I had been forewarned by my friend that the gender segregated sides of the JeJu Spa were nude required bathing areas; this little tidbit in and of itself didn’t alarm me in the slightest. I had been going to nude bath houses since I was a teenager, what was a little nakedness between girls, right?
Our rather stressful arrival to the front door of the spa (GPS users please note that your GPS will – ludicrously – tell you that you have arrived at your destination on the left while directing you onto a right turn only street), was somewhat less serene than I would have expected. I’m hardly a good candidate for road rage, but I’ve had my share of murderous rage directed at my GPS – like hell I’m going to “turn around” after you tell me to make no less than 3 illegal u-turns!
I grew up in the mountains; the word ‘spa’ invoked images of soft neutral earth tones, of tall grasses and bamboo, maybe the occasional field of lavender or even a temple like atmosphere. Materials like adobe, stone, hardwoods and tatami mats come to mind. The front entrance façade of JeJu – while very large – felt very commercial to me; all sharp angles and modern architecture, lots of metal. I refused to give up my hopes that this – gigantic – facility was anything other than my escape into blissful wellness – my Shangri-La – and waltzed up to the front desk with my friend.
Upon entering the building my concerns were assuaged by a more refined interior – still lots of metal – maybe they were going for a Feng Shui feel? The prices seemed fair, more than fair, really. Twenty five dollars for a 24 hour entry? Yes, please! The polite man at the desk took my ID as collateral and in exchange I received a cute little spa uniform (matching T-shirt and draw-string short set) and a wristlet with a number on it.
“You’re number 88,” my friend informed me by pointing at the number on the faceplate of my red bracelet. “There’s a chip in here and you use it to buy everything inside the spa. That way you don’t need to carry cash.”
My mind raced through several questionable scenarios where using my new James Bond-ish watch to purchase whatever I wanted in the spa could result in overindulgence. With the flick of my wrist I could get a foot massage! This feeling of celebrity-like power could go to one’s head quickly.
“What are the uniforms for?” I asked, following her towards the women’s side of the spa.
“There are three areas inside, we’ll be naked in the women’s wing, but the common areas – where the regular pool is and the little cafeteria – everyone can go there, so put these on when we leave the women’s only side.”
We walked through a door marked in both Korean and English into a long hallway filled with numbered cubbies. Finding the one that corresponded with my number 88 I took off my shoes; for many Asian themed establishments this was the norm and I was pleased to see this little bit of ethnic authenticity. I appreciate the little things as much as the overall presentation.
Rounding the corner I found myself smack dab in the middle of a large locker room full of women; nude women. Many of them. This was so different than the quiet little mountain cave spas that I had grown up with! Women of every shape, size, ethnicity and age; women with tattoos, piercings, old grandma bras and dread locks. A very pregnant woman walked past with her young daughter in tow; they were followed by, what I assumed, was a middle aged Pakistani woman – she had been ahead of us in line with her friends and they had all worn hijab in the reception area; hers had been really pretty with peacocks on it. One of her friends had the tiniest boobs I had ever seen on a grown woman. It was the full spectral scope of the female form in one common location.
The locker room itself was very orderly and felt very clean and bright with lots of light tone woods; a set of sinks and counters with shared baskets of cosmetics and lotions lent the room a warm communal quality that felt very familiar; almost like a sorority – a big, nudist sorority. We found our respective lockers – bag & clothing sized this time – and started to undress.
I wasn’t without some trepidation as I stripped off my cute panties – I have some pride – and turned to face the rest of the locker room. While I had been naked with my friend on countless occasions – one of them had occurred not 24 hours before – I had yet to be so exposed to so many strangers all at once.
Or maybe it was the fact that she had let me know that we would be meeting some of her friends at the spa – friends of hers that I had never met before, friends of hers that would be complete strangers to me. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I’m old fashioned – far from it actually – but there was something to be said about meeting people for the first time with not so much as a pair of undies on; that requires you to really search your soul for courage.
“Oh, there she is!” exclaimed my friend, pointing towards the entrance of the bathing area.
