Recently, I went to a Korean spa on Geary Avenue in San Francisco to relax from an increasingly frenetic semester. While I’ve been to Korean spas before in Korea and the East Coast, they're all a little different in scale and services so I didn’t really know what to expect.
My treatment was at 11 am and I got there at 9:30 am so I could start the steam and bath process. After a quick check-in at the front desk, I was led to the lockers and a spa area. They had a steam room, sauna, and a Himalayan Salt Red Clay Room. I alternated between the jacuzzi, the cold plunge pool, and the various hot rooms. Then, I was called, number 55, to the upper floor of the cozy and immaculate spa complex.
My massage therapist's name was May. She was Chinese-Korean and I listened to how she and her colleagues would fluidly mix Chinese and Korean. She spoke mostly English to me (i.e. "turn over," "on your side," "wash your face") but we became friendly at the end and we spoke in Korean. A lot of my PhD coursework this semester has been on language. I've been reading Barthes, Saussure, Derrida, Foucault, Irigaray, and Fanon and it's interesting to apply these theories to things I observe in real life.
May welcomed me to the mysterious second level of the spa, where I lay down on a padded table with thick waterproof sheets. She proceeded to scrub me clean with an exfoliating cloth from the insides of my ankles to behind my ears. Then, she asked me to stand as she laid a thin layer of foil on top of the table. She unfolded the delicate material gently. And then she asked me to get on top of it. She massaged a gold-infused foaming cream on my skin and then wrapped me up tightly and put 2 warm towels on top of me. Then, she applied thin slices of cucumber to my entire face. She whispered in my ear: I'll be back in 10 minutes. I meditated, listening to the sound of splashing water around me.
She returned, stripped off the foil, and washed me again from head to toe. I asked if she was finished. She said, "No, we still need to do the massage." She asked me get on the table, lathered me up with what smelled like coconut oil, and massaged every limb, Near the end, she covered me with a towel and stood on top of me to stretch out all the bigger muscle groups. Finally, she applied a lusciously thick mask infused with gold leaf to my face and insisted that this concoction would make my skin beautiful. While that dried, she gave me a thorough scalp massage, washed and conditioned my hair, and wrapped it up in a perfect towel bun.
The spa day was a success! I felt relaxed, free, and renewed. When one focuses on the body, the mind is released. I spend a lot of time in my head and it felt great to push that aside for a few hours. There has been a rather quick transition from the mid-semester crisis to an impending end-of-semester catastrophe and I can feel the panic level rising up again. This time, I know the first place to go to destress. If you can't find me, don't worry. I'll be at the spa.