I am completely naked.
The lighting is harsh and I am not alone.
Other naked ladies, all locals on the island of Oahu and mostly of Korean heritage, surround me.
We nudies are partaking in the beauty ritual of the Korean Day Spa. (This indulgence was a "must do" on my recent trip to Honolulu and I saved it until the very last day, right before our red-eye flight home. I wholeheartedly recommend slipping in a spa appointment before any flight â€“ genius timing.)
But, this spa is not like the cushy, Zen experience of a Western spa. There are no fluffy robes, no private rooms and not a trace of modesty. Although I have already spent a week in this tropical paradise wearing nothing more than a bikini and a trucker hat, which in itself makes you trash any feelings of self-consciousness, being totally naked around other totally naked ladies takes this up a notch. I refuse to let body hang-ups get in the way of having a good time.
I choose my treatment by reading an English description of it, yet I am quite unsure how to begin the first part of this adventure, which is performed on one's own while taking advantage of the spa amenities. The spa concierge commands me into the locker room, which is really just part of the lobby area, tells me to undress completely and then points me to the wet room.
I disrobe and find myself possessing only the key to my locker, which I am instructed to tie into my hair. I am ushered into the "spa" which in spa-talk is like a huge Vichy-room, or in lay terms, an open wet room, this one consisting of a communal shower area, one hot pool, one cold pool, a steam room, a dry sauna and five or six treatment tables nestled under their own shower spouts.
A kind spa-goer notices my bewilderment and tells me to shower first. I step over the wall of showers and am a bit horrified to see one "for-public-use" bar of white soap and two giant pump bottles of a generic body/hair shampoo and conditioner.
"Get over it, donâ€™t judge, just experience it," I urge myself as I recall the sanitation procedures and laws drilled into my skull from my esthetics licensure in three states.
I let the water run over my body and use my hands to rinse the day of beach and ocean off. I decide the skip the soap.
A bit befuddled at what to do next, the same sweet lady shouts to join her in the hot mineral tub. I dip a toe into the scalding water and hope I wonâ€™t have to soak long when my technician for the actual "treatment" I purchased comes over and introduces herself. Sheâ€™s taller (than me), a bit stout around the middle and somewhere in the mid-50s to 100 age range.
"I Chong. You soak here couple minutes, then go in dry room, steam not working. DONâ€™T go cold tub â€“ skin come off there!"
"Ok." I obediently replied, while considering the consequence of my "skin coming off."
I observed the other women enjoying the spa amenities. They go from tub to tub, then transition to another post, pouring buckets of water over themselves to cool down and then enter into the dry sauna. They knowingly rotate from station to station, performing self-beautification rituals like exfoliation and soaking. I overhear a lithe "sweat-er" in the dry sauna tell her plumper friend, "You go in here every day, you lose weight," as she violently plies her own fat-free tummy in self-massage.
Unable to take another moment of heat, I step out of the dry sauna to cool off when Chong comes to fetch me. I marvel at her uniform. She is wearing a conservatively cut black lace bra and panty set that reveals the smoothest skin I have ever seen. Even in wet rooms at Western Spas the technicians still wear a uniform that mostly covers them. I imagine Chongâ€™s get-up as my daily wear for the waxing, facials and makeup applications I do at my job.
"You â€“ over here. Lay down."
"Over here" is the table/shower area. We take the very last one in the corner. I assume this is the first-timers station, as it is the last in the line of vinyl-covered tables, offering a semblance of privacy by being bordered by a wall and only one other table. When, the spa is busy there are up to six technicians delivering the treatment I was about to receive.
Did I mention I am totally naked?
No modesty towel, no wraparound covering, just my locker key tied up in my knotted hair.
Here is what happens next. It is a blissful two hours with surprising results.
I start face-down for the full body scrub. Chong has on exfoliating mitts that she works over my entire body with excellent pressure and pattern. She lifts my limbs and turns my body so that no patch of skin (anywhere) gets neglected. The scrubbing is invigorating and relaxing at the same time. Chong tosses two buckets of hot water on me and then soaps me up. She tells me to get up and shower. I do as she says, questioning whose skin she slid over my skeleton. I wonder in the exaggerated smoothness that is draped over my bones and muscles.
As I walk back over to Chong, a lady in the cold pool observes, "Shiny." She is clearly speaking to me and my self-confidence soars. My skin has a sheen and tightness as if plastic wrap has been perfectly bound around me.
Next, Chong does some acupressure moves over a towel on the back of my body. I then flip as she prepares an herbal paste that she spreads over the entire front side of me, including my face. I am covered with a foil sheet and left to marinate for 15 minutes. I drift into oblivion as I hear the tables next to me become busy with
bodies awaiting their polish.
Chong comes back, still aromatic from the cigarette break she obviously just had, removes the paste and begins a luxurious full body massage starting on my back.
Chong momentarily stops and I hear a scratching noise. I then feel an icy cold substance being packed onto my face. It smells fragrantly of cucumber and I realize that is exactly what is being used as an all-natural facemask. The fresh vegetable cools my skin, feels pure and envelopes me in its crisp scent. The massage continues on the front of my body as the mask goes to work.
Full body massage means exactly that here. No body part gets neglected, except, of course, the most private of privates. This isnâ€™t THAT kind of massage. It jars me at first, but then I realize Chong isnâ€™t fazed, so why should I be? I sink into bliss and enjoy every moment.
The mask is removed and hot water poured over my body. The water is almost uncomfortably hot, but not scalding. It shocks my nerve endings and brings relaxing relief when, moments later, my skin cools down.
Chong now begins the final part of this treatment â€“ a thorough hair washing and conditioning. She uses strong fingers to massage my scalp, literally capping off this head-to-toe experience. My hair is rinsed clean and my locker key tied neatly into my ponytail.
Chong drags my thoroughly relaxed body into a sitting position to tell me Iâ€™m finished. I want to hug her as a token of my appreciation for this incredible experience, but stop myself, thinking perhaps that may be a bit too much skin-on-skin contact for either of us â€“ even at this point.
She instructs me to shower one more time and as I strut over to the shower I realize I have a new sense of body confidence from all this time spent unclothed. I feel free, totally uninhibited and without a drop of shame. By the time I finish my shower, I donâ€™t even need the modesty towel now provided to me to walk back to the locker room.
As I dry my super soft hair, I realize this spa not only beautified my outside, but did something powerful to my self-awareness and self-esteem too. There was a sense of naturalness and nonchalance about the human body at this spa that will stay with me. I didnâ€™t feel judged or scrutinized. I didnâ€™t feel like I was doing this treatment to correct any flaws. It felt more like a necessary health management appointment and I emerged with a healthier outlook on my entire being.
A text chimes on my phone, notifying me that Chuck and Alisha are outside the spa, ready to jet right to the airport. I reluctantly slip on my pajamas for my flight home and beneath the fabric, feel a whole new sense of skin and self.
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