  At the front desk, we were given waterproof wristwatch-like devices that secured our lockers with a wave of our hands.  The receptionist explained that the lower floor was for women only, the middle floor for men only and the upper floor was co-ed.  She indicated that we were welcome to don an outfit of their well-worn signature tee shirts and shorts if we were uncomfortable with nudity.   

Wait….what?  My anxiety meter rose.  Who said anything about being nude?  I brought my bathing suit for the hot and cold Jacuzzis, so surely that would be allowed.  We changed into the logo-splashed uniform and walked straight into a room full of naked Korean women.  A large sign indicated that no clothing of any kind was allowed in the Jacuzzis, and instructed us to visit the washing stations before entering the water.  Oh, those must be the showers, I thought.  Why don’t they just call them that?

Well, because they aren’t.  Rows of women squatted on little molded plastic seats that looked like step stools to me, but tilted so you could see THAT in front of large lighted mirrors, wash basins and handheld shower heads.  They cleaned every inch of themselves as if they were preparing to be inspected afterward.  I told my daughter I would wait for her on the benches against the wall and sat behind a post so I’d have something to look at other than, uh, naked people.  There was no escape.  My eyes searched for something neutral to stare at, only to land on an open passageway that revealed a room full of tables that held more naked women whose body parts jiggled as they were massaged by female attendants dressed in bras and panties.  Said daughter knew I was hiding and suggested we check out the co-ed floor.

A little voice in my head warned, “If the women’s floor freaked you out, just wait.”  As it turned out, the co-ed floor was my favorite.  The stairwell opened up into a large gym-like area ringed by several saunas.  The first was small, and the floor was covered with large nuggets of salt.  We followed the example of the others already inside and lay down in the salt.  I was tempted to move my arms and legs to make the equivalent of a snow angel, but restrained my Caucasian self.  The temperature was 124 degrees.  After a prudent length of time, we decided to try the ice room, where the 41 degree air was a welcome relief.  The jade sauna was next, with mats on the floor of an enclosure where the walls and ceiling were constructed of various rocks and geodes which I supposed were types of jade.  Its temperature rivaled the salt sauna.  They clay sauna was closed for maintenance, but what we could see indicated it was made of little clay balls to lie on instead of salt.
The most intense sauna was the forest room where the temperature was over 200 degrees.  There were no places to sit, as our butts would have protested vigorously.  We stood on our towels for protection and fled back to the ice room after about 5 minutes.  

Mats and foam block headrests lay in rows on the floor, inviting us to relax after the saunas sucked away energy, toxins and bad karma.  Thank goodness everyone on this floor was clothed.  My daughter took a brief nap on one of the mats.  I rested beside her for a few minutes before fleeing to the familiarity of the computer terminals to check my email, in English.

So, would I go back to the “jjimjilbang” Korean Day Spa?  Definitely.  It was super-clean, and I loved both the alternating temperature saunas as well as the opportunity to relax.  Just close the door to that room with all the naked people. 

Monday, August 12, 2013


Air travel is a unique combination of wonder and horror.  Without it, I’d be stuck in a car or on a train for days in order to visit with family.  With it, I can be holding my elfin granddaughter within a few hours.  However, there is nothing like being imprisoned in a small, cramped space to bring out the worst in people.  Can someone tell me why people lose all consideration for their fellow prisoners during travel time? 

When I boarded a pretty full flight out of Dulles this morning, I was quite happy that the middle seat was empty.  Ahhhhh…a little extra room that I hadn’t expected.  I still appreciated the extra space, but the woman sitting on the end seat took that perk WWWAAAYYY too far.  When she first sat down, she raised her armrest and started spreading out her belongings.  That’s not horrible, and two can play that game, I thought, as I quickly placed one or two things of my own there before she could claim the entire empty seat.
My bad traveling luck usually falls in the olfactory category.  Okay, enough with the fancy words.  Something always stinks.  The most frequent offenders have been guys who sit with their knees splayed, creeping into my tiny leg space, before letting loose with machine gun rounds of gas.  I’ve taken to wearing a loose, blousy headband draped around my neck that I can pull up over my mouth and nose.  That’s not too obvious, right? 

The lady behind me decided to reapply her Lily of the Valley perfume.  The sickeningly sweet fumes curled around me like that green “Night of the Living Dead” fog. Sometimes it’s a combo ride, with a digestively-challenged guy sitting next to me and little boy kicking the back of my seat for the five hour flight.  I still can’t decide whether the kicks or the mother’s monotone reprimands are worse.  Then a nearby passenger will unveil his or her homemade ethnic lunch that reeks of some unknown oil and spice.

Engine noise and screaming children used to wear me down until my daughter and son-in-law were kind enough to present me with a pair of noise reduction headphones.  Auditory problems solved.

Today was a new low.  I prayed to be surrounded by gassy men, over-perfumed women and Mediterranean picnickers.  My fellow traveler across the empty seat finally cleared away her snack bags, makeup and books to stretch out and watch some satellite television.  Unfortunately, she thought it was perfectly okay to remove her shoes and put her BARE FEET within three inches of my seat edge.  Besides the ick factor of a stranger’s uncovered feet so close to me, well, quite frankly they smelled!

Perhaps I’m being too picky.  My feet don’t always smell like a bed of roses, but who does that on a plane?  I tried looking pointedly at her putrid peds, but she was clueless.  Where’s that Lily of the Valley when I could put it to some beneficial use?  I bit my lip to keep from turning toward her and saying, “Really, REALLY???”  The nuns who educated me would have told me to “offer it up”, but I don’t think I’ve done enough bad things in my life to keep my mouth shut for another 1,074 miles.
Maybe my seat in heaven will be one of those massaging spa pedicure chairs.