After our yoga class, my wonderful teacher asked, “I know this is last minute, but do you want to go to a spa today?”
In addition to being the complete opposite of spontaneous, I’m terrible at spas and get overly anxious about all of the etiquette I don’t know. The fact that they’re supposed to be relaxing only exacerbates this. I’ve also never been to the same spa more than once, which means the odd mix of Hungarian bath house and Californian health centers have completey ruined any baseline sense of normalcy in this area.
I was even more excited-nervous when I realized we were going to a Korean spa (jjimjilbang). The spa we went to is in Palisades Park, an area of New Jersey I’ve hardly ever visited and which is home to one of the largest Korean communities outside of Korea. Neat, right? I love New Jersey for many reasons, but our diverse communities are by and large my favorite.
When you walk in, the cashier hands you a key to your locker that acts a bit like a hotel room key. There’s barcode on the key, which can then be scanned to pay for any extra services while in the spa, like meals or treatments. You also pick up a “uniform,” which is traditionally a t-shirt and baggy shorts. Along the way, the men and women are divided, you head over to a locker room, and then start with the lowest temperature sauna to warm up.
King Spa has three floors, with different resting rooms and saunas, which vary in temperature, theme, and style. There are some mineral salt saunas, along with traditional kiln saunas. My favorite was the amethyst room, which has this wild mosaic of jade and amethyst stones in the walls. There was also a group of young girls in there with us who randomly started doing some yoga poses, which seemed oddly apropos.
The saunas are pretty quiet, but some people chit chat, or chit chat until shushed. One man we spoke with comes once a month, and the boy with him was on his fourth visit, even though he’s only twelve. It was pretty cool to see the mixture of people and ages all throughout. Nearly everyone looked like they were dying, though. We tried to go into each sauna twice, and would come out red-faced and panting.
The coolest part are the facilities. Many spas are open 24/7, including this one, so there are resting rooms, which have lounge chair-esque beds with large-screen, close-captioned TVs lighting the room. There are also folks who bring their computers to work in the co-ed lounge areas and kids who giggle while playing games like chess and Go. It must have something to do with the uniforms, but there was this oddly comforting communal feel. In our white or pink t-shirts and shorts, with towels wrapped around our heads, everyone looked surprisingly calm and carefree. Rather campy.
Of course, there’s food as well. Soup, noodles, smoothies, and patbingsu, which I didn’t try, but passed someone eating and nearly drooled all over.
Sadly, I didn’t take any pictures since I kept my phone locked up. It was a really neat, and thoroughly unexpected, experience. I’d love to go back. Maybe it’ll help keep me young, or reduce stress, or any of the other supposed health benefits. Or maybe it’s just a fun, little weekend getaway. In spite of my desperate looking face. I swear.