March 14: Myrna’s Korean mom and I are sitting on the edge of a hot tub at the Korean spa. We are both naked and dripping with milk – white droplets all over our faces and bodies. It’s a funny and almost surreal sight. She tells me this is the final step in our 2 hour spa experience: the milk bath. We will sit covered in milk, then we’ll shower, dry off with our tiny hand towels, get dressed and head out for street noodles in downtown Daegu.
But now we are sitting, and she says in her limited English, “I’m 57. How old are you?” I tell her my age, which is younger. She says, “I am ‘onee.’ You are ‘yo dung tang.’” Onee is older sister and yo dung tang is younger sister. Age is always relative in Korea; it’s not an absolute. If I was older than her, I would be the older sister, and treated with due respect. This is why my chances of dating a younger guy in Korea are slim to none. A younger guy would have to spend all of his time bowing to me!!
In the spa, we already went through an involved ritual. Bathing with a washcloth and soap, pouring water over ourselves from the hot tub using a small tub, sitting in the hot tub, going into the various sauna rooms: dry heat, hotter dry heat, hottest dry heat, wet heat, cold shower, and more wet heat. Myrna, Onee, and I are sitting in the wet heat on white resin chairs. Onee says to Myrna, “Cathy has style that is….. um…. charming.” Then she laughs and pats her round belly. “Korean woman, no!” She is saying, I think, that I have nice figure, that I don’t have a big belly like she does. I beg to differ; my belly is plenty round! But I say “Thank you! Thank you very much! Kamsahamnida!” If she thinks I look good, so be it. She is, after all, my big sister!
Myrna and I have to exit the wet sauna. Our hearts are pounding and we can hardly breathe. Onee has already said the wet sauna is her favorite. We fear she will want to stay in there forever. So we leave, about to faint from the heat. We then perform a ritual of rubbing ourselves viciously with a scouring pad until dead skin is in piles around us. I scrub myself, Onee scrubs me, I scrub Onee, Myrna scrubs Onee, Onee scrubs Myrna. This goes on for what seems like an hour. My skin is pink and raw.
Myrna wears her one piece bathing suit the whole time, while Onee and I are naked. Onee keeps poking and prodding at Myrna’s bathing suit, making gestures that it should be removed, but Myrna is headstrong and won’t be swayed. In the spa, various women, all naked, poke and point at Myrna’s bathing suit, making gestures. Myrna, I am coming to know, is a determined young lady. She knows her mind and sticks to what she believes. I admire this about her!!