Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Spa Castle

When I tell someone I went to a Korean spa in Queens, NY, I inevitably get a smirk and a strange back and forth motion with the hand from that person.

I don't get it. Am I missing some type of code? Koreans are upstanding people, right?

In any case, I was invited to join a small group on a day trip, and since I had no real commitments in the middle of the week, I went along.

We took the 7 train out of Manhattan to the last stop in Queens. The 45-minute trip made it seem like we had crossed the Pacific into Asia. If it were not for the a few street signs in English, you would've have thought you landed in downtown Seoul or Taipei.

There were store fronts with chickens hanging in the window, street vendors selling steamed buns and a guy who kept following us down the street asking if we wanted to meet young women. What a friendly guy.

It was a damp, rainy day and getting into a soothing spa was becoming more appealing. The only problem was our leader could not find out how to get there. Supposedly, there was a bus that was going to meet us at the train station, but nothing showed.

After circling the block a few times, we went into a bank for shelter and directions. We asked one of the tellers where we could find a taxi around the area.

"This bank, no taxi here. This bank. Get out."

Back on the street, we were fortunate enough to find a cab line. It had been nearby us all along. We hopped in and drove off.

Addresses are quite strange in this part of New York and trying to get the cab driver to understand that we wanted to go to 131-10 11 Avenue took some work. One of the riders with us, Scott, tried some newly-learned Mandarin. I'm convinced this cost us another 10 minutes of drive time.

Eventually, we arrived. It was no joke calling this place a castle. It took up most of the block and was five-stories high. It was legit (and why wouldn't it be?).

You enter on the ground floor, pay a nominal fee for the facilities amenities, and head to the locker room. Shoes get their own storage, clothes follow further down the line.

Not that I like stripping naked in front of my friends, when in Rome, do as the Romans? We all stowed our personal possessions and headed for the showers.

This place combined Asian and European sensibilities on spa life. Modern facilities provided 6 different kinds of pools with varying temperatures and water jet capabilities; a steam room, sauna, personal grooming supplies at shower stations and a nice gentlemen who offered to do body scrubs with a broom. And this was just the first floor.

Upstairs were restaurants, outdoor pools and various co-ed sauna rooms with temperatures going from 39 degrees up to 178 degrees. There was a giant nap room and finally a place to get a real massage.

I partook in a 60 minutes rub down by a petite Asian woman with hands of magic who did a fantastic job of relieving tension in my neck, back, legs, arms and gluts (yes, you can have tension there) - and that's it.

Afterward, I retreated (actually floated) back downstairs to relax further at the whirlpools with my friends. As I recounted the extra-sensory experience, I sat near a high-powered water jet that if positioned correctly probably could have cleaned out much of my insides. As I told the story, my friends offered smirks and strange hand movements as I described the situation.

As I was thrust around the pool by the cannons of water, I could only think of the strange dichotomy I was experiencing. At one point, I was getting a little taste of heaven and solitude during my muscle workout. And now, I was sitting naked in a pool of men recounting a near nirvana experience.

Only in Hell, my friends. Only in Hell.


  1. You do know that Taipei is not in Korea, right? And that they don't speak Mandarin?

  2. A large majority of Taiwanese do speak Mandarin. Hong Kong is where they speak Cantonese.This area of Queens has an influx of Chinese speaking people (Mandarin) and Koreans (Korean). And, the place looked like downtown Taipei with its aged infrastructure.