This afternoon, I had my first experience at a Korean Day Spa. It was an experience that was both marvelous and a huge dose of culture shock.
Julie and I arrived at the Riviera Health Spa in Torrance, California just before noon and we paid for our reserved services upfront. The price, especially after my last spa experience at the Aria in Vegas, was shockingly low. We paid eighty each, which gave us full use of the facilities, a massage exfoliation treatment and mini facial. The service portion lasted about ninety minutes.
Everyone at the Spa was very nice and helpful, but this is definitely a "fish out of water" experience for newbies. We were given a locker key, two towels and a prison outfit. Seriously, I felt like Piper Kerman in my standard issue bright orange baggy shorts and oversize tee-shirt. They were comfy, but not fashion forward!
When we entered the women's changing area, the first thing that we encountered was a row of small cubbies specifically for our shoes. These did not have a lock, but there was a slot space that corresponded with our given locker number. I slid my flip-flops into space 56.
The bigger lockers are located down the hall. They are huge with several hanger and plenty of room for my giant beach bag that I had filled with a bathing suit and toiletries that I didn't need.
The spa has several vanity tables with hair dryers and all types of amenities like hairspray, body lotion and disposable tooth brushes. Aside from maybe make-up, there is no reason to bring stuff from home.
And that bathing suit? No need. When you're not wearing your prison get-up, the dress code is strictly nude.
I've never seen so many naked women in my life.
It's just something that you don't see everyday. If you're even the slightest bit uncomfortable with nudity, this is not the place for you. It's unavoidable. I wouldn't be inclined to go to a nude beach or a nudist retreat, but being naked doesn't bother me. My first job was actually nude modeling for a art class at Bard college. Walking around a health spa naked? No biggie.
We had time to kill before our treatments, so we melted in the sauna and boiled in the "warm" jacuzzi.
When it was time for our exfoliation and massage, I learned that this was the area where a Korean Spa really deviates from an American Spa. I want to be clear and state that this was my very first experience with a Korean Spa, so perhaps Riviera isn't like most other Korean spas? I'll go to another one and get back to you.
In a partitioned section in the back corner of the women's spa area, there were about ten massage tables set up. The tables were all padded with slippery, water proof mats and naked women were sprawled out on the tables in various stages of their treatments.
My massage therapist was Choi, a small, middle aged woman wearing a red lace bra and matching panties. All of the massage therapist were wearing lacy lingerie as their uniform.
I climbed up on the table, which felt like a Slip N' Slide Mat and lay stomach down.
Choi spent over thirty minutes exfoliating every part of my body using course grains and a loofha glove. I felt like I was being flayed and I sort of was, as I could see little dish-water grey bits of skin pilling on my body. Choi had me flip over and turn into a human pretzel, so that she could reach every part of my body. Use your imagination.
When she finally finished, she doused me in a creamy substance and carefully helped me off of the table, so that I could rinse off in a nearby shower. I expected my body to be covered in angry red welts, but to my surprise, my skin looked fresh and young. It's so soft. I feel like I stole the skin of a newborn baby!
I rinsed and went back to the table, where Choi began the massage. Unlike American spas, where there is a great deal of emphasis on preserving your modesty, there is no room for modesty at the Riviera Health Spa. I was naked, slicked up in oil and Choi climbed on top of my back to massage my shoulders.
She kept asking me if it hurt and I said no, even though the massage was incredibly rough and intense. I refused to have the experience toned down. Nope, I could take it. At the time, nothing about the treatment felt good, but as soon as she was done, I felt like I was walking on a cloud. Amazing!
The massage ended with a mini facial using a cold cucumber mask and having my entire body doused with buckets of milk. The treatment was often like having splash zone seats for Shamu. Throughout the entire experience, Choi would occasionally dump a bucket of warm water over my body. At the very end of the treatment, she washed my already dripping wet hair and gave my scalp a vigorous massage.
I left the experience in a daze.
We dried our hair and donned the prison garb to grab a bite to eat in the cafe, located on the second floor. The second floor of Riviera is a communal space for men, women and children. Unlike every American Spa that I have visited, this is very much a family friendly environment. There was even a room with a karaoke machine. Most people were speaking in quiet tones, but it's not a requirement. The spa was mercifully void of New Age music.
There was no need to carry around money while visiting Riviera. Our locker key was on a wrist band and it also included a swipe chip to calculate charges. This made everything super easy. Lunch was charged to our account and we settled up when we exited the spa.
The cafe contained a variety of Korean dishes, including hot soups and noodles. I went with a teriyaki beef dish, served with a side of a cabbage salad and a macaroni based salad. It was a huge amount of food for only twelve dollars. Not only was it plentiful, but it was delicious. I ate every single bite. Being tortured in a spa builds up an appetite! We sat on floor mats at low lying tables beneath floor to ceiling windows that let in a ton of natural light. It was peaceful.
We spent our last bit of time exploring the second floor, which held several coed themed sauna rooms called "jimjilbangs". We nearly fell asleep in the Jade Sauna, which had a transfixing mosaic of flowers done with rocks and minerals. Supposedly the properties leached from the minerals in the walls are good for hormone balance. I don't know about that, but it was a relaxing spot in the spa.
Overall, I really enjoyed my experience at the Riviera Health Spa. It was an exceptional value for money and now, the morning after, my skin still feels like butter.