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Scrubbed to Perfection

At a Korean spa, the focus is not on beauty, but on getting clean. Before you go, though, take time to learn the rules of etiquette.

October 01, 2001|EUNICE PARK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Many people scrub themselves, and some regulars carry a little plastic basket-- panguni-- loaded with personal toiletries, although the Korean spa supplies soap, shampoo and the like.

It was a rite of passage when Nancy went to a local Korean market and got a forest green panguni, signifying she was serious about making the mogyoktang a routine. There is one crucial tool: a small scratchy towel, called an italy (pronounced eet-ta-lee by Koreans) towel, which you can also buy at a Korean market or even at the mogyoktang .

Kim says many clients bring in sea sponges and loofas, but none of those things will exfoliate like an italy towel. "It's like a sprinkle versus a rainstorm," he said.

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There are rules of spa etiquette that clients are expected to know. (And beware of mogyoktang Nazis. At the Olympic Spa, where the black pool temperatures are really hot, Nancy and I weren't able to take the heat of the tub for very long. So we hurried to the cold pool, where we dangled our feet. An older Korean woman glared at us. "I was watching you two and you didn't take a shower before getting into the pool," she said--in English.

I wasn't quite sure what she was talking about, because we had taken showers before entering the black pool. "You went into the hot water and now you are dirty from sweating and you've brought bacteria into this water!" she snapped, pointing to the cold pool. "This water is clean."

Our favorite part of the mogyoktang is the sleeping room. After all the effort put into cleaning and detoxifying, there is something rewarding about a final rest--for as long as you like--on the heated floors. In our case, however, we don't use the room for its actual purpose, we use it for introspective discussions, usually about what we like to eat.

Sleeping rooms vary among mogyoktangs . Century Spa has two small rooms, one with marble floors and one with clay floors, which are said to have different healing properties. (They feel the same to me.) We've gotten in trouble for talking in the sleeping room at Century, which is why we love the sleeping room at the Natura Spa on Wilshire Boulevard.

It's dark and roomy with few people. The Olympic Spa's sleeping room is like a giant slumber party. A TV blasts a Korean channel, and buckwheat pillows are strewn about. I didn't go into the sleeping room during my last visit; it seemed too lonely without my friends.

But Nancy is coming back to visit soon--I expect we'll be in one for a long stretch.

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