I went to the sauna today to get a massage. This sauna was a little more hometown-ish which meant that I was definitely going to be the only white person, and I knew for sure that there'd be no English writing anywhere, nor anyone who could really speak my language. But I figured I was up for the challenge.
I entered the sauna, naked and proud of the fact that I knew what I was doing, and all the eyes in the room turned towards me. In my head I said "These people are thinking one of two things:
1) Oh my god look at that foreigner with her funny looking white body!!!
2) Oh my, she's like a goddess...so beautiful..."
Haha...I'm sure they were thinking the second thought :-)
So anyway, after my ritual scrubbing, some soaking, some looking around to get my bearings...I approached the scrubbing corner to ask the "ajoomma's" for a massage. "Ajoomma" is what they call the old ladies here in Korea. It's kind of like saying "Grandma or Old Miss". There were about 6 of them, old, pudgy, soft skin, and wearing these black netted bra and underwear sets...almost like lingerie only more like a work uniform if you can imagine that.
So I used a few charades, and asked for a massage which in Korean is called "Massajee" so that's pretty easy. She didn't speak a lick of English. But she grinned at me and motioned for me to hop up on her table.
First she scrubbed my entire body for about 40 minutes. It felt like she was using a Scotch-Brite scouring pad and when she was finished it looked as if she had scrubbed an entire layer of skin off of me. Unbelievable really! It's gross, but amazing. So then she rinsed me off and was about ready to begin the massage. I turned my head and saw that she was doing lunges and stretching her legs. Then she cracked her knuckles. Then she started doing push-ups against the table. I thought "what the heck???"
And then she hopped up on the table and started walking up and down my body from my feet to my shoulders. She was digging her toes into me so hard that I started to whimper. No mercy!!! After a minute she looked down at me and asked "a po? a po?" which sort of means "okay? okay?" I just grinned painfully and put two thumbs up.
She had her body so contorted I was amazed. She used her feet, her knees, her elbows, and she hopped up and down off of that table quite a few times. And that was just the beginning.
She coated my face with some sort of thick honey smelling paste, and put cucumbers on my eyes, and wrapped my face and head in a cool towel. Then she worked on all the muscles on the front of my body. I was curling my toes in pain. I had my arms down on the side of the table and I was gripping onto the table legs with great strength but I couldn't say anything because my mouth was covered in thick masking paste and wrapped in a towel. It was like torture, only I knew it was good for me. Oh gosh, I kept praying..."Jesus keep me alive!"
I think entire massage lasted about 90 minutes. It was a big ordeal with lots of flipping over so she could take care ever freaking joint in my body. She pulled my arms and stretched them in yoga contortionist poses. I wanted to say "umm...Ajoomma...that's about as far as my arm will go in that direction..." but I kept my mouth shut.
Finally, she was finished. She removed the sticky slime from my face, lifted me up, smiled at me, and then I turned and saw about 15 other Korean women surrounding me. They all walked over to watch my massage. It was awkward, but amusing, and I'm kind of getting used to the fact that people stare at me. Maybe they saw me writhing in pain. Maybe they were impressed that I had embarked on this adventure in the first place. Maybe the ajoomma was being tough on me on purpose just to get some laughs out of it. Whatever the reason, I walked away with pride like I had just conquered some dare deviling feat. I walked to the showers and rinsed off and realized that indeed she had loosened up my muscles and I felt a million times better though I'm quite sore now. I've been drinking water as if I'm attached to the water fountain. I know that's important after a massage but I already have some bruises on my arms and armpits.
I think it will be awhile before I have the courage to request another "massajee".