This story is part of our 'Funny Spa Stories' series, featuring tales from luxury hotel guests which were sent in for our travel writing competition.
Photo by Amanda Slater.
The conventional spa connotes the image of steam baths, relaxing massages, floral scents, and the liberating feeling of being semi-naked while your stressful life is on hold. The phone is off, the boss can wait, and the cries and demands of the outside world can quiet down while you overindulge in the serenity of being with simply yourself.
In Hawaii, the price for a spa package is excruciatingly expensive. Just looking at the price can make me resentful. How can I afford a lava-rock-special-spa-all-inclusive-plumeria-bath-with-warm-ginger-tea-on-the-side package? After four years of slaving away at an academic institution, for once, I wanted to treat myself to something nice and relaxing as a graduation treat. After looking at the price, I realized how impossible that would be.
A couple of weeks later, I was packing my things for the Philippines. When I arrived and settled in, I decided to casually stroll around the nearby mall. Someone handed me a piece of paper advertising for "Wensha’s 24 hour Spa." The price at the bottom had a coupon and it said, "1,500 php for any type of massage plus free buffet." I thought to myself, "Wow! $25 for a spa package? That cannot be true!"
A couple of weeks later, I went with a couple friends to try out Wensha’s Spa. I chose a "water spa" for my spa package. I didn’t know what that meant but I had the image of my own private Jacuzzi in my head.
We got our locker keys and off we went to the dressing area. It was my first spa experience, so you can imagine my excitement. I didn’t know if I had to wear my undergarments or if I was suppose to go commando so I opted to leave at least my underwear on.
I hurried through the doors where the Jacuzzis awaited me and I immediately saw three huge Jacuzzis in the middle of the room. Each one was packed to capacity with naked old ladies with sagging boobs and children between the ages of 5 and 10 swimming and screaming in the tubs.
"For $25 I have to withstand the image of naked old people and the sound of annoying kids for the whole two hours of being here?! Is this legal?" I shouted in my head.
I walked around the perimeter of the "spa" with hesitancy and ambivalence. I was not sure how to even approach the Jacuzzi. Could I go in with my undergarments? Do I have to go in naked as well? I have never been naked in a room full of random strangers before.
I changed my mind and hurried back to the masseuse to tell her that I was ready for my water spa. The masseuse asked me if I had my undergarments on. I replied yes and she asked me to remove them and return back.
When I returned a lady opened the door and instead of seeing my own Jacuzzi I saw a hospital bed (water resistant of course) and the masseuse was holding a shower head in one hand and dial soap in another.
My mouth dropped. This is supposed to be a water spa?
My masseuse asked me to lie down on my stomach on the bed, wet from the previous patron. Before I could opt out of the water spa, my masseuse pulled my arm and I went face down on the bed.
She turned on the shower and started scrubbing my back, sides, and every crevice of my body with dial soap. It was literally just a shower except someone else was giving me a shower. No one has ever done that to me, except my mom, when I was five years old. She soaped my back, my front, and my hair. Then she said, "Now I will give you special cream to make your skin fresh." I peaked over and it was some salt product in a dishwashing plastic bottle. I didn’t know what sort of cream that was, but I was pretty sure it was part dishwashing soap and part salt.
The awkwardness of the whole experience lives on in my memory. The lady who simply gave me a shower spa and the image of wrinkled old people taking over the jacuzzi in their commando glory made me nervous the whole time I was there.
The whole experience was so traumatizing that I wanted to get out fast. I left for the dining hall in my day clothes and I realized everyone else was eating in their robes. I got some chicken and rice and when I turned around to go back in my seat, I saw a fat Chinese man sitting down in the table near me, his hands around a young girl, and, dear God Almighty, his robe was open wide enough that people who were going back to their seats could see his treasures.
I didn’t know how to react because everyone seemed so casual about it. I was about to eat and recuperate from the sight of naked old people in the spa when all of a sudden it was sensory overload again and my eyes locked on a naked fat man acting nonchalant about the fact that he was naked in front of the buffet table. I wanted to run away screaming. Instead I gulped down the vomit threatening to creep up and went back to the far end of the room to toss down water in my throat.
No doubt about it, the Philippines is a developing country. Tourists vacation in places like these because services are cheap. My first spa experience was traumatizing, to say the least. I was expecting a relaxing time and instead the most palpable feeling I could reminisce was fear. Fear of what I would see next. Fear of how the massage would go. Fear that I might throw up.
"Spa" connotes relaxation and "Wensha’s Spa" completely defamed what a spa experience could be.