For several years now, I’ve been making a point to pamper myself on/for my birthday because while I don’t enjoy huge birthday celebrations, I do want to celebrate my existence in some small but significant way that boosts my self-esteem and makes me feel pretty. As background, I have seriously dry body skin that doesn’t slough itself very well and I have chicken skin to boot. I was on a hunt for a good body scrub. For me, the ever-so-cheap, this meant taking advantage of Spa Week, and I enjoyed the beautiful, peaceful, and aromatherapeutic salt and sugar scrubs these lovely places offered for only $50 each. I’d walk out feeling pretty and soft, but I also secretly wished there were places where I could pay someone to give me a really good scrub-down. Like take-off-the-top-500-layers-of-my-skin good.
Enter the Korean body scrub. My cousin mentioned getting one in Koreatown and how invigorating it was for her. Intrigued, I read a little more about it and decided I’d found what I was looking for. So for my 37th birthday, I got my first Korean scrub at Yi Pak Spa and wrote about it in the online journal I was keeping at the time as well as on Yelp, which I’ll repost with some minor edits below. I’m also going to post the followups to this experience in separate entries. There’s a reason for this, I promise!
April 2, 2010
I popped my Korean bath-house cherry tonight.
I’d heard about Yi Pak while checking out reviews for Juvenex, which is just up the street from Yi Pak, and fought an internal battle over which to try out. Yi Pak won because it sounded more down-to-earth and I didn’t want to get distracted by all the fancies that Juvenex supposedly offers.
Yi Pak is located in a nondescript building on E32nd Street and 5th Avenue in K-town. The lobby felt a little claustrophobic while waiting for the elevator. When I got to the third floor, I was greeted by an older Korean woman. Paid $100 for their basic 1 hour package and was given a bottle of water before being shown to a little locker room where I stripped down and donned a robe that was ultimately worn for three minutes total during my whole visit.
Ladies, leave your prudishness at the door, for you will be mother-nekkid, and publicly so, for your whole visit. Also be aware that this is not the kind of spa that offers the kinds of dainties you might be accustomed to at swankier places. There are no spa slippers, no new-age music to calm you (though you do get to listen to some K-pop), no candles, no ambiance, and no snacks except for the water. You’re there for a scrub, and by golly, that’s exactly what you’re getting!
I was encouraged to use the restroom first, then led to the steam room where I got my schvitz on. Luckily for me, I had the whole (tiny) room to myself. Guess all the cool kids were out on dates. That’s okay though- more steam for me! The steam was lightly scented with the same kind of twigs and bark… er, I mean herbs my mom brews up when someone is ill. I lay down on the white towel and pillow that was put down on the floor of the steam room for my comfort. I never understood the allure of the steam room until tonight; my sinuses opened up, and I breathed better than I have for a long time. I think my snot may have melted but if it did, I sure didn’t care. The only thing that marred my steam time was the condensation that dripped onto me as I lay there; it felt a little like it was raining. However, not a big deal. I must have been in there for about 20 minutes before I decided I’d had enough. I popped my head out and my scrubbing lady, who shall henceforth be known as Ajumma (the Korean title for ladies of a certain age) immediately herded me into the scrub room where two other women were getting worked on.
I was led to the padded and plastic-covered table (there were three in total) on the far side of the room where I was to lie face-down. Ajumma covered my head with a towel (presumably to protect my face from the flying bits of skin she was soon to remove from my body, or maybe it was to keep me from getting grossed out by the sight).
And so my Korean scrub commenced. I think she was using scrubby gloves. Every so often, she poured very warm water over me, I guess to keep my skin nice and removable. Ladies, you know how, um, THOROUGH a Brazilian wax is? Yeah, Korean scrubs are kinda like that. Ajumma went where no man has gone in a long time; I think I can now consider my sexual dry spell to have been broken. Even my belly button got some lovin’.
The scrub was pleasant overall. Ajumma was silent for most of my time with her except when she quietly asked me to change positions, which is just how I like it. If I’m lying there naked and essentially blindfolded, I don’t want to chat with you about the weather.
I was kind of disappointed that thanks to my face being covered nearly the entire time, I didn’t get to actually see the top 6041 layers of my skin get kicked to the curb- the thought is both gross and oddly fascinating.
Once she was done ridding my body of its skin, Ajumma slathered me up with what I think was unscented baby oil, then gave me a facial. I can’t tell you what products she used (though I’m sure they were not fancy) and I was a bit concerned that she was applying stuff that was going to clog my pores but I was way too smoothed out from the scrub to care. I got a nice facial massage with emphasis on my sinus areas (yay!) and then my hair was washed. Again, no salon shampoos and conditioners here, just stuff you get at the drugstore, but you do get a nice scalp massage.
As for service, all the ajummas were sweet and very solicitous. I’m sure they would have tried to accommodate me if I were a more demanding client, but luckily I’m not that kind of customer. I got excellent value for my money. I would definitely go back for more!