When I tell my friends that I like to get a good scrubdown from a half-naked Korean woman — while I’m completely naked — they wrinkle their noses in disgust. Kinda like this:


It’s better than it sounds, trust me.

Last year, my friend Christina and I partook of this experience at Aqua Day Spa in San Diego for the first time. We liked it so much, we immediately planned to return, but life got in the way and it took a year to do so.

It was a bit unnerving being in a room of maybe 10 naked women moving from the shower to the hot tub, the cold plunge, or either the wet or dry sauna, but I soon got over my ex-Catholic modesty. After spending about 45 minutes among these different spa treatments, we were escorted to our respective massage tables covered in plastic by Korean women wearing only black underwear and bras (it’s a wet job; seems easier to not be wearing clothes).

Fresh as a Baby’s Bottom

The scrub service is about 40 minutes. Be prepared to intimately experience a sandpaper-like feel in every — and I mean every  — nook and cranny of your body. It’s not painful, exactly. It’s more of that “hurts so good” concept. I encourage you to not open your eyes and see the pills of gray dead skin littering your massage table. Some things are better not seen.

You go through all of this so that, after your scrub lady dowses your body with buckets of warm water and then scrubs the crap out of your hair, you’ll have skin as clean and soft as the day you were born. Really. I felt like I hadn’t showered in the year since my last visit once I felt the difference.

Why Do We Have No Bath Culture in the US?

Soaking in the hot tub, I began to think about how we really don’t have a bath culture here. Other cultures do: the Koreans obviously, but also Jews do, as do gay men (though maybe that’s not the direction I’m going here). When I was in France last year, I stumbled onto thalassotherapy — essentially the use of water in medical and spa treatments — when I visited Greoux-les-Bains. And I’m planning to do the same in Italy (I could be in a spa right now!).

But why don’t Americans really have a bath culture?

We have spas, sure, but they focus on massages and facials. And that’s great, but a bath house or day spa like the one we went to is more of a full day (or half) experience. You get more than one treatment and enjoy the waters. Actually now that I think about it, Glen Ivy Hot Springs is as close as we get in SoCal, but still. It’s far and expensive.

And the town I grew up in, Hot Springs, Arkansas, once had a thriving bath culture centered around its hot springs. But only one or two of these relics is left, and they’re not nearly as popular as the nearby theme park.

I guess I’ll just have to keep going to the Korean spa or traveling around the world to find good bath culture!

Rounding Out the Experience

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Because Aqua Day Spa is in a strip mall with about four Korean restaurants (and one sushi one!), we like to have lunch (and sake or soju) after our scrub. We’re rosy-cheeked, uber relaxed, and worry free. There’s just something about getting a clean start — literally — that puts the day into perspective.