For first-timers in a Korean bathhouse, especially the scrub “seshin,” which can only be known as an extremely intense exfoliation process – the experience may almost be alarming, punishing, but incredibly satisfying.
As an early birthday gift, my sister, an avid Korean scrubee, accompanied me to my first “seshin” experience in Toronto, a multicultural city known for its culturally authentic experiences. And what an experience it was, one that even days later, I still rub my skin in awe of its new-found softness and reminisce over the jolting intimate experience.
What is a Korean Scrub?
The Korean Scrub entails soaking in a communal ladies-only hot bath for ten to thirty minutes. The Korean exfoliation process really requires clients to get comfortable with their bodies as they are expected to walk around completely naked in the communal shower and bathing area.
Once my skin had become soft from the hot water, I was called for my scrubbing session. In the corner of the open shower space, in full view to strangers, were two tables lined with padding and vinyl.
My scrub technician, a “ddemiri,” a red lingerie-clad Korean woman, probably in her late forties, who barely could speak a word of English, signaled me to get on the table.
Naked and feeling incredibly vulnerable whilst wondering what this stranger was going to do, I could feel every muscle in my body tense-up in anticipation. The woman in red lacy underwear reached for a bucket and fetched hot water and proceeded to splash it on me with incredible force. I imagined if my kitchen floor had feelings, this was probably how it would have felt last Saturday when I brashly mopped it in frustration.
The technician lathered by naked body with a sponge. Then, she proceeded to put on not one, but two pairs of sandpaper-like gloves. With two swift and resolute rubbing motions, my scrub began, the sound of coarse sandpaper rubbing together echoed in the shower room.
For the next thirty minutes I watched balls and rolls of my own dead skin flick and fall away. The technician methodically scrubbed every part of my body, and I mean every part. She moved from my ankles to my thighs, then inner thighs, then one buttock after the other buttock…the sandpaper sound relentlessly continued; and then finally, within that merciless scrubbing, soft and pink layers of skin were revealed – it was finally over or so I had thought.
A brief pause and my technician, looked at me in dismay and exhaled deeply, signaling to me that I should try to relax. Sure, I’m naked and you’re scrubbing every nook and crannie?! This is as relaxed as I’ll be!
She looked down at me again, laughed boisterously and shared a quick joke in Korean with her colleague who was busy tending to my sister’s naked chest, and told me to flip over. Flip over?! For the first time in my life, I felt like a piece of meat. Probably like a strip of sirloin being seared to perfection, medium-rare I hope.
After my back was scrubbed to perfection, the technician lathered my whole body one last time and buffed me up once again. Then another sudden bucket of hot water splashed away all the punishment. Is this what water-boarding feels like?! Done!
For the most part, if you can get over the intrusiveness and sound of your skin being buffed away, it’s not that bad. When you touch your skin after a shower, it will all be worth it. You have no idea how soft and refreshed your skin can feel until you’ve been scrubbed and exfoliated the Korean way. I’ve had plenty of body scrubs, but definitely none as effective and memorable as this.