My Korean Bathhouse Birthday

Last night I wrote up a post about the pedicures Brigid and I got over the weekend. I wrote two versions and I didn’t care for either one. It was titled: chân của cô làm cho tôi bịt miệng, which means “this woman’s feet make me want to puke” in Vietnamese. My post had nothing new to offer on the drop-in pedicure experience so I’m dumping it.

I am going to tell you about my 40th birthday when I went with two other women to a Korean bathhouse for a day of pampering.

Before going into the story there are a couple of things you need to know.

  1. I’m not big on nudity. I am not to be found wandering out of the bathroom after a shower wearing only a towel on my head. Not naked.
  2. I was with a friend whose husband was in my wedding and she and I worked together. The other woman was a friend of my friend, we were also co-workers but not good friends, not intimate friends. Just co-workers, just someone you are nice to in an office of a couple of hundred people.

My friend C. bought me a day at the bathhouse for my 40th birthday. The owner’s son or nephew was a stockbroker where she worked and he said it was a really cool place. So she treated me to a day of Korean beauty and skin care at the Jade Sauna in Beaverton. All photos courtesy of Jade Sauna.

Just your average everyday suburban Korean bathhouse.

C., R. and I arrive at the Sauna and checked in at the front desk which has a little showcase in the counter so you can buy things after your visit. They sold bars of Dial soap, little Korean dolls, scrub gloves, plastic rain bonnets, Jergen’s lotion, toothbrushes, the usual. R and I opt for the exfoliation package and C goes for the massage package.

The host (I can’t remember if it was a man or a woman) shows us to the locker room to change out of our clothes into our spa robes some towels. Here is the locker room:

Dressing area or dressing hallway.

What you can’t tell from that pretty picture is that on the other side of that row of lockers is the front door of Jade Sauna and there is no wall, door, sheet, shower curtain, NOTHING dividing the front hallway/entry/gift shop of the Jade Sauna from the dressing area so I am taking my clothes off in front of my friend (not best friend), a co-worker and whoever else happens to be roaming the building.

Once we have our towels on, we wait on a bench in the hallway and the host brings us a snack. I have been to spas where they bring you spring water and raw almonds but at the Jade Sauna they bring you barbecued eggs. Hard boiled eggs but grilled in the shells. We sat on a bench in a hallway with towels on trying to peel burning hot barbecued eggs because we don’t know how to tell our host that we don’t want to have to manage our brown barbecued eggs while simultaneously trying to keep our towels on.

After snack time, we are taken into a very large shower room with shower heads along the walls and a big tub in the middle of the room. The tub is full of water with rocks and algae in it. I stay the hell away from the tub.  I don’t know if I’m supposed to go near it, I don’t know what it’s for. In the background of the photo you can see a bench with shampoo on it but there is also a little box of individually-wrapped toothbrushes. I don’t do anything in the shower room. Humid doesn’t begin to describe the shower room. The tiled ceilings were dripping with condensation.

I’m not getting in that bath water.

From the shower room we go into a sauna and steam room. the three of us know how to handle that and we sit and sweat out our impurities and finally stop laughing nervously. From there, we go to the Salt Room. The salt room is a very warm dry room, VERY warm, with a floor made of salt. Like a floor mattress made of salt. The salt is good for your skin and lying on a salt mattress floor with your head on salt pillows with only a towel on next to two women whom you know kind of well and not really at all is soothing.

Soothing salt room.

I’m sure the salt room is very soothing to people who are not in a horrified state of self-consciousness. We laid on the floor (lied? laid?), in a row, in our towels, eyes closed, breathing, meditating. That lasted a good 40 seconds and then we started laughing. And then had to stop laughing when Koreans came in to take their traditions seriously.

After the Salt Room soothing, R (my co-worker who I really don’t know at all) and I are taken into the exfoliation room for our exfoliation procedure.

There’s just one exfoliation room with two exfoliation beds.

