Sunday, January 24, 2010

All About My Body at the Korean Spa

By tatiana de la tierra

My body, the sacred vessel, sure gets mangled up. It gets punctured with needles that siphon so much of my blood that you’d think the lab technicians were filling up a Hummer. It gets clawed by my feline companions who like to pretend that I’m a tree. It gets sliced with scalpels in the hands of daydreaming doctors who think they’re carving a pumpkin.

Even worse, though, are the things I do to my body all on my own. Like how I play couch potato watching movies on cable for so long that my body becomes a burnt baked potato. Or how I put it on a treadmill or try to make it lift weights or get yogic with sun salutations, leading to limbs popping off as if they were Lego blocks under duress. How I make it lug the purse that I sling across my chest; it’s so heavy that the leather strap has burrowed deep into my shoulder and several layers of skin have grown over it. Or how I stuff it with stuffed meatballs until my stomach churns out a fax: “The parking lot is full. Incoming cars must wait for others to exit.”

My poor little big body.

Sometimes my body is so done in that there is only one thing left to do: take it to the Korean spa. I’ve gone to the big fancy spas downtown and to smaller low-key ones closer to home; they all do the trick. Once I’m at a Korean spa my body knows it will walk out with a transformed sense of being.

Inside the Korean spa my nude body joins other nude bodies. My body is very blasé about this, like it’s so natural to be naked with strangers. And quickly, almost instantly, this is the case. My scars, stretch marks and sagging body parts join the club of women with their own scars, stretch marks and sagging body parts. At some point I stop noticing c-sections, birthmarks and Brazilians.

Because everything is irrelevant when my body is immersed in 170-degree water, getting zapped. Even I am irrelevant. It is all about my body. It is scorched, my pores are wide open and the heat is rising to the top of my head. Meanwhile, I am effortlessly exuding layers of funk, my muscles are melting, and I am sinking, slinking into the seat of the whirlpool in a hot haze.

I manage to catch myself just in time before becoming a boiled red lobster. I pick up my body and take it out of the hot tub and over to the tiny cold pool, where I plunge it into frigid waters, shocking it. Then I pull out and sit down for a while, letting my body throb out the effects of extreme heat followed by extreme cold.

And then I do it all over again.

Round two is usually the steam room, where I get to let my imagination roam in the sizzling mists of steam. I watch monkeys hopping around in trees and discover ancient civilizations as beads of sweat adorn my body. My favorite is the salt steam room, where I grab handfuls of salt and rub it over my entire body, leaving my skin soft and shiny.

Korean spas are self-contained little cities where you can hang out all day and get all of your needs met. They have an exercise room, a restaurant and a lounge where you can sit back and watch Korean TV shows. They have Latina cleaning women who dutifully pick up white towels strewn all over the place. They have warm low-light relaxation rooms where you can lay down and drift off on top of bamboo mats. Each room is distinct; the last spa I went to had a room with all the walls made of salt bricks and sauna rooms made of red clay balls and jade. The spas offer services such as body scrubs, acupressure and massage. And they have tons of showers, some against the wall and others in clusters low to the ground with flexible showerheads and plastic stools for sitting. Here, Korean women plunk themselves down and scrub away repeatedly at the same body part; they often scrub each other, also repeatedly at the same body part.

Koreans are totally into scrubbing. I’m not much of a scrubber myself, not even for the sake of my dirty pots and pans, so I hand my body over to the professional scrubber at the spa. Body scrubs take place out in the open near the whirlpools, where waterproof massage tables are lined up with scrubbers wearing uniforms of black bras and panties. These women take scrubbing very seriously; I get on the table knowing that I’ll be a few pounds lighter when I get off, as they will scrub wads of layers of my skin off. They will scrub relentlessly and without remorse, flipping me around to reach every crevice, treating my soft and vulnerable body as if it were a pig at a slaughterhouse. Feeling like a piece of meat at a booze-drenched cruising bar is nothing compared to being a piece of meat at a Korean spa. And it’s a wonderful thing to be reduced to flesh and bones, because sometimes I forget that my body, my residence, is a big pulsating piece of meat.

If my body is in a high state of tension, and if I’m feeling brave, I sign my body up for an acupressure session. Since I don’t speak Korean and can’t explain what’s going on with my body and what I hope to get out of the session, I offer a prayer as soon as I get on the table: Please leave my body intact, with all the limbs attached.

The acupressure therapists are petite and look sweet and dainty, but they are tigers on the table, and they don’t hold back. She will press into my back with the full weight of her body in her fingertips. Eventually she will leap onto the table herself and use every available part of her body to press into mine, tenderizing my meat and releasing my blocked chi. She will do a handstand on my buttocks and chop wood on my thighs. Then she’ll flip me over and lift the skin off the bones of my face and knuckle the soles of my feet. At the end she’ll sit me up on the table and karate chop my back and hand me a little envelope with her name on it for the tip.

Good job, Jennifer. Thank you for the pulverizing experience. See you next time.


Unknown said...

As a Korean spa survivor you couldn't have said it better. I love my spa. I always walk out feeling deliciously dissected and then put together, ready to tackle the world again.

Viva Liz Vega! said...

I want to be ready too. Take me, take me, take me!

Anonymous said...

im ready...nex time you can take me there love your bloga no wonder im your number one fan you mom

Xánath Caraza said...

Lovely!! Where is the Spa? Take me too!!

tatiana de la tierra said...

I just want to add that I've invited everyone who has ever visited me in Los Angeles (including my mom) to the spa and NO ONE would ever go. Anyway, I love going alone.

Melinda said...

I love the Korean spa too... So far my favorite has been the Olympic Spa in LA

DGarcia said...

I love your wit!

Anonymous said...

I love your writing, Tatiana. You make this sound so painful and wonderful at the same time! I want to go!!!!

sonora y matancera said...

esas coreanas raspan rico y fuerte, colombiana... te queman el pellejo de lo lindo. estupendo articulo, i felt it in every creavice... salud!!!

Unknown said...

I loved your bloga on the Spa. It isn't quite what I had in mind and I don't know if I'm quite ready. Quizas un dia. I pictured you pulverized and throbbing but with a huge smile:)