(But not in that way, you perv.)
I was five years old the first time I went to a mogyoktang, or Korean bathhouse/spa. My mom and I were in Korea visiting relatives and we went to what seemed like a huge indoor pool complex where everyone was female and not wearing swimming suits. I remember dog paddling from one end of the huge tub to the other.
My next visit to a mogyoktang was incredibly embarrassing, but it was all my own fault. The summer after my freshman year in college I went on a study abroad trip to the Korean countryside (this is the trip that I first got to know N on). We stayed in a traditional village (in houses like these) and conducted an anthropomorphic survey of the area. The houses we stayed in didn't have running water and so we rigged up some camping showers. But using camping showers in the cold morning air gets old and so some of us decided to hitchhike into the nearest town and go to the mogyoktang there.
None of the girls I went with were first generation Koreans: we were all either half or adopted and none of us had much experience with bathhouses. The other girls were more stylish and girly than tomboy me and I was more than a bit intimidated by them. So when the other girls declared that they were going to wear their bathing suits in the mogyoktang I went along. I didn't want to be the only one not wearing one. But it was SO embarrassing. Everyone kept staring at us and I felt humiliated and vowed never to do it again. After that I usually went to the mogyoktang with the girls I was better friends with. Traumatic bathing suit incident notwithstanding, I was hooked on mogyoktangs.
The next time I was to a mogyoktang was a couple of years ago. A nice Korean spa opened up in Tacoma which my mom started going to. When N and I were up visiting I went with my mom. It was fabulous to soak in the huge tub and then get all the dead skin scrubbed off. If I can fit it into my schedule going to the Korean spa is usually one of the highlights of a visit to my parents' house.
When I was up in Washington a few weeks ago my mom and sister volunteered to drop me off a spa while they went to a church function (and watched E). It was the first time I had gone to this particular spa and once I got there I was kind of nervous because I wasn't sure exactly where to go. But I figured it out and went and soaked in the tubs while I waited for my scrub. (Even though I like going to the mogyoktang I always get nervous about the moment when you take off your clothes and walk naked into a room with a bunch of other naked women. But I just do it and then after a minute or two it doesn't seem like a big deal at all.)
I didn't like the tubs at this spa as well as others I've been to but the scrub/moisturizing treatment I got was the best I've ever had. Tana, a middle-aged Korean woman wearing the spa uniform of a black bra and panties, put on exfoliating mitts and scrubbed me from head to toe. It was so relaxing. I felt like a tiny kitten being licked clean. It was simultaneously neat and gross to see the little pills of dead skin come off.
After the scrub Tana had me shower to get all the dead skin off and then she put a cucumber mask on my face and massaged hot oil and milk into my skin. As she was massaging she would rhythmically slap my arms and legs and butt. That's never happened to me during a scrub before so I don't know if it was something to improve circulation or if it's just something Tana enjoys. (Ahem.)
Even though I had just been lying there I was totally wiped out afterward. When it was over and it was time to sit up I almost slid off the table because I was so oily and kind of lightheaded. It was so relaxing and my skin had never felt so silky smooth. If there was a Korean spa nearby I would probably go to it at least once a quarter. But I live in white-bread Utah so for now visiting the mogyoktang will have to remain a treat for when I visit Washington.
Labels: I feel pretty oh so pretty, Korean