So there we are, me and R. Yep, gonna lie naked next to each other in the exfoliation room. We lie on our stomachs, all naked and not good friends at all, keep eyes shut and pretend that I am not naked in a room dripping like a rain forest a foot away from my naked co-worker.

In come the Korean ladies who will be doing the exfoliating. They are tiny little women who don’t speak English or not English that I recognize or can translate. They have black lycra tank tops and bike shorts on. They waste NO time getting to work. We are fire hosed down with comfortably warm water and then attacked by the little Korean women armed with scrub gloves and Dial soap. And they scrub the living hell out of us. I discovered why Asian people don’t have any hair on their bodies, they scrub it all off with Dial soap and Brillo pads.

These women left no stone unturned, no ass cheek unlifted, no boob unattacked. My lady wanted to scrub my face with the SOS pad but I waved her off. My fair Irish alcoholic rosacea skin couldn’t take that. Ahhh, soothing. Once the top layer of my epidermis was removed, the little lady moved on to the next step which was to hose me down and then scrub me within another inch of my life with oatmeal. Still naked and being manipulated and flipped around by manic Korean woman in gym suit. (I know this sounds horribly sexy but wow, really not!) Still trying to pretend that my naked coworker from accounting isn’t 12 inches away from me. Hosed down again and rubbed down from head to toe with honey. Hosed down again and massaged from head to toe with milk.


The three of us are back in the shower room and told to shower without getting our skin wet but washing our hair. How do I know this if I don’t speak Korean and the little Korean lady doesn’t speak English? I know this because I had lost whatever modicum of modesty I had left and was showering next to my two pals when the little Korean woman came screaming over at me and yanked me out of the water and pointed at her head and patted my head and pointed at my white fat body and and shook her finger at me.

Back out to the Dressing Display Area, redress, smile and run out of building. Go home get ready for party that night.

Spend party making people touch my skin which is softer than it was the day I was born.

69 thoughts on “My Korean Bathhouse Birthday

      1. Stephanie

        Greetings Maggie!

        I too experienced the Exfoliation package!

        My sis talked me into it. She spent years in Japan and knew about these bath houses first hand after all, not to mention she’s my older sister so I trust her, usually! I am a masseuse and she’s an aesthetician, we are both over 55 and comfortable in our skins… Well! I was continually shocked and awed by the whole experience!! We chucked in the salt room and jade room wondering how long was long enough to become truly Jaded!
        It’s exactly as you say! All the way down to the shower and getting barked at for trying to wash our hair! My sis was the one who was scolded though.

        I felt like I needed a smoke and a drink after it all!
        Bless you.

  1. OH EM GEE!! That sounds so luxurious! A day of pampering. Was Jade Sauna featured in Allure magazine as one of the top 10 spas in the country? I can’t remember…?

    Seriously, I have NO doubt that I would have laughed until I peed myself. That’s right, probably right there on the soothing salt bed. Promise me if I move to the Portland area you’ll take me there for my birthday. It seems like we could do some good bonding there. LOL!!!

  2. I’ll take you! It’s still there. What could be more uncomfortable than being naked with a co-worker? Naked with a fellow blogger who’s new to town but it would make for very good posts!

  3. I lost all my dignity just reading about this. And I’m getting skeeved by the notion of barbecued eggs. I’m glad they made your skin soft, at least. So after that experience, are you been completely inured to the shock of prancing around naked, or have you sworn to never be seen without being fully clothed ever again?

    1. I’m like Tobias in Arrested Development. I wear jean cut off shorts under my clothes so I am Never Nude. I might have to go again b/c I’m 7 years older and really don’t care about anything and it would be amazing to have that soft skin again. I looked at the website and it doesn’t list what it all costs. So you have to call them and I really don’t want to do that.

