Sunday, April 24, 2011

101 Naked Koreans - My Trip to the Spa

        The only Korean person I know is Teri Hatcher who actually isn't Korean, but her Botox says otherwise. This, however, was all about to change last week when my friend Shoniqua thought it would be a good idea to further acquaint myself with other members of the tiny Asian community at the 24 hour Korean Spa. She had a groupon! I was firmly against this adventure from the beginning. First of all, any establishment that's open at 3 o'clock in the morning in Texas is very suspicious! NOTHING is open that late here, especially on a weekday. Second of all, there is nothing relaxing about being surrounded by naked Koreans. That's the definition of stress! I'm not sure how Shoniqua ultimately dragged me into this situation but somehow I landed at King Spa, where Asian people go to slumber.

         Please be patient as I take you through my experience as there are many details to go over. Firstly, King Spa is located in Dallas's Asian Ghetto (Every major city has one, collect 'em all!). Shoniqua and I were driving in the middle of nowhere in this completely obsolete area of town and all of a sudden there is a gigantic archway with giraffes on top. Yes, giraffes! I'm not exactly sure how giraffes are Korean but apparently this was the driving entrance for parking for said spa. I hadn't even made it to the parking lot and I was already overwhelmed and confused! After we parked, we walked our way toward the entrance. I stopped dead in my tracks. The entrance was a gigantic medieval black doorway bookended by two of the largest lion statues I had ever seen. What the Hell is this? I'm I in the Wizard of Oz? Is a green man going to open the door for us? This was already too much for me. We made our way through the door where things were ultimately only going to get worse. In the lobby, to my left was a metal statue of a life-size horse, to my right was a mural that covered the entire wall with brightly colored flowers and leaves looking like a lost set piece from "Sound of Music" the broadway version. Directly in front of us, were the first of many Koreans we would encounter that evening. They were standing in front of a desk, a notably short desk in order to accommodate the Koreans' "vertical situation". Shoniqua gave the dark-haired midgets the coupons and they immediately branded us with blue and pink wristbands with keys attached. The immediate "concentration camp" nostalgia I was experiencing was unknowingly going to be repeated once I entered the establishment. Shoniqua was directed to a basket next to the doorway to fetch her "uniform". We were both instructed to remove our shoes then head on in. I was curious as to where my uniform was. When I asked the Justin Bieber-sized woman at the desk, she told me that the men's uniforms would be located in the locker room. At this point Shoniqua and I parted ways and made our way to our separate changing and showering stations.

