Recently, I decided to take the advice of a wise blogger and friend, Emily Power (aka A Denver Home Companion), and visit a Korean bath house in Aurora (see this post). I'm a bathhouse/spa junkie. There is little I love more in this whole world than relaxing naked in a quiet state of bliss for hours on end, leaving clean and glowing and refreshed. When I was going to ad school in San Franciso in the early 2000's, I frequented the Kabuki Spa in Japantown like an addict. Let me describe it for you, and you'll know why. For $15, I got to be naked, with other women in a women's-only facility, in a quiet zen space outfitted with wooden reclining chairs, soothing japanese music, cucumber water, hot and cold compresses, bath salts, and the perfect temperature of 79 degrees. At my leisure, I could enjoy a hot tub, cold-plunge pool, sauna, steam room, and eastern and western showers (meaning: stand-up or sit down), or just relax in utter peace and quiet. And, there was no time limit. If I wanted to be there for 6 hours, hiding away from the hard San Francisco streets, I could. You understand my love for this place.
When I moved to Boulder, I couldn't believe that in such a hippy-dippy town, there was no bathhouse. For six long years, I lived without regular visits to naked heaven, until I read a post on Emily's blog about a dreamy-sounding place called Havana Spa. From her pictures, it looked fine - not my Japanese Zen hideout, but a reasonable facsimile. Her description said to leave preconceived spa ideas at the doorstep. Fair enough. I didn't need fancy. So, I booked a scrub and massage, and anticipated a day of relaxation and pampering in the ladies-only Korean bathhouse in Aurora.
It was anything but. (Emily, apologies. Your experience must have been totally different than mine. Readers, please don't let this discourage your visit. This is only one woman's humorous experience.)
The facilities are clean. Nothing is overdone. It's more functional than anything. You get the sense that Korean men and women come here to just, bathe. Immediately I love that I was expriencing something cultural. I stripped down and prepared for my day of bliss by sitting in the hot tub, steaming and showering. Then I waited in the locker room for my name to be called.
As I let my eyes fall closed and my mind wander, I heard a voice bark, "YOU SCRUB?"
It was a small, pudgy Korean woman in a bra and underwear standing across the room near a row of lockers, her polyester pants at her ankles.
"Me? Yes. I have a scrub at 2 p.m." I answered enthusiastically.
"HET! HET!" She commanded angrily while pointing toward something, I wasn't sure what.
I coudn't understand her, so much like I do with Sylvia, I tried to listen patiently to discern what she was saying before jumping to any conclusions.
"Hat?" I guessed.
"NO! HET! HET!" she repeated, pointing toward the door to the spa area.
"Do I need a hat?" I said, pointing to my head, and looking toward the door to locate a box of hats.
"NO! YOU HET! YOU GO HET!"
Sitting in shock, with my mouth agape, my eyes worried, I tried my hardest to understand her broken English, as clearly, I was doing something very wrong.
"You want me to wear a hat?"
She came over to where I was sitting, pulled my arm so I stood up, and pushed me toward the door to the spa area.
"HET! YOU GO HET!"
"Oh, hot. You want me to go get hot. Ok. I'll go sit in the hot tub." I replied, thinking she would be pleased that I had finally cracked the code. She was not pleased.
"YES! HET!" after which she muttered several unidentifiable words and shook her head.
I obediently sat in the hot tub, trying my very hardest to relax, while anticipating her next command.
She entered through the doors, stomping to the area where the scrubs took place. She turned water on. Threw some bowls around. Cleaned off a table. Then, walked to the hot tub.
I jumped out of the hot tub like it was on fire, and followed her like a puppy to the table.
I stood motionless in fear.
"FAY DOWN!" She slapped the table with the palm of her hand.
"Oh, face down. Ok. I'll lay face down."
Once again, I obeyed, and thought, ok, here's where the relaxation and pampering starts, contrary to what she must have been thinking, which was, here's where the punishment and torture starts.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw her take a large, red bowl and fill it with water from a huge tub. Hot? Cold? Full of skin-eating chemicals? I had no idea. She doused me with the bowl of water, that thankfully, was nice and warm.
Ok, ok, I thought. Stop being so dramatic. This is going to be fine. The language barrier couldn't come between me and my spa time.
Oh yes it could.
THe next hour consisted of pain, agony, confusion and cleansing.
She put a brillo pad glove on each hand and started scrubbing. She scrubbed hard. Throwing my limbs here and there. Then, to my surprise, but also not, she climbed onto my back, clearly to get a better angle for torturing my backside. A familiar scent whiffed past my nose.
"Is that......Irish Spring?" I wondered. I craned my neck to see what exotic Asian soap my torturess was using. It was a bar of Irish Spring.
She scrubbed my entire back side, including well up into my ass, three times over. I literally saw skin flying off my body. After she was done, she stomped over and picked up the large, red bowl.
"Oh god," I thought. "She's going to waterboard me."
I winced, thinking that poor Sylvia might not know her mother after today.
She stomped over with the water and heaved it at my backside.
Oh thank you god. I'm alive!
She slapped my side and yelled, "OVER!"
I had never flipped over so fast, on a wet slippery table, while lying naked.
I laid on my back and closed my eyes, letting the exfoliation happen. She scrubbed and scrubbed and scrubbed every inch of my body. Oh you'd better believe she got up into my lady business, and didn't neglect my boobs. She got every freaking inch. And after three times over, and layers of skin, I endured Korean water torture again.
Finally, it was over. The scrubbing at least. Next came the milk. Yes, milk. It was squirted and vigorously rubbed into both sides of my body - again, without any regard to privacy or personal comfort zone. All the while, my Korean mother yelling and barking commands at me and complaining loudly in Korean when I didn't understand what she said.
Massage time. She pinched and prodded and beat me into submission. Pouding on my muscles. Kneading my shoulders. She rubbed oil into my skin much the same way an auto specialist rubs wax into a car's hood. Facial time. She put cucumbers soaked in milk all over my face, and though I couldn't see myself, I imagined I looked much like Hannible Lector with the meat mask on his face.
When it was all over, I sat up, looked at the woman, and shook my head in disbelief at what had just happened. She smiled and handed me an envelope that read, "Kim."
"KIM! KIM!" she said happily as she pointed inside the envelope.
"Yeah, I've got it."
I initially hated the treatement, and was about to tell the world at large how much I hated it, but honestly, I kind-of liked it. I felt incredibly clean. My skin was unbelievably smooth and soft. My face was clear and clean and glowing. I may never revisit this Korean spa, and I may have nightmares about a Korean woman scrubbing my vag with a brillo pad, but damnit, I was clean.