Resisting the impulse to put my hands in front of my crotch I turned and prepared to meet this first ‘friend’. She was spritely, with a friendly open smile and the shortest cute little legs that I had ever seen – she also didn’t have a stitch of clothing on. We were on equal ground – I’d met my first naked stranger. I heaved an internal sigh of relief and extended a warm hand; best to ignore the fact that my height put her at about eye level with my tits.
After our not-so-awkward naked introductions we moved as a group into the bathing area. It was probably the closest that I’ll ever come to being a member of the inner walls of a harem. The entire room was full of naked women in varying degrees of relaxation and repose. If the locker room had been a sorority this was the lush inner workings of some incense cloaked female world, like a Chasseriau Harem painting.
The room itself was much darker than the locker room had been, but the feeling wasn’t dank at all. Instead, the overall effect was one of soft candlelight or maybe the light of old oil lanterns; a golden dusky glow that gave everything in the room a gilt touch, like a King Midis dream come true. There were three small pools spread across the room and to my right an assembly-line queue of women were attending to customers who had ordered massages or body scrubs. Even the Korean staff giving the massages were in nothing but their underclothes – a sight that was a bit off-putting at first, since most of these women were older grandma-types that looked out of place in their matchy-matchy panties.
The center pool was my personal ‘Goldie-Locks’ pool; just right: not too hot, not too cold. Perfect for a long soak and big enough to swim a couple of strokes between the steps and the benches, this pool was clearly the place to be.
The one on the far right was the hot pool. Generally, hot by my standards would be considered flesh melting by some; the pools that I had grown up with had temperatures reaching upwards of 200 Fahrenheit – for those who don’t know, water boils at 212 Fahrenheit – this pool was a bit too hot for prolonged leisure, even for me. I could only manage short two minute dips before the heat would go to my head and I would melt my way back over to the middle pool; pink and rosy like a fresh boiled shrimp.
The pool on the far left should have come with a warning sign; something like, “You Might Die of Shock”, would have been appropriate. It was the cold pool – cold like dipping yourself into some glacial mountain pond in the spring time Alps cold – cold like “There be icebergs ahead!” cold. Damn cold. I managed two – very brief, like ‘don’t blink’ brief – foot dips into this pool, both after a prolonged simmering in the hot pool.
The water was crystal clear without a single ripple, kinda like how I imagine the river Styx being. My legs from the knees down literally went numb in about the space of 2 minutes. One girl claimed it was so cold it made her skin itch; I was kind enough to point out that the ‘itching’ feeling was actually the feeling of her blood rapidly leaving the outermost tissues – the beginnings of localized hypothermia.
The pool had built-in benches like the other two pools – who would actually take the time to SIT in there?!? – but unlike the medium and hot pools they were empty. During our entire stay at the spa – a span of some 5 hours – I only saw one woman get completely into the cold pool and even she failed to park a seat; she emerged seconds after she entered with thin blue lips and the hardest puckered tits I’d ever seen. It takes a special kind of masochist to sit in that pool on those frozen benches.
During all the multi-temp pool hopping I had been watching the line of women getting spa services ebb and flow. It had been months – maybe a year? – since I had gotten a massage, and while I couldn’t recall ever receiving a ‘body scrub’ it sounded like something healthful and nice. Curiosity got the better of me and I signed up for a ‘Body Scrub and Massage’ combo; the first of my wrist waving purchases. It would be a two and a half hour wait.
“That’s fine,” my friend sighed leisurely from under the heat lamp that we had all taken refuge beneath; reclining in absolute abandon. “We’ll be here for hours, all night if you want, they’re open 24 hours.” The three of us talked about boyfriends – or my lack of one, old friends, and what was on the cafeteria menu – this subject was far more important than boyfriends anyway – as we continued to lie naked on the floor beneath the heat lamp – light in the 633 nm range was reported to be good for the skin – completely oblivious to all other concerns of the world. I had literally never felt more hedonistic.
