It’s about 4:00 in the afternoon on a sunny day in March. I’m sitting at a cafe in Seoul with a few friends while we relax and recover from a somewhat exhausting bike ride. Fish nibble at my feet. What?
A common Asian massage involves soaking your feet in a tub of water while little fish eat away the dead skin. In Korea it’s called “Dr. Fish” and you don’t have to go to a spa to have the experience. As I mentioned, I had my fish massage at a cafe in Seoul.
I had read other people’s accounts of the experience and mostly they say that it “tickles.” Allow me the set the record straight, because I don’t think that “tickles” tells the whole story. Have you ever been swimming in a lake and had a fish brush against your foot or your leg? Well it feels like that. Except that then the fish bites you a little bit. Not hard, and not with teeth, but you definitely feel it bite your foot, and it continues biting repeatedly for several minutes. Now imagine that same experience but substitute the one fish with fifty fish.
I’m not trying to write a horror story, because the situation was not at all scary. It did, however, require some getting used to. The first time I put my feet in the water and felt the fish I panicked and took my feet right out. However, after a little while I did get used to it and at the end my feet felt pretty nice.
Now, there are some pretty clear hygiene concerns with this whole situation so I’m not sure that I would recommend Dr. Fish to everyone. That said, it was a memorable experience. I had no idea when I woke up that morning that within a few hours there would be fish nibbling at my toes. It was one of those really funny and pleasantly surprising expat days, the days that balance out the culture shock uglies. Those are the days that make living abroad a worthwhile experience.