Restaurant critic Giles Coren on a trip which included world-renowned French Laundry was tempted to say he enjoyed the Fast Food In-N-Out burger more than anything else. The bathing world equivalent of this was our enjoyment of the artificially-veneered, suburban King Spa in Chicagoland. It targets the pleasure center of the brain in a maximally indulgent way without regard for health, balance, or fidelity – none of which matters too much, because it feels good.
King Spa offers luxurious bathing and complements that ease by removing any need to perform, you don’t have to worry about doing the Korean bathing ritual “properly”. It’s an on-rails experience in which you’re lead through the phases: rinse, relax and rare treats. And importantly you’ll be shepherded along in their own-branded single-colour baggy t-shirt and shorts uniform. These cotton suits are so formless, and so identical to everyone else’s that a lot of body anxiety and social competition quickly evaporates. No one is allowed to show off, and everybody must look like they’re sleeping in all day on Sunday to watch cartoons on the couch.
There’s no reason physically or otherwise to be uncomfortable; on the contrary a virtually limitless array of themed rooms are yours to try. The twists run from gold-walled reflection, extreme temperatures, charcoal and salt infusions to lazy-boy movie theatre. This gives a Disney Land effect with ample “Entertainment” and rides to go on. It’s easy to fall into the fun of exploring each room and experiencing or even photographing the novelty. It’s highly Instagramable, and it would be easy to recount the day to your friends with a list of attractions ranging from Oxygen Room, to Amethyst Room, to the V-steam.
Yet another reason why King Spa is so Instagramable is the free and fast Wi-Fi which pervades the plush lounge and Dining Room. Yes, Dining Room. This is Fully Automated Bathing Luxury where a wrist band swipe will order you a Bi Bim Bap, Japchae, or shaved ice and red-bean dessert. Extra questionably-scientific hot rock treatments, premiumly-priced but groupon discounted, effortlessly beep on to your bill.
The commerce is tastefully moderated at the right times so that you might still enjoy some naked hottubbing with your colleagues in the gender seperated locker rooms. Exchange proud “banter” here (we were offered MDMA by a local) under the backdrop of a marble lion head jetting out your bath water. With the complimentary toothbrushes and razors, the once laughable 24+ hour stay fee becomes more clear. It’s easy to see how one might opt to overnight at King Spa rather than a motel.
On our trek to King Spa’s strip mall location, because arriving by train, we had to cross a park which by chance was hosting Mongolia National day celebration. Stopping in for a moment on the festival to buy a few snacks beforehand we were offered tea and homemade food by a Mongolian Church organization. The minute or two of hurried exchange we had before pressing on to the Spa was more mindful than all the time at baths.
Even if you don’t regret eating those burger and fries, you might still feel a self-conscious health nag the day after. In King Spa’s case its the fact that you were never really in a position to focus on your breath for 30 seconds, or silently lay with the more meditative aspects of bathing. It is a great all-you-can-lounge chill buffet if you don’t want to think too hard about it.
Shoutout to our brilliant Data Science for Social Good friends for making the posse.