Bathing Korean Style
You walk down a long hall, that until recently was decorated with small golden lacquer plates sporting swirling calligraphy on scrolls, on which Chinese characters proclaim: LOVE, Friendship, and Happiness. Yesterday, the plates were not up on the long narrow hall. The wall was freshly painted, but not wet, with tape indicating that a transformation is in progress.
At the Olympic Spa, they are forever improving the facilities, expanding and refining their vision yet retaining the same staff, the same treatments, and best-of-all the same affordable pricing. I have visited this Spa for over five years, almost six… The first time I visited, I had a small lump in my breast, which I did not yet know was cancer. As I discovered that I had a serious medical obstacle before me, the nurturing, meditative bathing, and social silence of the spa became a haven for my battered body.
The location was less sleek, smaller, just the core rooms of wet tubs, treatments. No big salt sauna, or fancy bathrooms… just a little restaurant that looked like communist era, in a far away land… it was a trip, from the first dip, to another world.
The front desk is manned by two or three pretty Korean women. They smile as you approach and inquire if it is your first time. If you nod, “yes.” They will explain to you what is to be expected and walk you through the basic etiquette, which ensures that Olympic Spa is a pleasure for everyone that visits. Unless, perhaps, you are Frau Kolb, they know YOU from a half decade of faithfully enthusiastic patronage of the well run business. You pay your fee, sign the liability waiver, and you can come in and use all of the facility for a mere $15.00, that is an outstanding value. Sure the outside of the building is beat-up, the neighborhood is ethnic funky, which I LOVE, and it is NOT Santa Monica. Nope.
You enter, past the thick double doors which represent the outside world of stress, obligations, and competition, into a structured world of self care, reflection, wet meditation, sweat therapy, and enforced gentle voices… AH! You put your street shoes in a locker and then proceed in your socks or bare feet to the larger lockers for clothing. You put away your things and put on a green Olympic Spa robe and then you walk over to the big scale, take your weight, maybe… or you get yourself a cup of barely tea from the urn, and eye the Korean women laying languidly on the jade floor, next to the equally lovely Scandinavian Blonds that speak gently among themselves. Now it is time for the baths!
Pull open the door and take off your robe. No robes are worn in the bath. Now you must clean your body before you get into any of the pools, steams, or saunas. YOU wash. I like to squat on the little plastic seats and douce myself with water from the traditional long tub of hot water. I use the little mitts, I purchased for a couple dollars at at the front desk and scrub myself. Around me women are quietly letting go of burdens, pain, anger… negativity is scrubbed off and washed down the drain. Others shower, before going into the bubbling warm tub, or the healing medicinal Mug Wort Tea, bath in which up to four or five women, quietly group.
I always get the same treatment, The Milk and Honey Smoothie, which begins with having milk, which exfoliates the skin, poured onto one’s horizontal body on a padded table made specially for SPLASH and SCRUBBING. The treatment includes a fresh cucumber face mask and peppermint hair shampoo. Toward the end honey, which nourishes the skin is applied and rinsed off with bails of hot HOT water. The scrubbing is intense and when I first experienced it, I was overwhelmed and surprised, never having been scrubbed so fiercely or felt so babied since… well… EVER!
I always request this head to toe, Milk and Honey Treatment from the same woman, one among perhaps twenty that work giving bath treatments, she is my favorite. We connect. She cares for me, and was/is part of my self care routine and even though she speaks little English I know she has an adult son of whom she is very proud and that she has worked at the Olympic Spa for almost thirty years. She looks so young, fit, and content in her black bra and panty set, which is the uniform of the women that work, scrubbing and massaging tired mothers, sisters, wives, waitresses, lawyers, and doctors… all the women require nurturing and carving out time to take care of the self is essential to preserving mental equilibrium and personal power.
Once, I went alone to the spa, and my Korean friend was there on her day off, bathing. We scrubbed each other’s backs, like old friends, laughing. Another time, I visited with The Muse. As usual I had the Milk and Honey Treatment and we soaked together in the Mug Wort tea pool, which is the smallest of the three in ground pools which are at the heart of the complex. The Muse, quickly found her own favorite treatment, she swears by the facials given at the spa. After our treatments we lounged on the heated jade floor, whispering to each other… before we roused ourselves to lunch, the restaurant being pretty delicious! Look here:
The Olympic Spa is traditional in the best sense of the word in that it upholds the tradition of Asian communal bathing and presents it in a way that is accessible to the savvy women of Los Angeles. The Olympic spa is for women only. You are welcome to come and relax and women of all types, ages, shapes, and sizes share space and bathe, together. One avoids starring at others but it is comforting to see the variety of physical forms femininity manifests itself. Women are universally beautiful if you look at them through a cloud of steam and from the vantage of your own unclothed vulnerability.