Sunday, May 22, 2016

To Spa or Not to Spa? One Night at Atlanta's Jeju Answers the Question


I first heard about Jeju, a Korean spa located between Athens and Atlanta, from a former co-worker. The way he described it, I envisioned some swanky downtown joint where the social elite and a few ranks of wannabes sat together naked and mused on the similarities between their surroundings and the bathhouses of ancient Rome. Intrigued by the concept, I still felt no personal desire to go there.

Jeju in the Dark
That changed 4 years later when my children's after school teacher M. and her daughter joined my family for Mexican and a sleepover. M. immediately demonstrated her good taste by ordering my favorite dish, so I paid extra close attention when she mentioned she'd be spending Christmas at Jeju. I learned from her that, for only 25 dollars, a person could stay there all night. Something about her consistently relaxed hippie drawl and edgy, tattooed beauty further vouched for the place's potential for genuine relaxation. I replaced the image of the modern Roman bath house with a vision of a fairy tale oasis of calm.

Realistically, I'd been on the lookout for an inexpensive retreat where I could rest and work remotely for at least one night, unencumbered by the duties of being a full-time, self-employed mom whose living space frequently serves as a refuge for 6 or so adults as well as the children. Jeju was it.

My husband paid attention to my excitement and gifted me one night there.

My impressions upon arriving, checking in and trying out all the saunas are these:

  • The exterior looks like a disco.
  • The immediate forfeiture of our shoes, assignment of a number, and procurement of our standard-issue orange-hued outfits reminds me of jail.
  • Meanwhile, the joyfully naked women seem plucked from Burning Man.
  • The common area is bright, loud and crowded. It calms down after 2 am, but the general atmosphere still reminds me of a sleep over.
  • Children and senior citizens are here. Men and women are here. Members of multiple races are here, and the predominant one is not white. Never before have I visited any place which represents such a unique cross section of cultures. Never before have I visited a place in which my own race is such an obvious minority. It's a good change of pace.
  • Despite the chaos and commercialism of Jeju's exterior, the saunas themselves feel separate from the space containing them. Each offers its own sensation of healing and beauty. The designs show obvious care, and the physical and mental effect of sitting in their heat is immediate and distinct.

In particular, I like the Jewel Sauna and the Silver and Gold Sauna. The stones appeal to me. Within the Silver and Gold sauna, I was the only inhabitant. I stated my intentions aloud and settled something within my own mind.

I feel like the greatest service Jeju has to offer centers on balance.

For some, receiving spa treatments and sitting within Jeju's 9 saunas will restore an internal sense of balance. However, balancing one's perspective also strikes me as an essential element of being here. All races, genders and ages must accept one another, often in our literal nakedness. We all seem to have come to this spa for vastly different reasons, yet the uniformity of our attire and the starkness of our amenities render us the same. If only for a moment, recognizing this sameness is an important lesson in accepting our shared humanity and allowing that to heal what's ailing within each of us.

Of course, I still feel there's a powerful lot to be said for some good, old fashioned, decadent solitude. The next time I take a night off, I'll be staying at a hotel—ideally in Denver, Colorado, where my hot tub's private and I can relax with a spliff.

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