Last week I went to a spa. Spa experiences are something I use as a reward for myself. I used to reward myself exclusively with food but I now find spas less expensive (buying a new wardrobe every six months as my size fluctuates can run up the Visa faster than massages). I’m also quite adventurous and I’ll admit it, cheap. So when a friend suggested a new spa that had good prices but was a bit off the beaten path (culturally) I was quick to agree to the experiment.
Before I go any farther I want to note I am very happy with the experience overall. I had a good time and I will probably go back. Now that that note is out of the way, let me tell you about what might be the strangest spa I have ever been to.
I walked in the door…well the first set of doors, to be greeted by a sign that told us to remove our shoes (not come in, simply “off with the shoes”). There were no instructions about where to go from there, if we should wait for service, buzz or proceed in another way. My friend and I were unsure if the spa was even open from the outside but we decided to remove our shoes, be brave and enter. It was like walking into another world. We were clearly out of our cultural depth and bravery was the order of the day.
We had difficulty communicating with the staff who after a few fits and starts finally realized that we wanted spa treatments (what else would we be there for?). We were then provided with shorts and a shirt to use in the facility, told that if they didn’t fit (because we were fat…I am a size 16…seriously people?) that next time we would have to bring our own pants. The lady at the front desk then abandoned us to figure out where the change rooms were and how to take advantage of the facilities. (This is where I have to tell you for vanity’s sake that the pants and shirts did indeed fit.)
Our explorations revealed that for our entry fee, we had apparently time unlimited access to a variety of saunas, a hot tub and bathing facilities. We spent an hour or two (I really don’t know now, time blurred together in a pleasant haze at this point) laying in different heated rooms (with strangers in various stages of undress) benefiting from wet and dry saunas with rock salt beds, or yellow earth. Signs in poorly translated Korean (I think) told us all about the health benefits of each room. They may or may not be true (I’m not an expert) but the heat felt amazing.
Then it was time for my massage and the cultural adventure continued. It was painful. Please don’t take this the wrong way, I like a deep tissue massage and I know they can cause pain. I have even been known to say that a massage that doesn’t hurt is not doing it’s job, but this was pain on a scale I had not experienced in the past. I had to deep breath to deal (I am not a quitter). By the end of the massage the tiny woman who had inflict…administered my massage, had pummeled me to within an inch of my life, stretched my joints in ways I didn’t know they could move and in the end produced a nice relaxed puddle of me.
Everything about the spa was a little odd. The signage, my inability to clearly communicate with the staff, the Korean (I think) game show on the television in the “relaxation lounge”, and the odd pastel coloured shorts and shirt uniforms everyone wore (was I in prison?). But upon leaving I was quite pleased. That pleasure lasted a day and a half until the massage hangover kicked in.
I have never before had a hangover from a massage, but that is really the only way I could describe the experience. Have you ever worked out too hard and felt fine at the time only to have your muscles re-group and punish you two days later? Well that’s what happened after my massage. I limped through a day and night of muscle and joint pain I didn’t understand (I hadn’t worked out I thought, so where was this pain coming from?). The confusion lasted until my friend called to see how I was post massage (apparently I was not alone in feeling the side effects).
I’m not sure if the service was standard, or if we have stumbled into the front for some secret organization. Maybe the painful massage and comments on our weight were attempts to get us out quickly, but if so they failed. I can take just about anything for a good massage and a spa with reasonable prices.
Often when we’re writing we are trying to create a new world. Sure we may be writing about a contemporary setting, but the goal is to bring our readers into lives and experiences that will be new to them. The hard part is to create a new world that is interesting enough to catch the reader’s attention but still believable enough to allow our reader to get lost in the environment. Interesting settings can be the genesis for these new worlds. For example, I found myself wondering (while soaking up the heat in the yellow earth room) what I would find out if I understood the women whispering to each other a few feet away. My imagination went into overdrive thinking about what else might be going on in this spa just outside of my understanding.
Imagine that your character wandered into a crazy spa. They don’t speak the language but manage to get service that is just a little off…in an place that is just a little off. But rather than leaving what would happen if your character found out the secret of this place? Perhaps the doors lock and they are trapped after hours? Or maybe they discover the spa is the front for some operation that activates while your character is enjoying the rooms; sweeping them into a secret world they hadn’t know operated just out of sight. What might each of the rooms be used for? Why is this place a spa rather than any other business? Enjoy exploring what might be hidden in this environment and aim to write for twenty minutes on this mystery. Just remember it is the hints of reality keep readers coming back for more.