Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Therapy with Doctor Fish

I went to therapy this past weekend. Come on, you knew it was only a matter of time, right?

But before you go jumping for joy, it wasn't the kind you're probably thinking of. This therapy involved treatment for my feet. More specifically, for the dead skin that's built up on my digits and heels over the past few months. This is in part due to all the walking, and largely because of the dry winter in Seoul.

Desperate times call for desperate measures

I'd heard of the Doctor Fish treatment while still in Toronto. I'd read an article in a magazine about it, and then seen a segment on TV. I remember being freaked out at the thought of tiny fishes nibbling at my feet, in an effort to promote exfoliation and beautiful skin.

"When did fish start eating away at us?" I'd thought. Wasn't it supposed to be the other way around?

Since moving to Seoul, I've had numerous friends visit the Doctor Fish cafe in Gangnam (a posh area, south of the Han river). And their experiences have varied from one end of the spectrum to the other. Some complained that it was too ticklish and that the thought of having these fish - who'd eaten away at strangers' feet - get to work on theirs, grossed them out to no extent. While others said they loved the idea of it and reveled in this bizarre but pretty positive experience.

So last Sunday, with the sun peeking out for the first time in months, a bunch of the ladies and I decided to bite the bullet and head down to the cafe for a taste... or in the case of the fish, a taste of us.

We walked in, not quite sure what we were getting ourselves into. I was rather surprised when we got there because, truth be told, I imagined walking into an aquarium. It seemed right: fish = aquarium. Not quite. The elevator doors to the cafe opened to reveal a basic book cafe, complete with the cutsie decor that's expected in almost every coffee shop in Korea.

"Where are the fish?" I asked, while scanning the room.

"I don't know. Maybe they're in another room?" someone replied from behind me.

We were ushered to a coffee bar and instructed to purchase drinks and pay for the fish before it was our turn. We were told that they'd call us when it was time, and be given 15 minutes with the bite-sized nibblers.

Nibble, Nibble

When it was time, we were ushered to a platform that overlooked a busy intersection in Gangnam, complete with the over-sized flashing neon signs.

The view from the pools, overlooking Gangnam in Seoul. Chaotic serenity.

There were two pools with fish in them, and two wash basins. We had to wash our feet before entering the pools, which made me feel a lot better about the hygiene aspect of the whole thing.

S got right in there and made herself comfortable. Knowing S, I didn't expect anything else.

"It feels like nothing," she said, with the biggest smile on her face. "I think I'll come every month!"

J and C got in next, both with extreme reactions. J began a giggling fit, while C started trembling.

"Is it that bad?" I asked, still standing on the edge, waiting for more feedback before I dipped in.

"No, no, no.... I'm just really... ticklish... in one spot," C said, while trying desperately to sit still.

J was still laughing hysterically. Apparently she was ticklish too, but enjoyed it immensely.

I sat on the edge and handed my camera over to S.

"OK," I said, as my feet held a death grip to the opposite edge of the pool. "You have to get this on video, because I don't think I'll go through with it."

S took the camera and began filming, while encouraging me (in a way that's unique to S) to just go for it and dump my feet into the pool.

"It's easier if you just go for it and not think about it," she said.

I couldn't stop staring at the swarms of tiny fish that had gathered at her feet, ankles and calves... nibbling away like she was an all-you-can-eat buffet. My feet curled further onto the ledge.

Deciding that the best way to go through with this was to not look at the fish and just dive, I took the leap.

And it wasn't so bad.

I had my eyes closed for a minute as I felt them swim towards me. When they started on my feet, it literally felt like pins and needles. You know the feeling when your feet fall asleep? Just like that, but more active.

Doctor Fish hard at work.

And with that, I was fine. Unless I looked into the water and saw what the little nibblers were up to. That was freaky.

J, sitting beside me, continued to laugh through the duration of our therapy, while C calmed down towards the end. B, sitting on the opposite edge of the pool (with this being her second time), simply enjoyed the relaxing Sunday afternoon treat while laughing at us. And S? Well, S simply stated without a doubt in her mind that she loved therapy, and that the fish could feast on her anytime they wanted.

Once I settled in, I took in the moment and allowed myself to enjoy another beautiful afternoon with the ladies - good conversations and exfoliated feet included. Thanks, Doctor Fish!

Us, sharing 15 minutes with Doctor Fish.


NOTE: The Namugeuneul Dr. Fish Café is located in Gangnam, Seoul. The way it works is you purchase a coffee or drink from the café, and for an extra 2,000 won (approx. $1.75), you can have 15-20 minutes at the fish spa.

DIRECTIONS: Get off at Gangman station (green line 2), exit 7. Walk straight until you get to the second big crosswalk. The café is located on the second floor of the building next to the Paris Croissant.

CONTACT: (02)-599-1210

Images courtesy of StraightFromTheCurls and JC

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