Friday, May 30, 2008

Being Korean

Spending a day in another culture is a good way to sample the lifestyle without needing a passport or committing to a trip abroad. Los Angeles offers many cultural choices, and one way to spend a day in Korea is to go to the Olympic Spa in Koreatown. They offer spa packages that rival the best of the chain spas at less than half the cost. A word of warning for those who are self-conscious about being nude, do not come here if you are not comfortable being naked or seeing naked bodies within 2 feet of you. If you are only comfortable in the prudish setting of an American spa, then do NOT try this. This is women only spa, so you are naked only with other women (the therapists wear a bikini type combo as they work on you). If you are able to open your mind and relax your body enough to try a taste of an Asian spa, you will reap the benefits of both the unique offerings and prices you will not find elsewhere in Los Angeles. The Olympic Spa offers an oxygen room, a mugwort hot tub, and their famous Pure Bliss package, which offers a scrub, massage, facial and mask, for about the price of just a massage at any other full service spa. For those who doubt the quality of this experience, the spa uses Bumble and Bumble, so they are not skimping on products. It is a very different atmosphere than you would find at an American spa, but that is the point here as you immerse yourself in the hot and cold spas, steam rooms, and spa packages that make this a haven for Koreans and those who are willing to travel to another culture for their spa experience. The people who work here are all very nice to foreigners (non-Koreans), so be nice to them and tip generously because at these prices, they work very hard for very little. There is a resting area where you can take a nap after your treatments, and they even serve food in a small cafeteria on the premises (Korean food of course).

For better Korean food, leave the spa after your service and try Cham Sot Gul for Korean BBQ, just a few blocks away, in a setting that befits the Flintstones, with boulders set into the walls of the restaurant. They have delicious Galbi (marinated short ribs) and Bugolgi (sliced beef) for meat lovers, and squid or shrimp for those who want lighter meals. If you can't decide, pick one of their combos. Everything comes with an umpteen number of side dishes (including spicy kim chee, mild bean sprouts, steamed egg, etc.), along with a nice salad. The idea is to eat the BBQ meat wrapped in the rice wrappers that come as a side, or with the lettuce. Rice is considered by Koreans to be the thing you eat if you have nothing else, so if you want rice, you must order it separately. This is the typical grill it yourself Korean BBQ restaurant, with a surprising touch of kindness (those who have gone to other Korean places will appreciate this even more than the food). They are nice to Caucasians (and non-Korean Asians), they have a menu in English (with pictures), and the waitresses will even help you grill your food and change your grill when it gets too charred.

To be Korean for a day while enjoying all the perks, but without the jetlag and repressive regime, just go to Koreatown.

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