After dressing in our matching spa uniforms – a sight that gave me just a little sense of unease as they reminded me of a similar gym-type uniform I’d seen in pictures from soviet era Russian ‘youth camps’ – very George Orwell a la 1984; any sense of brainwashed uniformity always made me edgy – we ventured out into the communal area. The first thing that I noticed – and this with squealed delight – was that the tiled floors were heated. Every step was like walking on sun warmed stone. There was a large regular swimming pool off to the side behind the cafeteria; I observed that no one was swimming in it. Who would when you could go naked back in the girl only ‘just right’ pool?
There were several appealing features to the communal area. The first of these was the cafeteria. It was as authentic a real Korean short-order kitchen as you’d get this side of Seoul; even the menus were in Korean with smaller English translations for the items underneath. Everything looked good – Kimchi stew with savory pork belly? Yes, please! – I got the dumplings with a Pineapple smoothie. Halfway through my dumplings ‘friend number two’ arrived. She was a hugger with a booming genuine laugh; I liked huggers. I also liked that we were meeting for the first time with clothes on; even if neither of us had undies on.
Dinner concluded with, we moved on to the second appealing thing about this area, the dry saunas. There were several saunas of varying temperatures and themes. In a very eastern way many of them had a rock/mineral theme for chakras – breathtaking displays of artistry and stone work adorned the outside – and inside – of all of the saunas. There were two in particular that had been built as standalone structures inside of the main room; their squat and domed walls glittering with inlaid quarts and semi-precious stone mosaic patterns – sort of a sweat lodge meets fairy tale meets my little pony dream crystal palace.
Our first sojourn was into the cavern like coal sauna. The floor was lined with thick tatami mats and little square pillows for your head designated places that you could lie down on the heated floor. Some might think that lying on the hard floor in a dry sauna would be uncomfortable; I was nearly a melted puddle of my former self within minutes. The interior was very dark, due to the fact that the entire inside of the sauna – ceiling and walls – was lined with flat round disks of natural coal that absorbed all light. It was very peaceful in a sort of ‘entombed’ kind of way; quiet and warm.
Several minutes spent in peaceful contemplation – it’s surprising how nice it feels to just let your mind unwind and let your thoughts float about, uncontrolled, never mind that my mind kept drifting back to this one guy at Applebee’s that I had been flirting with for months now – and we were ready to head back into the women’s only bathing area. These saunas were by no means hot – at least not in this humble girl’s opinion – but Hugs claimed she was ‘overcooking’ and said we should go to the showers to cool off; a preferable – sane – alternative to subjecting oneself to the freezing torture of the cold pool.
Back in the bathing area of the women’s side there were a set of regular standing showers and two rows of the more traditional sit showers. For those who may be unfamiliar, these are traditional Asian style sit showers. The concept is that there is a low – waist level – hanging shower hose and a regular faucet next to it. You sit – the spa had a constant stream of clean plastic stools and buckets available for this particular service – and use the hose to douse yourself before you lather yourself up with plenty of soap. You finished up by dumping buckets full of water over yourself or your partner.
Groups of women, often mothers and daughters, would line up over at this shower and sit – one with her back facing the other – and they would wash each other’s backs in turn. I noticed that the majority of the women in this area were decidedly Asian; Westerners seemed to prefer to do their bathing standing – and alone. I personally found the idea of someone helping me to wash my back very beneficial. It would be like having a living loofah that could reach all the hard to reach spots.
Those who wear glasses – as I do myself – will understand the difficulties we face when entering a pool, amusement park, shower, 3-D movie screening, rain forest … basically anything other than simply sitting and existing with glasses on my head in a climate controlled and sedentary environment. The women’s bathing area had two private saunas, one steam and one dry. The dry sauna was very traditional, warm and smelling of hot cedar wood, I faced no optical challenges in this sauna other than the metal bits of my glasses reaching extremely hot temperatures. When Pixie Legs insisted we use the steam sauna I immediately knew my glasses would have to be abandoned.
