A spa visit in the Koreatown neighborhood of Los Angeles, Calif. left Margaret Cho with a lot of tension after the comedienne was asked to cover up her various body tattoos.
The actress took to her blog Monday to describe how a staffer at Aroma Spa & Sports insisted that Cho try to cover up as much as possible in the usually all-naked women's sauna area because older customers were complaining about her tattoos.
Cho acted calm, she wrote, but she was actually enraged at the situation -- and it didn't help that the staffer who asked her to cover up was extremely apologetic. The comedienne even pulled the "Do you know who I am?" card (something she swears she has never done before), which didn't change anything.
Even after donning the extra robe, Cho was still drawing "heavy duty Korean woman stinkeye" from the other customers, which eventually made her feel so uncomfortable she had to leave.
"I restrained myself from saying 'joo-goo lae?' which loosely translated means, 'you want to die?'" the funny woman wrote. "I didn’t say it. I thought it. But I didn’t say it." Cho left on good terms with the spa, leaving a 40 percent tip because she could sense how embarrassed and unhappy the staffers were about the situation. Still, she wonders if a heavily tattooed Korean man would have been treated the same way.
Spa manager Jimmy Kim is absolutely mortified at the way Cho was treated. In a phone conversation with The Huffington Post, he clarified that the business has no company policy about clients with tattoos, and that the assistant manager who asked Cho to cover up made a mistake.
"The manager, who had only been working about 10 months, followed along with customer complaints, not our company policy," Kim explained. "The proper way to handle this is to inform the customers complaining that everyone has the right to a tattoo and to be in a spa."
Kim said the spa apologized to Cho again over email, and that everyone just "feels really bad" about the situation.
"Most of our customer base is from the Koreatown community, and I think some of the older generations of Korean customers complained about her tattoos," Kim continued. "But as we live in America, we don't have problems with tattoos at all."
Tattoos are taboo in South Korea because they used to be closely associated with the violence of organized crime. Voice of America also notes that tattoos disqualify people from being part of the South Korean army, which is why authorities continue to discourage the art form.
But Cho is well-aware of tattoos' complex history in South Korea, which is why she chose to speak out about her experience on her site. Here's how she ended her post:
I brought the first Korean American family to television. I have influenced a generation of Asian American comedians, artists, musicians, actors, authors -– many, many people to do what they dreamed of doing, not letting their race and the lack of Asian Americans in the media stop them. If anything, I understand Korean culture better than most, because I have had to fight against much of its homophobia, sexism, racism –- all the while trying to maintain my fierce ethnic pride. I struggle with the language so that I can be better understood. I try to communicate my frustrations in Korean so that I can enhance my relationship with my identity, my family, my parents homeland.
I deserve to be naked if I want to.