Korean Spa for the Masses|
By Kathy Chin Leong
"First time, skrup?"
I nodded. I emerged from the dry sauna, my flesh so soft and supple it was like veal.
"Come this way, please." Clad in a black bra and panties, my therapist led the way to a brightly lit room partitioned by curtains, sectioning off similar areas. Inside was a cushioned massage table and tile floors with a drain in the center.
"Put things over there," she softly instructed, pointing to an adjacent, empty table. "Lie down, face in hole."
For the next 35 minutes, this stout Korean woman would proceed to give me a traditional Korean scrub, a treatment I had only heard about from my Korean friends. I was always too shy and intimidated by the stories of all-nude workers who scraped the skin off of clients with mitts until they got teary-eyed. In my wild and uneducated imagination, I would picture female Asian lieutenants who enjoyed torturing innocent victims with the the roughest sandpaper on the market.
Several weeks ago, I heard that a new Korean pamper palace called Immersion Spa that offered true Korean treatments in a contemporary and up-to-date setting with English-speaking attendants. I figured this would be an opportune time to conquer my fears and dispel any stereotypes I had. And so I dove in and tried out the Pure Bliss package, a 90-minute treatment for $140 that includes the scrub, shampoo, scalp massage, oil massage, cucumber face mask, foot scrube and warm milk rinse.
Says owner June Kwan, "This is a hybrid spa. We offer authentic Korean treatments but also traditional American services such as facials and massages using Aveda products." Aveda products, as I understand, are are a commercial line for hair and beauty potions.
June came to the United States when she was 22 to work, and found only the old fashioned Korean bathhouses that were utilitarian in nature with no decor, no soothing music, and scrubs conducted in one giant room (with separate sexes) instead of private spaces. "My sister and I wanted to start something different and introduce non-Koreans to a new kind of spa experience." June left her job as a product managr at Hewlett Packard to pursue her dream.
Behind the curtain, as instructed, I lay face down on the massage/scrubbing table as Li (pronounced LEE) poured a couple of buckets of hot water over my body. Right before Li came to fetch me, I had used all of the facility's immersion amenities - shower, hot jacuzzi, cold plunge, steam room, and dry sauna. My skin was tenderized and ready to be scoured.
Li was kind and probably saw that I was nervous. Maybe there were goosebumbs all over my body. After all, she saw everything! "Tell me how hard to skrup, okay?" I was relieved. She started on my back, exfoliating with her hand mitts, lathering and lathering. The shavings of dirt and topskin was wearing away in bits, the shape and color of little dark rice kernals. Yes, I know, gross. What can I say? The woman was thorough.
I was surprised I was not in pain, but felt actually invigorated as she cleansed me without judgment over my plump, cellulited body. "Now flip over, please," she said politely. Li placed two small towels over my sensitive areas as I lay on my back, exposed to the ceiling and to this woman whom I had no choice but to trust.
Another bucket of water splashed on me. Scrubbing me in sections, I was amazed at how careful she was to detail. She scrubbed in between every toe and on top of every knuckle. My knees got special double treatment as the epidermous on that area is pretty tough. She sliced through that roughage as if it were butter. When she was done with the scrub on my body, Li squeezed some face cream on the palm of my hand, and told me to shower next door and wash my face. As I did this, I stroked my arms and neck, and literally heard squeaking. That Li did some magic on me for sure.
Soon enough, I returned to the table which she dried off, and she began the massage and even gyrated her fingers through every centimeter of my scalp. She and I were both getting a workout. Kneading me from top to toe, Li, I discovered was she was the consumate professional, and probably had a touch of OCD as she was extremely deliberate about making sure I was primed down to the earlobe.
After the one hour massage and a final rinse, she thanked me for my time and handed me my robe. I lay there trying to absorb this surreal experience in my mind, but things were not yet over. There was still one more room to visit, the Himalayan salt room.
There is a door that leads to the salt room with a window, and it is best utilized after the treatment is over. As June told me, the salt gives out negative ions which is good because all our electronics screens give off positive ions. The negative ions are to cancel out the other types. I padded over in my flip flops, and left them outside the door. Once in, I made sure my feet were on the bamboo mat because the pink Himalyan salt bricks were HOT, HOT, HOT. Heated water is piped in under the ground and warms up the floor and then also the walls. The room was about 12 x 12 feet, and could house about six women. I was glad to be there in the dim room, alone with my clean body and clean thoughts and my clean robe. The walls and floor were made of pink bricks of salt the size of cinder blocks and regular bricks on the upper part of the walls. As it is heated at 130 degrees, I stayed about 15 minutes because I started feeling claustraphobic and too hot after awhile. Leaving the room, I felt parched, and I proceeded to refill my Dixie cup until I felt my body temperature returning me back to a normal human being.
During my 90-minute session, I felt as if I had been transported to another country. The other customers were all Korean women, very calm about bathing in front of strangers as they sat in the open shower facility by the hot and cold plunge pools. They brought their own scrubbing mitts and hair bonnets, took their time and seemed to go through a ritual of sorts as they sat on stools and scrubbed and rinsed themselves systematically with the hoses that protruded from the wall. June said that in Korea, whole families will go to public bath houses on weekends. Men go to their side, and women and children go to another. Here at Immersion spa, customers can buy a $25 day pass and come just to shower, dip in the plunge pools, and go in the salt room.
It was quite a jolt for me to adjust to leaving the confines of this Korean spa now squeaky clean into the parking lot that fronted busy El Camino Real. It was impossible to dodge the atmosphere of car fumes and air-borne toxins. I was facing reverse culture shock as I stepped into America once more, but it was good to know I can return to Korea through the doors of Immersion Spa at any time.
3990 El Camino Read Ste. A
Hours: Daily 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.
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