I'm wet, naked and gripping the vinyl-wrapped table I'm lying on so I don't slide off. Rows of other naked women are doing the same white-knuckled maneuver, as middle-aged Korean women in see-through black lingerie toss them around and scrub hard, sloughing away dead skin cells and dignity. Really, though, any shred of modesty disappeared the minute I walked into the women's locker room at JeJu Sauna (3555 Gwinnett Place Drive, Duluth, 678-336-7414, www.jejusauna.net). It's a very naked place.
Nudity aside, JeJu stands apart from other Atlanta spas. The extremely popular — and pristine — Korean-style sauna is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Twenty-five bucks buys you unlimited access to the sauna's many no-frills facilities, a roomy thick cotton uniform of shorts and T-shirt (pink for women, mustard yellow for men), and a disposable toothbrush. Men and women have separate changing areas where there are various Jacuzzis, saunas, steam rooms, standing and seated showering areas, and the aforementioned out-in-the-open treatment areas where you can sacrifice a little pride for baby-soft skin. After a relaxing time in your birthday suit, throw on your outfit — don't forget your key/electronic identification bracelet — and head out to the clothed common area where men and women mingle. There are various coed saunas located in rooms and domed mini-buildings within the common area. Each sauna has a different composition and purpose: rock-salt lined walls to strengthen your cardiovascular system, a charcoal room to clean out those pesky toxins, imported jade to speed up your metabolism, and many more.
It's easy to lose yourself inside JeJu for an entire day. In fact, many people head over to the spa after pigging out at nearby restaurants to use the communal sleeping rooms where pillows, blankets and mats are provided. It's the cheapest and coolest makeshift hotel ever. If you are going to spend any amount of time at JeJu, you'll most likely get hungry and that's when the "food court" comes in handy. While food isn't destination-worthy considering all the superlative spots nearby, there's good stuff to be had. And you can't beat eating barefoot on the floor in a jammie-esque ensemble knowing there's a warm place to cuddle up immediately after stuffing yourself full of home-style Korean food.
There are about 13 to 14 different dishes available, including specials advertised on a board near the cashier. A cast-iron pot of kimchi jjigae seems to find a place on most tables. Pork, tofu, scallions and onions bob around in stew's broth tinted red with kimchi and gochujang (red pepper paste). A bowl of rice — your choice of brown or white — and a small assortment of banchan comes with your order. Steer clear of the chicken and ginseng soup unless you happen to like scallion-flavored water. Salt and pepper do little to save it, but the whole small chicken floating in the center of the blah broth is deliciously tender, and the garlic-studded sticky rice used as stuffing is quite tasty on its own or mixed into the soup. Even though this is a place of "well being," heavier pleasures find their place on the menu. An exceptional dduk bok gi, glutinous rice cakes stir-fried with green onion, chewy noodles and sliced fish cake, all in a thick gochujang laced sauce and finished with a hard-boiled egg. You'll want to stop eating this snack food classic, but the burn and chew are too seductive to resist. A sizzling cast-iron dish of LA galbi (thinly sliced bone-in short-ribs) arrive tender and well-permeated by the soy sauce, sugar, garlic and — sometimes — sesame oil marinade. Mandu (dumplings) come from a package, without a doubt, but even frozen, fried pork dumplings are better than no dumplings at all.
I inevitably find myself peckish a couple hours after I've eaten a full meal (hardcore foot massages can do that to a girl). Rather than eat another big dish, one of the many fresh fruits juices — apple, kiwi, carrot, orange and more — does the trick. The best of the bunch is the banana juice, which is more like a fresh banana smoothie than juice. It's creamy, sweet and a wonderful way to replenish your energy after a long day of lying around doing nothing — and everything. C
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