I spent New Year's Eve naked with a bunch of strangers and loved itIt was the stuff of someone's dark and twisted fantasy. I was naked, prostrate on a small platform and a woman, clad only in black lace bra and underwear, came slowly towards me. She had something hidden behind her back. When she reached my unclothed body, she gazed down at me ... and then grabbed the exfoliating mitt she had been hiding and started scrubbing my body vigorously. It was torture of the best kind.
But let me back up. It was never my intent to spend New Year's Eve naked, surrounded by a bunch of strangers. That might sound like your idea of a good time, but it definitely wasn't mine. Quiet evening at home, watching the ball drop, probably falling asleep at 10 o'clock—that was my plan for ringing in the new year. But my sister-in-law had other ideas. "Let's go to Wi Spa and get scrubbed," she said. "Your skin will feel like you're six months old again." Wi Spa is a quintessential Korean spa, dropped squarely in the middle of Los Angeles. I reluctantly agreed. Casual nudity among friends was not really my thing. A group of people was going and all were booking various treatments at the spa. "Book the massage and scrub," my sister-in-law recommended. "You won't regret it." Which is how I found myself naked and waiting for the ajumma (older Korean woman) who would come and scrub me raw.
Wi Spa is a traditional Korean jimjilbang. Jimjilbangs are bathhouses featuring hot and cold soaking pools, massage areas, various sauna and steam rooms, entertainment and restaurant areas and a communal sleeping floor. Most are open 24-hours and Wi Spa is no exception. If you really want to get your money's worth, you can sleep overnight there. You pay for entry into the spa, which gives you use of the saunas and various bathing pools, and then book your massage or scrub separately. When you enter the spa you're given a number and issued standard Wi Spa attire—t-shirt and shorts, and are directed to the locker rooms to either change or prepare for your treatment. The locker rooms and soaking pools are separated by gender. Since I was there for a treatment, I didn't bother with the clothes. I simply stashed them in the locker, took a deep breath and stripped down. Initially I held a tiny hand towel over my most private bits, but as I walked through the locker room to the pools, I realized that almost no one else cared if I was naked because they were naked too.
Get into hot water
One of the joys of Wi Spa is the soaking pools. There's a hot one, an even hotter one, and an ice-cold plunge pool. Prior to a scrub, you're asked to go and soak in the hot pools, which loosens up your skin and makes it easier for the ajumma to remove what feels like 90% of it during your scrub. I sat soaking for about 20 minutes before my number was called and then it was off to the scrub room. Picture a medical classroom for potential surgeons, circa 1920. This is what the scrub room looks like. There are tables lined up and naked women are lying on all of them. Tentatively I laid down on the one my ajumma directed me to. All of the ajumma are similarly clad—black bra, black underwear. If you know Korean spas you know the uniform, as recognizable as the brown shorts of a UPS driver, or the blue polos of Best Buy employees. Except not really, because this uniform is a black bra and underwear. The ajumma chat and laugh among themselves as if theirs is not the world's weirdest job—sloughing reams of dead skin off of naked, slippery strangers while clad only in underwear.
The Glove of Torture: It's a thing
There is nothing gentle or sensual about a Korean scrub. You are flipped and flopped on the table and vigorously tortured with an exfoliating glove that feels on par with 50 grit sandpaper. I kept my eyes closed throughout most of the experience, but if you do open yours you will see a massive amount of dead skin rolling off of your body. And you will be horrified and think, where has THAT been going for the past lifetime before this?! The ajumma does not skip any place that is accessible to her Glove of Torture. And I mean not ANY place. Be prepared to have new, baby-pink skin everywhere on your body. Everywhere. During the scrub you are periodically doused with buckets of warm water, which feels incredible and washes away the disgusting bits of dead skin. If you've opted for the massage, that will happen on the same table after your scrub is finished. It's not a traditional massage, with a softly lit room and vaguely ethnic instrumental music playing in the background, but nevertheless the powerful arms of your ajumma will massage your sore muscles into bliss.
Smooth as glass
After your treatment, you're free to roam around the spa, surreptitiously caressing your newly smooth skin. If you want to continue communing with strangers while in the buff, you can stay in the bathing pool area and relax in one of the steam rooms. Or you can put on your standard issue Wi Spa clothes and head upstairs to the jimjilbang level, which is coed and has a restaurant, various sauna rooms, and entire Korean families lounging around on the heated floor checking their phones. With the price of entry, you're free to stay here for up to 24 hours after your arrival at the spa. In fact many people use Wi Spa as a rejuvenating spot to hang out during a long layover at LAX.
We ended our visit with some spicy Korean food and swapped stories about being naked with a bunch of strangers. What I thought was going to be torture turned out to an experience I now crave. There was torture involved, but only torture of the very best kind.
2700 Wilshire Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90057
Elise Carter-Hyde has come to enjoy a bit of casual nudity among friends. And her skin is baby-soft.