After college, my friend Lisa and I packed two enormous duffel-bags full of our belongings and moved to Japan.
We lived in a small city near Osaka, in an apartment with tatami mat floors and sliding shōji doors. In the winter, we would sit on the straw floor with our legs tucked under a kotatsu – a low table covered by a thick blanket, with a heating element underneath. We ate okonomiyaki (savory pancakes made with shredded cabbage, eggs, flour and – my personal favorite – octopus) at a local food stall, sang at karaoke bars, and tried our best to learn Japanese and its three alphabets.
One of my favorite attempts to absorb Japanese culture was bathing at the local onsen — a public bath complete with hot, medium and freezing tubs of water. There was even a pool with currents of electricity running through it. Before you entered these tubs, you had to take a seated shower, planting yourself on a low plastic stool & using a hand-held shower head to make yourself squeaky clean. A row of women would be doing the same in the large, open shower room, and their children would look openly at Lisa’s and my naked bodies and giggle about our ghostly white skin.
This week, so many memories came flooding back when I visited the Korean Spa Castle in College Point, NY. I had been heard about the Asian-inspired pools when the facility opened in 2007, but it wasn’t until my little experiment in trying something new every week (more on that in an upcoming post) kicked in that I got it together to go. So, on my birthday, my husband, the boys and I went out to Queens to give it a whirl.
We headed straight to this rooftop pool, where we didn’t budge for the next 3 hours. See that semi-circle structure on the right that extends into the center of the pool? That’s a water shoot with jets that propel you around and around through a continuous loop. We played in that for at least an hour, like penguins sliding on our bellies. One floor below, there are saunas made with real gold, Himalayan salt and jade. There’s a cozy room to take a nap. And there are traditional, single-sex onsen bathing rooms (no clothes allowed) with multiple plunge pools.
We had a fantastic day, but the point of this post isn’t so much about the spas, but about doing something a little different. Something maybe slightly outside your comfort zone.
I think back to the day when Lisa and I hopped on a plane and flew to the other side of the world, thinking nothing of trying new things. Adventure was the whole point of the journey. But something happens in, ah, “mid-life” at times where you can feel a little stuck. Getting out to Queens can seem like a hassle — you don’t know whether the pools will be dirty (they weren’t) or if the scene will be like a frat party in water (not at all). Or if it will be just too weird to be naked in a big open room (all kinds there!).
My birthday wish is to stretch a little. Try new things. Or rediscover an old thing. Learn something new. Get curious. Take a chance.