My trip to Thailand this past Thanksgiving was marred by many little inconveniences, among them torrential rain, a missing person’s report, and an airport hotel with a diverse ecosystem thriving in its carpet. Those are for another today. Instead, I want to talk about my Thai massage.
Bangkok is absolutely full of massage opportunities, but many of them look a little unsavory. Selection was especially difficult since we were staying in Sukhumvit, where you could peruse a wide range of prostitutes without having to turn your head. Not the kind of massage we were going for, so Julie and I went with a place recommended by the tour book.
Marble House is an upscale massage parlor, and we splurged for the two-hour experience, ringing in at the princely sum of $12 each. We went to our private room and changed into the massage pajamas. Not the most stylish outfit, but I was pretty happy about not being naked. We had two masseuses each, so there were six of us in the room together. One woman was on full-body duty, and a total sadist was in charge of my feet.
I have had many massages in the United States, and I’ve come to learn that enduring a painful massage can ultimately lead to ecstatic levels of relaxation. So I was initially grateful for the pain inflicted upon my person by the Foot Destroyer. She seemed to be having a good time at it but didn’t appear satisfied until I finally started squirming. “No pain, no gain,” they say. Alas, cannot be rewritten as “Pain, gain,” and, much to my dismay, no gain followed. In fact, I still have trouble walking, and the only enjoyment derived from the ordeal belonged to the masseuse, who no doubt secured a higher place in the office ladder for broken tourist foot bones.
I was initially unimpressed by the other masseuse, who seemed to be phoning in her end of things. She started manipulating my arms, and I’ve seriously gotten deeper massage rolling over in bed. This is the famous Thai massage?! Soon enough, though, she moved beyond my arms, and tedium gave way to discomfort.
The main theme of my full-body massage was “I don’t want to be molested.” This is actually a persistent value of mine, but it usually takes care of itself, so I don’t have to worry. For these two hours, though, it was quite at the forefront of my mind. Although Thailand is more modern than most people would give it credit for, it does lag behind in some areas. For example, Thai mores lack the Western refinement of “Good Touch, Bad Touch.”
I was very glad that Julie was lying only a few feet away and could help me through my ordeal. Actually, Julie thought I was overreacting, as she never felt anything inappropriate. But you see, girls and boys come with different parts. Some girl parts are off-limits to civil hands, but these areas are pretty well-defined. No one has ever gotten away with, “Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t realize your breast was there.” Boy bits, on the other hand, don’t always stay put. Although the general vicinity is well-known, the exact location at any given moment is a mystery. American masseuses try to avoid any suggestions of impropriety, but this woman didn’t seem too worried about that. She thoroughly kneaded my upper, inner thighs, and when she pressed down on my groin muscles, what did it matter if a bit of extra flesh got in the way? Least relaxing massage of all time.
I did have a better time later in the session, once the awkward parts were out of the way. We performed a bizarre see-saw maneuver, in which she stepped onto the back of my knees, grabbed all four limbs, and rocked back and forth. Very Cirque du Soleil, but I’m not sure it was “massage,” and she groaned much more than I did during this part.
The full-body masseuse for Julie was the only one who spoke any English, and none too well at that. The four of them spoke in a bright Thai chatter the entire time, and I would say that they were making fun of us, but I doubt they cared that much. They did establish that we were from California, and we did recognize “California” popping into their conversation pretty frequently, so who knows?
The English-speaker asked us where we were going after Bangkok, and we told her that we were going to visit the island Koh Samui. She told us, “You should not go there! It rains so much!” We already had our plane tickets and hotel reservation and were excited about spending a few days at the beach. If it rained for half an hour or so, we’d survive. And really, what did she know…