Imagine two elderly half naked women scrubbing your naked body with sand paper, their saggy boobs slapping you in the face with each pass of the extra strength loofah. No, this isn’t some creepy Asian fetish, but a popular beauty treatment undergone by countless women in South Korea. Here, soft skin is highly prized, and Korean saunas (aka jimjilbangs) are THE place to get naked, get clean and get scrubbed. With the persistence of the two ladies working on my epidermis, I was set to be the cleanest person on the planet.
I’m taller than the average Korean, and I must have looked extra dirty, because the frail looking old woman who found a lanky foreigner on her scrubbing table called for backup. First, fresh cucumber was grated into a mulchy mixture before being spread over my face. A net-like bag was then placed over my head to hold the cucumber paste in place—I felt exactly like a bag of onions at the grocery store. Fortunately, I had no traces of a cold and could breathe through my nose, as my mouth was sealed completely with the pressure of the bag against my face.
Scrub, slap, slap…the four hands scrubbing me developed a steady rhythm, and I cracked my eyes open a slit to see gray globules of dead skin accumulating like freshly fallen snow on the table below me. Disgusting, yes, but also incredible liberating. My body has never been so free of dead skin.
The ladies pushed and prodded me, seemingly releasing years of pent up anger. My skin burned, but I gritted my teeth and persevered. Calluses pumiced, hair washed, and a few buckets full of water splashed over me at the end for good measure and I emerged with glowing skin that could easily be mistaken for a baby’s.
It’s not easy to get a spot with the ajummas, as minimal English is generally spoken at the saunas. But enough hand motions, smiling and pointing at the clock will land you an appointment—just be prepared for a slap in the face.
In Daegu, Home Spa World is my personal favorite, in Busan it’s Spa Land and in Seoul it’s Dragon Hill Spa.
Sadly, photos are not allowed inside the jimjilbang, so I’ve had to use a generic one from flickr, courtesy of Stacy and one of Home Spa World courtesy of the Amongst Other Things blog. To see the half naked old women, you’ll simply have to visit for yourself.