         It's very rare that the thought "I'm gonna kill this bitch" runs through my mind. However, I came to experience this phrase repeating itself inside my head once I set my foot inside the locker room. I couldn't believe Shoniqua put me up to this shit! You see, I knew it wasn't going to be pretty. I knew that old Koreans would be in attendance. However, what I did not realize was that there would be one hundred and one naked elderly Korean men shuffling along tiled floors in lighting harsher than on "Ru Paul's Drag Race"! "Oh my God!" I said under my breath. I stopped dead in my tracks. My eyes were burning. So many Asian wrinkles! EVERYWHERE! In order to prevent hyperventilation, I looked at the floor to gain composure. I could handle this. I could make it through. If I can write a blog about diarrhea and get away with it, this was just a simple punishment from Jesus, I've had it coming this whole time. I looked down at my key and found my locker. I put my shoes, wallet, and phone inside then proceeded to find myself a uniform and most importantly a towel, which for some reason NO ONE was wearing. I noticed a Korean sitting in the corner in a chair at a desk with a name tag. I went over and asked him "Where are the towels Jackie Chan?". He pointed me toward a basket seated on the floor next to the basket of uniforms. I went over and picked one up. I held in my hand a towel the size of a dinner napkin. I'm not kidding. Even Korean people need larger coverage than this bullshit. I came to find out that in the men's area, you don't wear a towel! You simply prance around with all of Jesus's blessing hanging out between sauna, steam room, hot tub, and shower! You simply dry  yourself with these disposable dinner napkins at the entrance to the locker and then don your uniform for the unisex area. What a nightmare! I swallowed my pride (I think my dignity made it down the esophagus as well), quickly stripped and gingerly tiptoed my way to the shower and then quickly into the hot tub where my situation would at least be blurred by the jets. My first instinct was to run but I realized quickly that would probably not be the best look for me when not wearing any clothes. With the security of the bubbles speeding rapidly over the surface of the hot tub I felt confident and relaxed enough to actually begin to enjoy the experience. This place was HUGE! There are 4 hot tubs of different temperatures, a cold wading pool complete with overhead waterfall, a sauna, and a steam room larger than a Volkswagen. They also had a private massage area where they attempt to get extra money out of you. Shoniqua paid $85 for a massage (on the women's side of course) and she said she got a free motorboat out of it (I''m using "motorboat" as a verb in this context, google it later)! Supposedly the Korean masseuse was wearing see through lingerie during both the body scrub and the rub down. As my thoughts lingered towards the idea of that massage and as I looked around the room, I quickly realized the Korea really sucks the "sexy" out of any possibly sexual situation. This was probably a good thing at the time considering the last situation you want to show any measure of excitement is when you are publicly naked in harsh lighting. At least at the nude beach you have the option of rolling over. With all of those naked people running around completely oblivious to the fact that they have some of the most horrific bodies ever made by Jesus, this made me realize the importance of self acceptance. It's amazing as a young relatively fit person I felt bashful and uncomfortable, while elderly Korean men with a body frame of the Michelin man could happily strut their unfortunate stuff at any angle with total confidence. You have to wonder where this confidence comes from. What makes a person become so comfortable to be completely naked under overhead lighting? This answer came to me in the form of the dynamic duo who entered the chamber of naked Asians next. It was a man with his son. "Oh no!" was my first thought. "Don't bring him in here! He'll be scarred for life!" But then I realized that that's how the Korean's get acclimated with the comfort of one's body. As a kid, you don't question things like that. You think it's normal because that's the way you were raised. Perhaps, had my Mother taken me to the nude beach in Vancouver, I would have a similar perspective. I don't think it would've been the best idea since I already looked like the family slave; looking like the naked family slave probably would not have helped the situation. I felt myself boiling like an egg, or perhaps asparagus in the scorching water of the hot tub. Just as I was about to remove myself from the crock pot I  noticed something that just tickled my sense of humor to no end. There was a sign at the other end of the hot tub that said "Stay away from the toad!". Above the sign, there it stood, a larger than life ceramic toad with a grin on its face. It was interesting to me that the ridiculous decor that was scattered all over the lobby did not have a continuing theme in the spa itself. The men's room was very classic looking, everything ceramic and a grey in color. But there it stood, the toad, in all of its glory. I pulled my wrinkly self up and made my way back to the locker room. It amazes me that only 15 minutes in the hot tub, I turn into a complete raisin. It took about 5 dinner napkins to dry myself off. I donned my uniform which I still can't decide whether it resembles something of a hospital gown or prison gear. I left to meet Shoniqua in the communal unisex area. There's only so many wrinkly Asians one can take.

           As I say, the ridiculous decor on the outside of the establishment and in the lobby certainly did not match what was actually inside (beside the toad). It was a very relaxing neutral space with nothing that was artistically distracting or appalling. The same, unfortunately, cannot be said for the communal area of the spa. In this area called the "lounge" both men and women roam around together in their uniforms. The men in grey with blue wristbands and the women in pink with red wrist bands (keep waiting for the concentration camp reference in a later paragraph). The decoration in this area is similar to that of Cher's Farewell Tour. This is the point when I started blocking things out of my memory. As you can probably tell, I have a good eye for detail but this was WAY too much visual overload, even for me. I will begin with what I can remember. There were several knights in shining armor situated in rows against one wall. There were two enormous golden sphinxes, two more lion statues on top of globes, a series of aquatic and garden-themed wallpaper, endless murals, slightly orange-tinted lighting, and huge medieval columns in every direction. It looked like the United Nations was holding a garage sale. There were several rows of gigantic Victorian red velvet couches. This is where the Koreans sit and watch the overhead small television screens which show riveting Korean soap operas. Next to that are several black leather reclining loungers facing one gigantic television screen showcasing an even more thrilling captivating marathon of Korean soap operas. There's also a movie theatre and karaoke room. As much as I wanted to venture into the land of Korean karaoke, even I have my comedic limits. I found Shoniqua passed out on one of the hideous couches that my Grandmother would most likely refer to as a "chesterfield". I asked her to show me around some of the special communal rooms, which there are several! Allow me to break down some of my favorites.