The steam sauna was very steamy. I know, seems self-evident, but seriously, imagine being in a cloud of pure, hot, wet fog; you can’t see anything more than the most vague outlines and shapes – much like how I see without my glasses anyway, so at least I was on familiar ground – and the very air is so thick with water particles that at times it feels as if you may actually be swallowing water; mostly because you are.
There was an ice machine outside the door to this sauna; the idea being that when you were in its toasty interior you would rub huge chunks of ice on your body to keep cool – an idea that was not all that appealing until you found yourself in a 189 degree steam room; I unashamedly had two fistfuls of ice and was using them to ward off the oppressive heat. For many the steam easily overcame their sense of calm within a few minutes, but if you were able to get around the feeling of drowning – try to remember to take slow breaths through your nose instead of huge gulping ones through your mouth – it is very peaceful.
Around this time I realized that my appointment for my body scrub and massage were almost up and I excused myself to go check in with the – only clothed – lady over by the appointment board. I politely explained that I needed extra care taken with my lower back – boring story of an accident in college – and after leading me into the very orderly rows of plastic massage beds she reiterated my concerns to my masseuse in Korean; she looked like a kindly grandma in a lacy red bra / panty set.
She nodded with concern; her brow furrowing in concentration as she stared at the part of my back that her co-worker was pointing at. She also reached out and firmly grasped my right buttock and pressed her thumb with unerring accuracy right onto the spot where my damaged nerve lay hidden in deceptive dormancy. She looked up at me expectantly. Yup, that was where extra care was needed, I nodded, wide eyed and silent with shock.
I had been warned by Pixie Legs that this process was very vigorous – actually, she said it was liken to having your flesh peeled off – and as I walked down the aisle towards my own bed I watched the women around me. Beyond the slight awkwardness of being naked – was that leg lift really necessary? – I didn’t see any evidence of flesh rending agony. Vigorous scrubbing, yes, but not anything so intense that I couldn’t handle it.
My glasses had to go – that was a given – and as I surrendered them I had a brief moment of inner panic. I wasn’t going to be able to see what was happening to me. To those that are unfamiliar with this feeling or who might think it is a trivial concern, try it when you are naked, doing something you have never done before, with a stranger, who you are completely incapable of communicating with because you do not speak the same language.
Now blind and naked I was instructed – mostly with physical prodding and pulling – to lie face down on the table. The detached sense of communication put me at a disadvantage that I was unfamiliar with; I felt distinctly like an animal that had to be physically pulled and handled. My grandma came back a few seconds later and started to squirt copious amounts of warm oil over my entire body. I could see – sort of – that she had on these little padded gloves as she started to work the oil into my skin. It was like being rubbed down with a Brillow pad. This wasn’t so bad. I started to relax into the rhythm of the strokes and tried to let my mind float away – perhaps back to my Applebee’s guy.
Suddenly there was a set of determined fingers exfoliating my ass crack. My eyes shot open – not that sight was going to help now – and a silent scream set my mouth into a wide “O” of horror, but I forced myself into a Buddha like calm as those same fingers lifted one butt cheek and then the other, exfoliating firmly under each cheek. Keep it together, keep it together, I chanted to myself in my head. This was probably completely normal, a common place thing in their culture – you would be amazed how many times I told myself this during the remainder of the experience. I could handle this! I’d have the smoothest ass crack ever!
“Row ower, pwease!”
Disoriented as I was I managed to understand through her exaggerated charade of ‘roll-over’ that she wanted me on my back now. This was easier said than done; have you ever tried to flip onto your back on top of an oil slicked plastic pad? Naked? Alright then, stop laughing at me. Somehow I managed to seat myself back onto my bottom without landing on the floor ass-over-teakettle.
As I lowered myself back down I felt little gritty bits underneath my palms where they’d been on the mat. Grandma was distracted for a moment – it looked as if she was reaching for a new bottle of basting sauce- sorry, oil – and I bought my hand up to my face to closer inspect it.
