Spa World! Korean Spa, Korean Food, Korean TV and Men’s Smoking Room
Yes. This is Spa World. Just one exit shy of Dulles Airport off of 66. Open 24 hours a day, 7 days per week. In a strip-mall. Enter into another world.
My friends from high school, Nina, Zanna, and I, met at Spa World, spent the day, and left different (shinier) people.
In my experience, there is a Western view of a ‘Spa’ and an Asian view of a ‘Spa’. And a Western view of an “Asian Spa.”
Western View of Spa: In the West, we want to connect “body and mind” with a gentle and nurturing movement out of our daily lives and into the spa treatment. We enter an atmosphere with soothing music, dim lights, calming aromatic herbal scents and expect an holistic and congruous sensual experience. We want what we hear, smell, and feel, to be a part of our journey.
Asian View of Spa: Not so, in Asian Spas. And I have to admit, I love that. No foreplay. There is a small Chinese massage parlor here in Charlottesville, Bliss Massage, where not one person speaks English, loud phone calls are taken while you are on the table and the only oil is CVS Baby Oil. They dig right in the moment you have disrobed, sit on top of you and use their elbows to squash any tension that might be lurking.
Western View of Asian Spa: At Bliss, there are signs that read, “No Erotic Massage. Don’t even ask.” I often wonder what nice person at the International Rescue Committee helped them write these signs and edited their pamphlets. I have tried many times to explain to the owner that the name, ‘Bliss Massage,’ might be giving the wrong impression. Once, I was handed the phone during a massage. A man on the other end drawled, “Do you speak English?” Yes. “I’ve had Asian massage before that was…sensual. Do you do sensual massage? I’d like two ladies…” Read the signs.
In any case, back to Spa World…
When you enter, you pay for the day (34.00 at the time of writing) and are given a key and a outfit with thick cotton Korean styled shorts and shirt. The walls of the entryway are lined with wooden boxes for your shoes. You lock your shoes away and enter the dressing area. There are bigger lockers here for your clothes and belongings. Change, lock and put the key around your wrist.
In the locker room, you can sign up for spa services like massage and body scrubs, which we did. Make sure you are understood! We thought we had signed up for 3 Body Scrubs, but had actually signed up for one #3, which is something else.
You can lounge on one of the chaises longues and watch Korean TV. You will notice a handful of women of all ages and sizes clad in black lace bra and panties. Utilitarian black lace bra and panties. We’ll meet them later.
After changing and signing up for the wrong treatments, we walked along a corridor into the co-ed Sauna room. There are TVs on every wall, stairs that lead to a workout room and a Smoking Room for Men. (I am torn between my feminist outrage and my health snob outrage.) The large room has saunas around the edge and large mats in the middle of the floor with wooden pillows. People sleep, lounge, watch Korean TV or read Korean magazines. I am reminded that they are open 24 hours a day. Maybe some people live there? Each of the 6 or so saunas has a theme and a digital thermometer above the door. The temperatures range from 110 to 150!
My favorite saunas were the Jewel Palace and the Red Clay. The Jewel Palace is an adobe-shaped room with jewel-colored tiles on the ceiling. One lays down with one’s head towards the center, I hear, as a polite custom.
The Red Clay Sauna is a dream. I walked in to discover red clay balls about as big as marbles, 6 inches deep. Walking into this quiet space, my feet surprised me with each the loud, jarring step. Then I laid down and nuzzled my body deep into the clay. Delicious.
We then moved to the restaurant. I love Korean food–spicy and clean. We ordered the Bi Bim Bap. Rice, Veggies, Eggs, cooked in a stone bowl. The directions say that it “must be mixed” before eating. And this is true. I have many times been ordered to stir my bowl by the owner of the little Korean kitchen, Seoul Food, in Cambridge. She would come out from the kitchen to instruct me, “Must stir!” So stir!
After eating, we returned to the Women’s Lounge to begin soaking in the multiple pools in preparation for the Body Scrub. They ask you to soak for at least 30 minutes to soften the skin before the exfoliation. Of course, that’s when we realized that we had one scrub scheduled, so Nina and Zanna (kindly) booked regular massages and I began my soak.
The bathing room has one large, luke warm pool, and several smaller, warmer pools. Along the walls are showers, there is a strange area with very low benches, mirrors, and beauty products, which I couldn’t really figure out. Women there seemed to be talking, but not much else.
The whole room is wet and women wear towels or nothing. The array of what it means to be a woman is vast in this setting. Large, small, old, young, muscular, sinewy, skin tones in every lovely shade.
As I soaked, I noticed the women in black lace bras and undies coming out with numbered receipts and taking women back with them to the scrub area.
My number came up and I followed a slight woman into an area with 5 bubble-gum pink, padded, patent-leather tables. I skidded onto the wet table and closed my eyes. My scrubber then proceeded to toss enormous pails of warm water all over me and scrub me with some sort of pot cleanser for 30 minutes. When I did open my eyes between dousings and scrubbings, I noticed the scrubber had a green and white bar of soap on top. Irish Spring? Lever?
I also noticed, to my dismay and delight, balls of brown…What could it be? Yes. Skin. She quickly doused me and the balls were washed away. Phew.
After scrubbing off last year’s tan with some lye-based soap, my body tingled and gleamed. Next came the massage. Lots of slapping with cupped hands to wake up the body.
I think my favorite part was having my hair washed and conditioned. I was spun around on the shiny pink table, my head thrust over the table edge and my scalp and head soaped, massaged and conditioned. Then a shower. And back out into this:
I would definitely do Spa World again. Though, I’m sure the 2 hour drive home diminished any muscular benefits, the memories and my radiant skin (not to mention Nina and Zanna!) will bring me back.
Charlottesville, VA on the Downtown Mall 406A E Main St