“Who did you meet on the plane?” C asks every time she picks me up from the airport.

“I didn’t meet anyone on the plane,” I will respond.

“Why not?” she will ask, genuinely baffled.

I then have to remind her that she is ridiculously attractive and the way that people react to her isn’t the same way they react to those of us with mismatched faces.  She doesn’t understand that when I ride on a plane, or sit at a bar, or in a restaurant, or am pumping gas or in any number of other situations, random people don’t come up to me and just start conversations.   I have to remind her that middle aged business guys and college students on their way back to their parents place in Aspen and 70 year old retired GE executives and hotel magnates don’t want to talk to me any more than I want to talk to them.  She has looked like she looks right now since she was about 14 years old, so she legitimately thinks that she lives in the real world.  When I explain this to her, she thinks I am being silly.

As an off-shoot of this, she has the ability to get people to do what she wants.  I type this as I look around the townhouse in Northern Virginia where I now live.

Anyway, this is the long way around to explaining how I ended up naked in a giant pool with a bunch of old Korean dudes.

“What are you doing today?’ she asked.

“Weeeelllll,” I said, already on guard, “ I’ve got two conference calls and a packet of information I’ve got to get out, but after that, nothing.  Why?”

“Let’s go to the Korean Spa!”

So that’s what we did.

We went to a place called, unimaginatively, Spa World, located in a strip mall in the middle of a Korean district.  It was very nice, the décor reminding me a lot of an upscale health club or maybe a mid-range country club.   You went in, paid your money and were given an orange short sleeved shirt and a matching pair of orange shorts.  Like a prison jumpsuit, if the prison was in the Caribbean.

C and I went to our respective locker rooms, got changed, and then met in the main spa area.  It was a big open room, two stories high, with reed mats in the center of the floor. I feel I am not adequately describing the scale of this place.  This room alone was the size of a basketball court and it was actually just one smaller part of the complex.  It occurred to me that whoever owned Spa World must own the strip mall as well, because there is no way you could convince a landlord to let you do all of this to their property.  If Spa World closed you’d have to just raze the building and start over.

Korean people lounged around.  They read newspapers, they talked among themselves, they napped. They paid no attention to us.  Everything was very bright, very clean and very nice

Ringing this central area were what they called poultice rooms.  There were ten of them and they were, with one exception, essentially saunas.  Big rooms heated to 110 to 150 degrees, with each room having a theme and theoretically, a health benefit based on that theme.  For example, one was red clay which was supposed to have a positive effect on my circulatory system.  It was shaped like a great big, dome. We lay on the floor and sweated.  I don’t know if it helped my circulation (or whatever) but it felt good.

All of the rooms were variations on this.  My favorite was the clay bead room.  The floor of this room was about a foot below the level of the door.  Clay beads filled the space, so when you stepped into the room you sunk to about mid-calf into these beads.  It looked a whole lot more solid that it actually was. It looked like you could just walk across the surface of the beads.  You couldn’t   Every time anyone stepped into the room, myself included, they almost did a header into the bead-quicksand.  If you could survive the entry into the room, then laying on the beads, with all of them individually pressing into you, felt fantastic.

I also liked the cold room.  It was basically a sauna in reverse.  It was 42 degrees in there.  I loved it, especially after the 150 degree temperatures in the other rooms. C hated it.

So that was great.  Then we went into the pool rooms.

These are segregated by sex because you aren’t allowed to wear any clothes.  Just a bunch of guys, hanging around a gigantic indoor pool, naked.    All around the outer edge of the pool were various jet streams.  You stand in front of the jets and your back, shoulders, or the back of your legs would get massaged.  Or water would pour down from overhead spouts and pound against your head and neck.  Like the sauna rooms, it was extremely relaxing.

I was the only Caucasian guy .  It actually wasn’t crowded, there were three other gentlemen there.  All Korean, all older.  It was, as I said previously, like being in a nice country club locker room.  Apparently the place is packed during the weekends, as whole families come together to use the poultice rooms and the pools. It’s open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

I got all jet massaged, took a shower and met C back out in the lobby 45 minutes later, feeling like I had a new suit of skin on.  If you have a chance, I highly recommend it.

We were hungry, so we went three doors down to the Honey Pig, a fantastic Korean BBQ place.  Six months previously I had never had Korean BBQ, which is essentially a variation on the hibachi style Japanese restaurant, with each table having its own wok as opposed to a giant communal grill.  Now it’s my favorite thing.  I love Korean BBQ.  I’ve seriously thought about contacting the owners of Honey Pig and telling them that if they put one of their restaurants in the Towne Center by our house, I will set up an automatic, once a month, $100 bank withdrawal to be credited to them and put towards me eating there.

C spent some time in Korean when she was in the military so I generally defer to her judgment on matter of Korean cuisine.  We had bulgogi (beef in this awesome sauce) and drank soju (Korean vodka).  It was great.

From there we went to the Asian market.  Asian markets are like amusement parks.  There is fun around every corner.  This one was the size of a Krogers or a Harris Teeters, just with most of the writing in Korean and Chinese.

They have corndogs made of fish.  Mother-fucking-fish-corndogs.  How did I not know that this was a thing?  They taste just like regular corndogs, but the fact they exist at all is amazing.

They have all sorts of weird and wonderful vegetables and fruits.   Stuff I had never heard of.  Stuff shaped like stars, or misshapen bananas or gigantic stalks of grass (I later realized that these last things were, in fact, gigantic stalks of grass). There are variations of food we have in American grocery stores, but slightly different.  There is an Asian version of hamburger helper!  It got the thumbs up from all three men in our household.

The best part, however, is the seafood section.  It’s like going to Sea World if you could eat everything in the tanks.  Aquariums filled with fish, crab, shrimp and octopuses.  Live octopi in the store!  There are also iced bins filled with fish of all kinds.

I’ve decided that any time I’m feeling depressed I’m simply going to go to the Asian market and hang out.

We left with two bags of stuff and headed home, feeling full and refreshed.

I complain, in a joking way, about the sameness of life in the suburbs.  The truth of the matter, however, is that we live in a great place.  One of the nice things about living just outside of Washington is there is so much to do and that we have access to so many diverse activities.  There is theater.  There are historical sites everywhere.  There are professional sports teams. There are museums.  And, because DC is a hub for the world, there is the opportunity to experience other cultures.  I really like it.

I didn’t even mind hanging out with the naked people.

2 thoughts on “Gangnam

  1. Hmmm… I immediately thought: “Huh… I could do that.” and then I thought: “Wait… with Korean strangers, yes, but what if there were people I knew there?” and then I thought: “Well, it’s just the same as a locker room…” but then I thought: “Yeah, but in a locker room you aren’t standing around socializing.” and then I thought: “I have no idea what the protocol is in a Korean bathhouse.” So… thank you for this thought experiment. I feel somehow more prepared for… something.

  2. Very intresting. Not sure about the naked Korean men part. Naked Korean women–yep-I am there. I am into that culture. Nothing I like better than a good glass of Rip and a nice plate of kimshee.

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