Oh, how nice, I thought, they’ve been exfoliating me with herbs! I squinted and held my hand up to see which herbs constituted these little pieces. Gray little crumbles and off-white rolls of mush fell from my fingers. It was several crucial seconds – probably those precious seconds in which the mind tries to block out some horrible truth that will destroy it – before the circuits sparked and I realized what I was looking at. Dear God. It was my own flesh!
I shook my hand in alarmed disgust and realized with dawning horror that all of the little bumps, clumps and gristly bits that I could feel under myself were indeed the by-product of my ‘vigorous body scrub’. I was literally having my flesh rubbed off of me – and I was only half done! Now, by no means am I an untidy person, I actually had a similar pair of little bristly gloves for my own at-home exfoliating. I did it every day in the shower. However, I did not scrub myself as if I was a tortured prisoner of war in some disease infested gulag.
As Grandma returned, images from different movies that I had seen – particularly several scenes form the first Hunger Games movie where Katniss Everdeen lies on the exam table and gets waxed, scrubbed, shaved and generally tortured into the civilized standard of hygiene and beauty – flashed through my mind and I was hard pressed to relax back into my pre flesh-scraping calm.
The second half was not – quite – as bad. Besides having my breasts poked and literally pulled up and away from my body in a display of exceptionally dedicated exfoliation, the front of me went much more quickly; never mind the few times that she rolled me onto my sides and – practically – mounted me, all in the pursuit of any unexfoliated nooks, crannies or crevices – one’s that I would have preferred stayed unexfoliated, thank you very much. After resigning myself to the fact that this tiny little women was going to viciously scrub every molecule of dead skin from me – that bearable scrubbing had long ago leveled-up to an alarming scrape of SOS Pads – it wasn’t so bad. I tried to focus on the positive. I hadn’t been this smooth in years, maybe my entire life – maybe when I was born. I’d be so soft – I’d have to go around naked for a month before I’d be able to tolerate the weight of clothing on my flesh again. It was healthy – probably.
The hazing over I was instructed to sit up and she placed a small dab of facial cleanser on my fingertips while she mimed washing her face. She then pointed me in the direction of the showers and gave me an encouraging nudge when I didn’t step forwards – likely she had forgotten that my glasses were on the table behind her and she was quite literally asking me to walk off into a dimly lit, unfamiliar and slippery bathing area mostly blind. Maybe?
Through some miracle I made it to the showers without a) stepping on anyone else b) blundering into a pool and c) slipping on an unseen puddle and breaking every bone in my body. As nice as it felt to wash my face all I could really focus on was getting the feeling of all those little bits of shredded skin off of me; I imagined myself a human caterpillar shedding its cocoon to reveal a beautiful butterfly – in reality my epidermis had been rubbed so raw that the tender and angry young flesh protested the use of hot water for the first couple of seconds before the fried nerves became so traumatized that they simple went numb – I count my blessings, even small ones like this.
Upon my return the table had been washed clean – an impressive feat considering I’d left about 1/20th of my starting body weight behind after my ‘scrub’ – I was instructed this time to lay face up with my head at the low end of the table and my feet slightly elevated. Unsure of how this was going to work I maneuvered myself into the required position and waited for whatever would happen next; I prayed – people have the strangest come-to-God moments – that whatever it was it would be better than the scrubbing.
As alarming as it was to be without my glasses, what she did next was exactly what we do to spooked horses – it seems to have a more calming effect on a panicked horse, if you were wondering. Two long strips of gauze came down over my eyes and I was forced into literal blindness. I heard the sounds of intense mixing – something sticky and wet – and then felt her fingers pressing something cold and gooey onto my face, right at the center of my forehead. The feeling continued down and around me eye socket and the feeling of being spackled intensified as I felt a very wet weight resting on my face every time she pulled her fingers away. What was she troweling onto me?
