Wet And Naked With Strangers

Russian baths are a bit different than the 24-hour Korean spa, as Sadie Dingfelder recently learned:

I am sitting boob-deep in tepid water, sous-viding the burrito I ate for lunch a half-hour ago. Around me float a dozen women representing almost as many age and ethnic groups. An elderly Korean lady accidentally grabs my thigh while, outside of the pool, a young blonde woman towel-dries her crotch. It is a typical Friday afternoon at Spa World, the sprawling South Korean-styled bathhouse in Centreville, Va.

This unincorporated community in Fairfax County isn’t at the forefront of many international trends. But when Spa World opened in 2008, it was during the height of South Korea’s public-bath craze and just a year behind the opening of New York’s largest jimjibang, Spa Castle. Since then, Spa World has done brisk business relaxing the D.C. area’s fast-growing Asian population as well as various tightly wound constituencies, including between-assignment State Department officials, Groupon users, and expats pining for the sentos, banyas, or hammams of their youth. There’s no shortage, after all, of type-A Washingtonians hoping to shed their stress (and, clearly, their clothes).