Salt Room
         Being Canadian, I immediately felt comfortable by this room as it is shaped like an igloo. Throughout all of the rooms it feels like Alice in Wonderland in the fact that you must burrow your way through the tiny Korean sized doors. Of course, if you're actually Korean you can walk straight through without ducking. This room has somewhat of a brick pattern on the floor with what I'm assuming is a "salt crystal" pattern on the dome shaped wall. "Konichiwa!" I said as I entered the Korean infested hut. I know that's Japanese for "Hello" but I figured it's all the same continent anyhow. I noticed most people were laying down so I followed suit. Just as I was beginning to enjoy my warm salty igloo, my relaxation was brutally interrupted by a horrific sight. Above my head there were 9 bags hanging from rope! I suppose this is supposed to be bags of salt, but as a partially Black man I was horribly offended!

Pyramid Room
          This room is shockingly shaped like a pyramid; a golden pyramid. I'm not exactly sure what this room is supposed "to do for you" but I was game to sit in another crowded Korean clown car. The inside of the room was painstakingly bright, even more golden than the exterior which even retrospectively I still can't believe is possible. Most of the rooms like the Pyramid Room are quite warm! Once beads of perspiration began accumulating on my big toe, I took this a sign that I may want to take a break from the sweaty Koreans.

Ice Room
            It was slightly baffling to me as to why a person (Korean or not) would voluntarily enter a refrigerator, but I decided to keep an open mind. The Ice Room is set up similarly to a dry sauna, in that there are benches on the outskirts to sit unlike all the other rooms where you lie down on a mat. I put my skepticism aside for a moment so I could thoroughly appreciate the theme of ridiculous wallpaper. In the Ice Room, the walls are decorated with mural sized images of snowy hills and ice covered pine trees. "Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree! How lovely are thy branches?". It's amazing what comes to mind when you're not wearing underwear. After 5 minutes in this completely ridiculous room I felt unconvinced. If I had the sudden urge to be inside of a refrigerator, I could do it for free by going back to the Subway I used work at and ask to spend some quality time inside the walk-in cooler in a grey prison jump suit.

Air Room
            If you think the Ice Room sounds like bullshit, I can do you one better! The Air Room. Really? Apparently each of these rooms carries a different property that's healthy, nourishing, and replenishing for the body. But air? Is there an oxygen deficiency that I have not been made aware of? I felt even less assured once I got over the title and actually entered the room. Here's the deal. I get that at a spa you should feel relaxed and comfortable, but when I walked in, everyone was passed out! It looked like a Lindsay Lohan after party in there; about 7 or 8 Koreans asleep on their yoga mat. I didn't want to spend too long in this room, I was afraid I would fall asleep and wake up Korean. This room is quite popular which is perplexing to me. It's the least elaborate room. It has wood floors and wood walls with an air conditioner in the corner. Really? Maybe there's marijuana laced in the air conditioner somehow. The Koreans can do anything! I noticed there was a sign above the air conditioner, "Don't touch". Just like the toad!

Bul Ga Ma
           I still wasn't completely sold on the idea of the healing power of these different rooms but I was more interested in being entertained by ridiculous elaboration. Bul Ga Ma delivers! It's one of the larger rooms with beautiful wooden decoration all around. In the center of the room are piles of wood encased by a wooden railing. On one wall, there are crystals that go from bottom to top. There are wooden barrels, headrests, and mats for your enjoyment. I quickly was absorbing this visual stimulation as I peered in, but I was quickly brought back to reality when I placed my first big toe into the room on the floor. It burned! Apparently "Bul Ga Ma" stands for "Burn the Negro!". At first, I tried to act normal in front of the dozing Koreans but both Shoniqua and I quickly found it impossible to remain calm. Our brisk walk briefly evolved into the "Elmer Fudd" hopping from foot to foot from one side of the room to the other where the mats were located. I, being slightly more sensitive to heat than Shoniqua escalated my "Elmer Fudd" hop to a full on "Usain Bolt" Jamaican track runner stride to the mat! My toes were burning like I was on hot coals! But alas, I found my mat. I failed to mention that everything is written in Korean outside each room. So it's difficult to decipher what it is you're supposed to do with the props. The Koreans next to me were placing their calves on the barrels and resting their heads on wooden shelves so Shoniqua and I followed suit. This room, although very hot, was quite enjoyable. However, I figured once my nipples were making a cameo appearance through my now see through uniform, this was probably a good time to make an exit.

