We walk up to a massage parlor with a friendly “sawadee kaaaa” and a smile for the older lady sitting out front, who must have been beckoning tourists like us to come inside all morning. We ask for a Thai massage, our shoes come off, and we step inside a small space with four massage tables arranged behind flowery curtains in the back of the room.
The older woman, who turns out to be my masseuse, puts a basket on one of the tables and laughs when I, not knowing what else to do, place my purse in the basket. I nervously laugh too as she says something in Thai and motions for David and me to take off our clothes. I do, removing my purse from the basket and replacing it with my clothing, and when I’m reluctant to remove my bra, she laughs and motions for me to do so.
Ha, okay, then! When in Thailand…
So I’m naked (save my underwear) and facedown on a massage table, with my forehead resting on a towel soft as sandpaper, dangerously close to accidentally kissing the sticky leather table underneath. Without warning, my masseuse begins jabbing her elbows into my back.
Okay, this isn’t so bad, I say to myself. Then she pushes her palms up the length of my back, my spine cracking the whole way.
“Clack clack. Haha!” my masseuse laughs. I laugh a little too, nervously. It does feel good, I think to myself. Then her thumbs dig into my vertebrae.
Ow!! But it’s over in a second. And she begins to rub my shoulders. Mmm, okay, this is the good stuff. This continues for a solid five minutes when she taps my shoulder.
“Excuse me, ma’am.” I lift my face. “Okay?” she asks, gesturing to a bottle of coconut lotion.
Yes, I say.
She points at David on the table next to me with the lotion.
“Okay?” I nod.
I lay back down and she begins furiously rubbing my back with the lotion. So fast it’s almost creating heat. She searches for the muscle knots in my back, digging at them with her fingers when she finds them as if they were bugs to be squished. I must admit the shoulder blade massage feels wonderful, and as she moves down to the middle of my back, I feel like I’m in heaven.
Jab! She presses down hard.
Um, that’s not a knot; that’s my rib cage… I imagine saying.
She moves down lower, and *woosh*, down come the underwear. “Okay?” she asks. “Chai,” I say in a feeble attempt to say yes — one of the six or seven Thai words I claim to know.
So I guess this is how it done. Butt cheek massages. Well alright then.
I try to focus on the karaoke version of Kelly Clarkson playing in the background.
This derriere massage continues for a solid minute when *ring ring ring* The phone goes off and my masseuse runs to the front of the room. A shrill conversation in Thai — but doesn’t all Thai sound shrill? — takes place for half a minute when the woman returns.
The back/butt massage continues for another ten minutes, when she moves to my legs, rubbing the meat with all her strength. This maneuver ticklehurts. You know what I mean? I want to smile, but I also want to grimace. It ticklehurts. I let out a small “uugh” as she digs her thumbs into my calf and she just laughs. She begins stretching my legs, when suddenly she lifts my right foot behind my body in an attempt to, what feels like, touch my heel to my head.
“Agh!!” I yell.
She just laughs, continues, and gently taps my leg as if to say, “Oh you’ll be alright. Don’t be such a baby.”
The worst part is I know this same maneuver will soon be happening on my left leg as well, though I’m secretly hoping she’s a little gentler next time, knowing I’m a weak westerner. No such luck. The left leg is stretched just as hard.
Okay, so this is my lot in life, I think to myself as she jabs her thumbs into the arch of my feet, cars and motorbikes whizzing by on the street, unaware of the activity going on 15 feet away. Just gotta get through the massage. Just gotta get through.
I’m grabbed by both wrists and lifted off the table, in a quasi-cobra yoga pose. “Relax relax,” she says. So I try. And actually, it’s not so bad. She lays me back down and taps my head, saying something in Thai, and, since this isn’t my first massage, I assume this means it’s time to flip onto my back. So I do, and she begins massaging the front of my legs.
Ow. Ow. Ow. Oh god, no.
But I say nothing, instead taking a deep inhale and exhale, trying to enjoy the new experience. And she just chuckles at my pained breaths, saying something in Thai to her ladyboy counterpart, who’s busy silently massaging David on the next table over.
Before I have time to clearly verbalize the pain, it’s finished. Thank goodness she moves quickly! Bright side, bright side.
And the stretching continues. I feel like I’m getting to know my masseuse on an intimate level. My foot finds a place in her sweaty armpit, her elbow presses down hard on my hip, my calf gets positioned dangerously close to her crotch. They do this everyday; nothing weird here, I tell myself.
Then my left leg is lifted into the air and stretched to a 90° angle; it feels great until 80°… 60°… 40° … ow, 20° is not so great.
Ahhhh, I grimace.
She audibly laughs. Not cruely — always in a motherly “quit complaining” kind of way.
She finishes with my legs and moves to my arms.
Now this is spectacular, I think as she massages my hands. I always love a good hand massage. Oh yes, oh yes, oh yes.
“Computer?” she suddenly asks. I peak outside the small rag she’s placed on my eyes in an attempt to keep me relaxed (not unlike horse blinders). “Computer,” she says again, this time gesturing to my short fingernails, which I can only assume means that she believes an office job is the only thing that could cause such an unmanicured mess.
“Oh yes, computer,” I respond on auto-pilot. The truth is, I simply don’t know how to say, “Nope, I actually just bite my fingernails and haven’t worked in an office setting for 6 months” in Thai.
She continues vigorously rubbing along my arms, seemingly trying to pinch off the blood supply to the veins in my bicep.
Maybe this is some kind of Thai, blood-stopping, relaxation technique? I try to rationalize. Nope, just hurts.
As she finishes massaging both sides of my arms, vein pinching and all, she abruptly stops, drops my arms to the table, and walks away. A minute passes. Then two.
Doo doo doo. I silently hum. Guess I’m just supposed to lay here? Or…is it over?
I turn my head and sneak a peak from underneath the eye cover over at David who looks like he’s blissfully happy. I see my masseuse walking down the hall toward me again, with a handful of what looks like shaving cream.
“Okay?” she questions with her hand outstretched so I can clearly see the white cream. “Okay,” I confirm, having no clue what I just agreed to. Before I have a chance to process what’s happening, the cream is slathered on my face. I must admit, whatever it is, it smells lovely.
Hmm, I hope this doesn’t make me break out, I think as she rubs it along my forehead and cheeks, making her way down to my neck. Here she applies more pressure.
Oh no, please don’t do the vein-squeezy thing in my neck! I silently pray. She must be feeling merciful because she moves along to my head without incident. A few minutes of head massaging later, she says something in Thai and gestures for me to sit up straight. I obey and she continues gently scratching my head.
Three minutes later I feel her fingers begin to move in a familiar way along my hair line.
Is she braiding my hair?
Yep, she’s definitely braiding my hair.
She completes the coif, and without a mirror or a chance to feel my stylin’ new Thai hairstyle, I just assume it’s beautiful and turn to the masseuse with a grateful “kup khun kaaa” believing that the massage must be over.
“Relax! Relax!” she excitedly says, jumping into a crouched position behind me, grabbing my arms, pulling me backwards, and twisting my back into an arch quicker than I can spit out a protesting “mai.” She contorts and pulls at my body, furiously cracking and stretching me into a series of endless backbreaking poses. She giggles at my hushed oww’s and deep ahh‘s.
At this point, I can’t help but laugh too.
When finally the twisting stops, she leans down and, to my surprise, gives me a soft hug.
“Kaaaa” she says with an enormous smile.
“Kup khun kaaaa” I smile back, melting into a puddle on the table.
I roll over, look at David, and think:
Well that…was honestly awesome.