I tried to use all of my senses and came to the conclusion that what I smelled was cucumbers and honey – never mind what I was feeling, since it felt like I was having wet toilet paper laid out across my face. After I had been properly basted she reached for my shoulders and started to pull me – I thought that perhaps she was trying to get me to stretch my neck, or maybe relax my shoulders? Her insistent grabbing of my head and pulling wasn’t helping until I heard a woman next to her mutter the word “champoo” at me. Incapable of giving any visual or verbal acknowledgment of understanding I sat there for a minute like some kind of cadaver on the slab – furiously trying to figure out what they wanted me to do.
“Champoo?” the women clucked again, this time grabbing my hair and giving it a gentle tug while wiggling my arm. Going out on a limb I wormed myself to the edge of the table until the top of my head hung off the end. Success! The little woman tutted in approval and gave me a friendly shoulder squeeze. I congratulated myself on this display of psychic ability and relaxed as my little grandma worked her – very – strong hands into my scalp; the one part of me that had up until now escaped the purge.
I remembered a part in Memoires of a Geisha where the main character described the process that the young geisha trainees went through in order to keep their black, meticulously styled hair dandruff free – it was probably very similar to this. Although nowhere near as vigorous as my earlier scrub Grandma was still very thorough and by the end I was sure that my scalp was as dandruff free as it would ever be for the rest of my life – I wouldn’t be at all surprised if I had some bald spots too.
It has to get better, I thought to myself with some despair, as she rinsed the last of the shampoo from my hair and scrapped – yes, scrapped – the last of the jellied cucumbers from my face and neck. I felt as if my brains had been rinsed down the drain. Gauze removed and sight restored I could see that she was once again preparing another huge bottle of oil. Oh God. She wasn’t planning on scrubbing me again, was she? For a few seconds I cowered on the table like some deeply traumatized animal before I realized that she was commencing with the massage portion of this service. Her strong hands pushed and pulled and – thank God without the steel wool gloves on – moved in slow circles around my body.
I relaxed into a pliant bundle of limbs and body parts and let her do her magic. My muscles appreciated the respite, even if the outermost layers of my skin did not. At one point I felt a warm liquid being spooned onto me and with a quick peek realized that I was being massaged with honeyed milk. Now this was more like it! The liquid beaded up and pooled off of my oily skin, but it felt soothing and I’m sure the milk was helping – please let it be helping – my poor reddened skin.
A few more minutes of this milk and honey bliss and then my little grandma instructed me to sit up. Sitting up on top of the table she did a few last strokes on my back – hopefully not writing the character for some kind of Korean bad word – and she patted me on the shoulder to let me know the train got off here. Her quick hand gestures towards the showers indicated that I could not go back into the communal pools until I had washed myself of all the dairy that was covering me. I gave her a polite bow and she handed me a little purple envelope – For Tips – it read.
After rinsing I moved back into the medium pool for a quick dip – only slightly scalded in my new baby-fresh skin – before rejoining my friend out in the cafeteria.
“So, how was your massage?” she asked, slurping down some spicy rice dumplings.
I reached out with my chopsticks and snagged a soft pillowy dumping form her plate.
“I just had my ass crack exfoliated.”
Her choked sputter of surprise was matched in its intensity by how much her eyes bugged out at me over her napkin. She barked out a surprised laugh of disbelief.
“You heard me,” I grinned dryly at her as she lowered her voice – this was a quiet peaceful place, after all. I held my arm out to her and she ran her knuckles up its length, admiring my – literal – fresh skinned smoothness.
“So you didn’t like it?”
I sat for a few seconds, contemplating that question. No, I hadn’t necessarily enjoyed every part of the experience - my freshly scrubbed ass did protest a little as I settled deeper into the cushion on the floor. But I thought that the blame rested with me. I had gone into this experience thinking that it would be luxurious and relaxing, like a typical massage. The reality was that this particular service, while featured in a spa, was actually intended to be more about health and wellness and less about hedonistic pleasure. You needed to go into this thinking of it more like clipping your nails, or maybe a teeth cleaning; something that was not really all that pleasant but all the same was good and was necessary for overall wellbeing.
“No, I can’t say I was all that fond,” I paused, trying to figure out why I felt happy about it all, “But I’d come back and do it again, and again after that. It’s good for me."
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