          Okay, so I can't remember exactly what this room  is really called but "BulTanPanZoor" is the closest I can remember, which is Korean for "concentration camp". The exterior of this room is black. It's igloo shaped like many of the others. As I looked at the door, I felt like I was seeing things. I wondered if I had been slightly blinded by the golden pyramid room. I know that Koreans are small but even a tiny Korean could not fit through this door. Was this the lawn gnome entrance? I waltzed around to the other side looking for the normal door which ended up not being there. How is this even possible? My curiosity took over and I decided to make an attempt at entering this claustrophobic nightmare. As I made my way back around to the entrance I noticed there was a very tiny Korean man sitting in a Fischer Price sized chair next to the tiny door. He was holding a stick. I came to find out that this particular room is the hottest in the entire establishment, even hotter than the Elmer Fudd room! The door is so hot that they hire a tiny Korean who's entire job is to open the door with a stick to avoid people burning their little Korean hands. I promise I had not consumed not even one alcoholic beverage but somehow I came to the decision making that only a crackhead would come up with and decided to enter. I nodded to the Korean male version of Thumbellina to signal him to open the door of death. I army crawled my way into the room. This was the first time in my life I felt like a fatass. Even with half my body not inside the igloo I felt the overwhelming burning waft of the scorching air. I was entering a furnace. I felt like Hansel being shoved into the oven by the Witch (speaking of fatasses). The only thing worse than feeling like I was slowly being lit on fire was the atrocious site I was bestowed with upon entrance. As I VERY quickly grabbed a mat to sit, I gazed up at the walls and "decoration". In the center, were black coals which matched what appeared to be black wire entwined at the top of the dome shaped room which matched the black/grey bricks encasing me. This was truly a concentration camp moment! As if my perspiration wasn't bad enough already with the volcanic temperature; my sweat only worsened with the thought that people might know I once considered being Jewish!

The Food Court
          Shoniqua had told me that the last time she went to King Spa, she was there for 6 hours! Can you believe it? I couldn't until I actually went and realized that with the endless amount of rooms and inevitable sleeping from the marijuana-laced air filters, you really need to set aside an entire day to fully appreciate all of the Korean festivities the Spa has to offer. So it is of no wonder why such an establishment needs a fully staffed restaurant inside! Similar to the movie theatre, you will be charged 4 dollars for a Vitamin water, so beware! However, after 4  hours of relaxation and torture, I really  needed to eat something. In keeping with the theme of King Spa, the entire menu was written in Korean. This is where pictures come in handy! I ordered Porbingsoo which is Korean for "a party in my mouth"! This was probably the strangest most delightful things I've ever experienced. Potbingsoo is a dessert served over crushed ice. Atop, is sweet bean, fresh kiwi, strawberry puree, and tiny squishy mulit-colored Korean gummies on top all covered in sweetened milk. The texture was questionable only because there was A LOT going on in that little bowl. But overall I was thoroughly entertained.

Don't Cry for me Korea! 
      I had mixed feelings as I said goodbye to Korea. I had experienced a complete overload emotionally, physically, and visually! I had seen more penises in a one hour span than I would perhaps care to. I sweat more profusely than Nicki Minaj at Christian bingo on "Virgin Night". I had experienced so much in that Asian Wonderland. I didn't know quite what to think of the experience. As we left the parking lot and looked back, I began to wonder if Koreans had some sort of cultural identity problem as I caught one last glance of the giraffes in the rear view mirror.

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