  4. Amazingly uncomfortable to even read about. This seems like a scene from a horror film. I once went to a spa when I was younger and foolisher (can we pretend that’s a word?) and I just acted all super casual when everyone else whipped off their clothes and grabbed a towel. I followed suit, pretending I do it every day…. And then I realised…. I realised what type of spa it was… You know what I’m talking about…. Awkwardness ensued and I fled in pretty much the way you describe at the end of this post…

  5. I LOVE hearing about other’s experiences at Korean spas! You handled it like a champ, especially since you were not on “nudity terms” with your fellow spa-goers. I lived in Korea for two years and my husband and I went to the spa at least once a month. I really need to blog about that…

  6. Fish Out of Water

    I’m at the music studio where Tern takes her guitar lessons. I’m sitting in a packed waiting room desperately trying to suppress my laughter. I must look like I’m having a seizure.

  7. Anonymous

    Maggie, this was so hilarious! Late to the party here, but better late than never, right? I’ve never done this with a co-worker, only alone…but it sounded much like this, you get to the point where you have no shame, but it’s hugely uncomfortable. I wonder if anyone really is or if there just pretending. At least your skin was smooth though, right?

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  9. Le Clown

    I had read it. I liked this one. I say your WordPress stats are playing tricks on you. Or it was 9-1-1, and people were less on the blogosphere…

  10. This is both hilarious and horrifying. People always try to get me to go to a spa, but I never have, because the thought of someone I don’t know touching me while I’m naked bothers me (gee, I wonder why). Imagine if I finally relented, and this was my first experience with one?! I’d never be right in the head again. Well, at least you got a great blog post out of it.

    1. My sister has never had a massage for that very reason. Thank God I had no idea what I was getting into or I never would have gone and you all would have missed out on this incredible post!

  11. That sounds so soothing. Honestly just the look of that place screams classy. So glad you survived. I know what I’ll be asking for when my birthday comes around…

    1. Right?! I swear to God if my skin hadn’t been so soft I would never entertain the idea again but nowwwww I don’t know. I told your mom to move here and we’ll go together and write a blog and humiliate ourselves as well as our daughters.

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  14. This is pure awesome. I’m an American-born Korean married to a white guy. The utter lack of boundaries, the un-dressing room blocked from the front door only by a set of lockers, the lack of translation for non-Koreans, the most inconvenient snack anyone could think of when almost naked…all classic examples of what my husband calls Asian Planning.

    My father once attempted to force me to go to a spa outside Seoul about 14 years ago with my aunt. He didn’t tell me anything about it because he saw no reason to. So when I saw tremendous amounts of saggy skin, I think I burst into tears and turned and ran. And of course, was completely incredulous at why on earth I would feel uncomfortable at being nude in a room full of old women.

    You are awesomely brave for going through that. I should think you are probably one of the coolest co-workers ever.

    1. ahhh hahahaha thank you!!! I’m so glad it wasn’t offensive to you or anyone. The culture shock was amazing. Do you by any chance know why they were supplying toothbrushes for their guests?

      Thanks for reading!!! and affirming that I’m not insane, well not because of this anyway.

      1. Everything I know about “Gang-nam Style” and Psy I learned from the Today Show. So I’m one of the last Koreans you should worry about offending 😀

        As far as the toothbrushes, I can only think that they saw no reason to stop scraping furiously at your skin. I don’t even want to know what they would do to the inside of your mouth with a toothbrush. I doubt you’d have any enamel, nerve endings, or saliva left.

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  17. HAHAHAhahahahahaha. This is hysterical! I love your writing! And I’ll have you know, I’m actually trapped in a Korean bathhouse in Seoul right now. The bathhouses in Korea are open 24/7 and people sleep in them (you pay upon entering and can stay ‘as long as you want’), so I’m doing an experiment where I paid $7 to enter and will see how long I can live here before they kick me out.
    This is day five.
    I did a google search to see “how long can you stay in a jjimjilbang” and your blog popped up. Totally hilarious. Plus, I had no idea why everyone was rubbing salt on themselves! So thank you for that I guess. Keep up the great blogging, you’re a very funny writer!!

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  19. Anonymous

    I loved every second of my experience there, but I would never go there with anyone I knew, family or friend. Best to go alone and not see anyone you know. Relax, it’s amazing…

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