last night i received an unforgettable initiation into korean life. a family i have grown close to in the last few months invited me to go with them to the sauna. for many, going to the bath house is as common as going to the gym to work out. as we pulled up to the valet parking area in front of the hotel inter-burgo, one of the finest luxury hotels in daegu, i got the feeling i was stepping into another world for the evening....we descended a winding marble staircase with a massive crystal chandelier hanging overhead and a thirty foot christmas tree beautifully lit up at the bottom where we entered the women's spa.
after we disrobed, leaving our belongings in our lockers, we went into the bath house...the ambiance was very zen....quiet, sparse.....incredibly clean. we showered and then soaked for awhile in the large slate bath filled with hot bubbling water.....after a bit, i gathered all of my guts and took a plunge into the ice cold tub in hopes of getting my immune system up and kicking. i let out a little yelp and scurried back into the hot tub.
the family arranged for me to recieve a "body scrub" for 20,000 won (a little over $20). many women who come to the spa either scrub themselves or each other...but since i am new to the whole scene, i decided to let the professional show me how its done. so soon after my cold plunge, the scrubber agima, wearing the traditional black bra and panties that the scrubber women wear, gruffly signaled me to follow her. i have grown to know not to fear the agimas who put on a hardass front, for underneath there is usually a belly ready to erupt with laughter and a very tender heart.
she led me to a partitioned room where she roughed me around a bit to get me situated on the padded table. then she threw a bucket of extremeley warm water over me with absolutely no warning! i burst out laughing, which made her crack a smile. by the end, i had her laughing too as i flicked 30 years worth of dead skin clumps off the table while making outrageously grossed out faces!! she found this to be hilarious!
anyway, this agima, with her brillo-like scrub pad in hand, went to town on every nook and cranny of my body. i was on my front first, then my back, then rolled over to each side....she scrubbed my limbs from a million different angles....this ritual is not for the for the faint-of-heart, i tell ya. i felt pretty vulnerable lying there. she put what smelled like a mud cucumber mask on my face which was very cooling and refreshing, but made it so my eyes had to be closed....so i never could be sure when the next bucket of hot water was going to come splashing over my entire body! after she was finished, my skin felt like it was brand new! smooth as silk. i felt about twenty pounds lighter. to integrate this experience, i sat in the steam room for awhile, breathing deeply and reveling in the newly acquired softness of my body!
it was a lovely experience....my weary-of-being-sick body felt deeply renewed and relaxed.