Day two of our package tour to Seoul began with more rather dull shopping. This time we were at least not herded into particular shops, but particular areas where we could wander freely. This was better than the previous day but was really little more than a time-killer until the main event; a nice oily, naked massage. And if that’s not a sentence that will bring in the search-engine hits, I don’t know what is.
The massage was preceded by a large lunch of sam gye-tang washed down with beer. Sam gye-tang is probably best described as a kind of ginger, garlic and ginseng broth which has had an entire chicken dropped into the bowl. It’s good. It’s also very filling, and so by the time we arrived at the massage place I was feeling quite the fat bastard.
I should explain. I wasn’t on a sex tour. The massage was akasuri, which is basically a form of massage where your skin is scrubbed with a rough cloth until you have shed most of your dead skin cells and are red raw. There’s a bit about it here. The women on the tour were taken to a different place from the men and I soon found myself in a small waiting room with a Japanese man of about my age and his very elderly father-in-law. Across from us a large Korean man sat smoking a cigarette under a No Smoking sign.
The man finished his cigarette and ushered us into a smaller room where a younger man explained the massage procedures to us in Japanese. He also said we could get extra services for an additional fee. I got nervous as I wondered if my wife was being offered the same down the road, but relaxed somewhat when I realized the option was simply a pedicure. After establishing that nobody was interested in that kind of extra we were shown to the locker rooms and told to change into what looked like a Japanese jinbei – a pair of baggy cotton shorts and a thin jacket which crossed over the chest and tied at the side. We emerged from the locker room and were immediately told to get undressed again and make our way to the sauna.
The old man went off to the loo and his son-in-law and I entered a roasting hexagonal room, which nestled in the corner of a large bathing hall. On the floor was a rattan mat, and to one side a few mats of similar material which were could place over our heads in order to gain maximum sweatiness. You really didn’t need them. Within seconds I was expunging through my pores all the beer, kimchi and sam gye-tang I had gorged on over lunch.
The old man came in. He wasn’t the most pleasing nude I’ve ever seen. He attempted to sit down and got up again immediately. ‘Atsui,’ he said. And then I witnessed a touching and yet revolting show of kindness from his son-in-law. He budged over, revealing a large damp patch where he had sweated on the mat and encouraged his wife’s dad to sit on that place as it might be little cooler. His father-in-law thanked him and sat down. Now, I like my father-in-law very much and I would do many things for him but I have to say I can’t envisage a situation where I would ever feel it appropriate to share my arse sweat with him. We were just about to get into a bath, but still!
The baths were just like an Japanese sento, and we sat soaking until one of the young lads in shorts called us through for the massage. Yes, lads. It was a bit disappointing, but at least fears of getting an inappropriate erection subsided. And then they multiplied a hundred-fold because now it really would be inappropriate. I kept telling myself I mustn’t close my eyes and imagine it’s a girl, but the more you tell yourself not to do that the more you fear you probably will. I was still fretting when we were summoned.
The three of us lay on adjacent massage beds, which were so lathered with soap or oil that I feared I might slip off. We placed a small towel over our genitals and the masseurs placed another one over our eyes. They then poured hot liquid over us and began the massage. It was good. They rubbed us and pummeled us and twisted us and turned us and then scrubbed us with the rough cloth until I really did feel as if all the grime I had accumulated in my life had been forced from my body.
I felt a scraping on the soul of my foot. A few moments later the masseur appeared at my head brandishing a Bic razor. He held it under my eyes and showed me some disgusting yellow gunge that he had evidently shaved of my heel. He tried to sell me the pedicure but I held my ground and refused. Still, though, I felt like a guilty dog who has just shit on the carpet and then had the evidence shoved in his nose by a scolding master. ‘Sumimasen,’ I said.
Yellow foot gunk aside, I felt brand new. The massage really was wonderfully refreshing. It would have been even better if I hadn’t felt it a necessary precaution to keep thinking of the naked old man and picture myself sitting in his arse sweat.