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A little bit of Asian culture

Dear friends and readers,

I thought I'd record a new experience I had the other day. I went to a "Spa World" (located in Centreville) whose roots lie in Asian, here specially Korean culture. If you click on the link, you will see flowing water depicted on the visual ad. Water is central to the experience. Also strong heat and then cooling off. The idea is more than hydrotherapy or homeopathy or even to relax the mind through bringing on relaxation in the body: a system of beliefs about toxins, the skin (we are covered with our skin), and beautiful suggestive objects, quiet, and rest are at the heart of it.

What had made me leary was over in a moment. A false mental picture of all these women walking around naked was worrying. Well,  I became un-self-conscious within minutes (less than a few minutes) about my body. I have been feeling bad about myself the last year as having this grandmother body.  Well against these women I was svelte. Or to put it a healthier less egoistic well, just another body.  It brought home to me how I too am still made obsessive about my body by the magazine culture and partriarchical sex world Sherman delineates the results of.  You might say we escaped the masquerade that Sherman photographed for 5 decades unless you want to be more subtle and say the naked body became your costume.

We arrived around 9 am. The first thing you do is give in your groupon or coupon or you are a member. You are given a key that will be used to charge you for whatever services you've had during your time there. A small locker is provided for putting your shoes away.  Then you walk down a corridor with pictures along the wall and buddha sculptures where there is a sort of arch. At the end a glass door.

A large locker room where each women takes a locker that corresponds to her key number. You have available orange gym outfits (the men on their side have yellow ones) and a white tower. You don't wear the outfit now.  You strip naked and head on into a main atrium. There is a central pool made up of differing whirlpools which have flowing and spraying water. It's like a giant jacuzzi. You move from one place to another, two smaller pools are hot and hotter and one cool.

After say an hour of this you go back, put on your outfit and go out into a central large room with mats. It's pretty with a fountain in the central and towards the back a cafe where you can purchase tea,soda, coffee, juice and snacks, mostly Asian. Around the walls are saunas, of different heat, one is iced. They are decorated with lovely rock work, different lighting in them Signs to the side inform you of the Asian explanation for what you are experiencing: toxins are removed seems to be the idea. Ideas about people's skin are at the core of this.

People in the center sit and talk - and that's part of the experience. Men now in yellow outfits, children. TVs are softly there, and wifi. Some read. There are couches, and soft chairs. People sleep. We got ourselves tea.

We walked out to the other corridors. One leads to a gift shop, another to a place for special massages. The men's water atrium (where they walk around naked similarly I suppose) is over there.

Around 11. I had my first ever massage. I am not sure I how I felt about it. I was placed with no ado into this intimate relationship with a woman working so hard on my body that her body became covered with sweat and the goos she was using. I was supposed to hand myself over to her, close my eyes as if she were not there individually. I could not do this. I don't know why I should trust anyone.  I was not just laid back and passive and tried to interact with this woman at least to the extent of knowing what she was going to do next to me.

I had never realized what massages really must be like. I had a tiny brief version of one years ago at Kaiser when three times I went to a physical therapy place where hot wet towels were put on my back and someone did rub my muscles but not up and down and all over nor with all the strength of this person's body.

She did laugh at my attempts to influence what we were doing. Every so often she'd splash me down and I began to laugh and laugh. I felt like a kid on the beach being splashed. She put  a face pack made of cucumber and the lightest gauze all over my face but for my eyes. Since I am this strong "flight" person I had a hard time accepting it.I was glad when she took it off. I felt scared lest if I moved the stuff would go all over me.

You then have one last shower. Then you move backwards. Back to your long locker and your things, put on your day costume, out through the corridor to the locker with your shoes, put them on, play and out.

We went to Starbucks for coffee, croissant for me, hot Breakfast sandwich for Caroline and then home again to her house where WETA was teaching us how to make lovely brown cakes.

Over our fireplace at home we have a black-and-white reproduction of a Lawrence Alma-Tadema painting of a imagined Romans in a kind of bathhouse listening to someone reading aloud the Iliad -- or maybe the Aeneid.


Lawrence Alma Tadema (1836-1912), A Reading from Homer

I did find myself thinking of pictures ofRromans in bath houses that one sees imagined in books, or 19th century Turkish baths for men, 20th century gay men's bathhouses, dreams of the middle Eastern harems and the Alhambra.use.

More realistically it's a place people can bond together -- mothers and daughters, friends, families. I'm not sure it's conducive to new relationships because this requires non-relaxation and also breaks the impersonal intimacy established. It's a kind of code where we respect one another's psychological privacy.

On a cynical level, for some this may just be another way to be luxurious, to feel oneself rich and served. That aspect is downplayed but I think it is there too. As I watched the woman doing that massage to me and the other women in their black lace bras and panties at it over other women, I wondered how long they had to do this, how many such hours in a row.  I hope they make decent money, but fear they do not.

Sylvia

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