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Monday, 13 October - link

Triple Teamed at Barber DoDo

In the second basement of the Coatel Chereville, there is a small health club with a lot of machines for exercising. Nearby is a "sauna" they call it, with a number of bathing facilities. There's the "amythyst room" with large chunks of quarts stuck in the ceiling, a poppy rendered in mosaic. There you sit in hot, wet air. There's the "yellow soil room" - pans filled with hot earthy chunks sit near an electric heater in a large wood walled, clay ceilinged space. Nearby are three tubs - hot, hot with jets, and a cold cold pool. Near there are sitting and standing shower facilities, and past those, two rooms for snoozing.

Access to that will cost you five thousand won. I paid and I was only in there for thirty minutes. While I have the capacity to spend half a day in a tub and sauna arrangement, I wanted to use the facilities to clean up and relax a bit - I was going to have a massage.

When I was leaving Tokyo last week, I got halfway from Shinjuku to Narita airport when I realized I'd left my passport at the hotel. I had been running very early for my flight; having to double-back was going to make me very late. I wasn't sure I was going to make it. The next express train to Naria would have me disembarking at 6.27pm, and my flight left at 7. That's not a lot of time for ticketing, security, customs and immigration. I spent the late afternoon in a quandry, a panic. Where would I sleep? At the airport? Was it even worth making the effort to get there so late? I called United and warned them, and I decided to push on, in the face of no compelling alternative option. I wanted to get to Korea that night.

I got off the train at 6.30pm. I ran through all stations. Once I was ticketed, a member of the United staff went along with me through security and immigration. The flight was leaving from gate 36, the last gate in the airport. I was running with my bag, hup hup hup - not in very good shape. Every hundred meters, someone from United would say "Are you Mister Hall?" and then they'd radio in that I was on my way.

I made it to the plane by 6.44pm. Un believable - 14 minutes for checkin on an international flight. I was drenched in sweat, breathing ragged, and totally relieved to have made it on the plane.

Still I had run back and forth across Tokyo, heaving my bags up and down staircases. I had so much stress in my neck, I felt deeply clenched. As I wiped heat and sweat off my glasses I thought to myself, I'm going to have a massage when I get to Seoul.

In the first basement of the Coatel Chereville in Seoul, there is a barbershop, "Barbershop DoDo." They have signs promoting "female massage" all over the hotel. An ambiguous tagline - for females? by females? of or pertaining to female things? I didn't care - after I was clean from a sauna, I went in for the full course, the body massage.

I undressed, put on a pair of boxer shorts and sat in a sort of swiss army chair. It looked like a normal barber's chair, in a small private room, but over the course of the next hour, it would unfold and extend and raise and twist to accomodate my long bulk.

A woman joined me, dressed in a black and red polyester skirt uniform. She reclined me in this technology seat, and proceeded to gently wash my feet and each of my toes. Then she flipped me over, oiled my back and worked me with her elbows. She followed deep rubbing with incredibly hot towels, laid across on my back, and covered with some kind of tarp. Then while my skin steamed, she went to work on my thighs in similar fashion. Reaching back up, she pounded my back through the towels, then removed the towels and pounded me some more. She kneaded my neck, my shoulders and my back. She climbed on top of me and walked on me with her knees. Then she flipped around and lifted and manipulated my legs. I was exhaling as much as I could - speaking no Korean save for thank you and excuse me, I tried to express my appreciation by grunting and giving the okay thumb-and-forefinger sign. And saying thank you a lot.

She flipped me over, and asked me if I wanted a face massage. Sure! I tend towards the full experience. A second woman came in, wheeling a large apparatus. She stuck a giant nozzle near my head and ran steam over me as she rubbed oil on my face, massaging my forehead and cheeks. Meanwhile, the first woman had climbed up into my chair and she was somehow bending my knees around my other knees and pulling and hitting my legs. It all felt fantastic. One woman rubbed my oiled chest, while the first woman kneaded my oiled thighs. Two sets of oiled hands working over my oiled flesh - I felt quite lucky. I was shocked that I didn't have a giant erection. I felt too relaxed and astonished to be sexxed up.

I think they were making jokes. They would ask me things and I would smile and shake my head and say thank you. So instead they talked to themselves, gesturing at my body and laughing. Eventually the second woman left and I was alone with the first woman. She went to work on my arms - a total relief since I have been computing near constantly since I landed. Finally I realized that she had been saying things to me all along; I hadn't understood them: she was telling me the parts of the body in Korean. I learned the words for hand, and fingers and arm and shoulder and chest. Maybe I learned the word for good, but it's hard to use a shared vocabulary of "okay" and "thank you" to build abstract concepts like "good" and "wonderful" and "gosh, please don't ever stop rubbing my shoulder."

Another woman dropped by, it was closing time. She had a perm and a frilly shirt on. She oogled my chest and pointed at my nipples and my eyelashes. Look at how long his eyelashes are! I believe she said to my massaging compatriot. She dangled a wet towel over my chest and gave a throaty laugh. She left.

The first woman gave me a glass of orange juice. I was feeling blissfully woozy. I looked down at my feet. In metal, the footrest of the chair read "Utopia." She asked me if I wanted a shampoo; the second lady had rubbed massage oil through my hair so I figured I might as well get it cleaned. A man joined us and wrapped my torso in matte silver plastic, ordering me to sit up facing the sink. Instead of leaning my head in backwards, as most hairdressers do in the states, he used a hand nozzle to wet rinse my hair as I sat up, the water and suds running down this sheet into the sink. Meanwhile, my old friend, my language teacher, was lightly pounding and rubbing my back. One set of hands rubbing my scalp, the other keeping pressure on behind me. I felt truly blessed.

She gave me some mouthwash to rinse and spit out on my plastic sheet. Then I sat up and the man blow dried my hair as she stood by. He asked where I was from, and how old I was. California 28. He finished and left. She brought out my clothes and turned away as I changed underwear. Then she helped me button my shirt. We bowed at each other, said thank you and I left for the cash register.

As I took out my wallet my hands were shaking. Lazy man's exercise - my muscles haven't been that stimulated since I hit the road and stopped going to Aikido. And travelling alone now, I hadn't been touched, sustainedly, by another person, in weeks.

How much would you pay? One hour (it seemed like three, a good three, a blissful three). I figured each of the questions, "do you want a face massage?" "do you want shampoo?" - they had all been upsells. I was prepared to pay over $200 and chalk it up to experience. Wonderful experience.

Instead, the bill was 100,000 won. Roughly US$ 85. For three people working on everything from my toes to my tits. The staff had gathered in the foyer and they were watching me. I could barely stand and I was completely happy. After I paid, the woman said, "Tip!" and I gave her another 10,000. I should have given her 20,000 or 30,000!

I left thinking that I should figure out a way that I can afford the time and money to have a massage like that every day.

Posted on 13 October 2003 : 02:37 (TrackBack)
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Justin's Links, by Justin Hall.