Monday, January 25, 2010

U can't touch this...

While on the cruise ship, Mike and I decided to take a massage class. I mean, what's not to like about learning something like that?

For Mike it was especially likable, since he got to be the class model, lying facedown on the massage table with his shirt off. First the instructor demonstrated on him and then myself and the other student, an Indian woman, practiced and were corrected and practiced some more while he lay there enjoying our attentions. Not a bad gig if you can get it.

This was a class on Swedish massage, so we learned effleurage (gentle stroking), cupping, petrissage (kneading), traction (pulling), vibration, and tapping (that funky clapping thing you do with your hands together, clopping them down to make a noise along someone's back). Mike ended up all oiled up and snoozy. The other student and I were breaking a sweat by the end from our efforts, and it was a lot harder to get right than I'd imagined. Mostly I felt like an idiot trying to get my hands the right way.

Cruise staff would drift through, stop and stare, some even taking photographs. One asked if we were sure Mike could breathe facedown on the massage table like he was. We assured her that he'd been making smart alecky responses to our comments all along and was obviously fine.

50 minutes into the hour-long class some other passengers showed up and demanded to join the class. So what if the class was nearly done? They had been held up by the line dancing class and were entitled to have what they wanted when they wanted it, everyone else be damned.

This was a good view into the Indian caste system. We'd already seen those from the upper social echelons walk up to staff, snap their fingers in the employees faces, no less, and demand whatever it was they wanted. It had better be done damned quick too. Absolutely no hesitation in acting this way, no courtesy wasted on the little people. Little people are like kleenex. Use and throw away. Not much attention paid to others around you either, for that matter.

Which I thought was a load of hooey. Unless someone is actually on fire or hemorrhaging to death, there's always time to be nice.

However, this time the Maharajas (or in this case, Maharanis, as these were women) were told very firmly by a woman with a power-infusing clipboard to come back to another session. There was some definite huffing and puffing but eventually they stalked away to a deep exhalation of breath by the rest of us, student and staff alike, and we finished uneventfully.

Mike and I liked our instructor so much we scheduled massages in the spa, deciding on the heated stone option, something we'd never tried before. I honestly don't know how they hold those stones without burning their hands. Mike ended up getting his massage from our instructor and ironically also ended up with a nice circular stone-shaped burn on his navel. Whoops.

As I was lying there getting systematically toasted a bit at a time with the hot rocks, I let my mind wander back to the massage I'd had before this one, back in Kanchanaburi. The fabulous, relaxing, absolutely perfect Oriental Kwai Resort was partnered with a place called Suan Nanachaat Spa and we'd wanted to try them out.

We scheduled our visits, trading off parental kid watching duty, and I went first. I'd shamelessly chosen the "relax" spa package of reflexology, scalp massage and herbal hair treatment, followed by a full body oil massage and finally a facial. Hours of indulgence. Disgusting. I was really looking forward to it.

The owner pulled up in his little car; a former college dean from the UK, he had chosen a simpler, quirkier life living in Thailand and seemed to be enjoying it thoroughly. He had amusing anecdotes by the armful about life with the Thai, and I enjoyed the ride.

When we arrived at the spa itself I loved the garden surroundings, the incredible mountain view, and the two story open air Thai style treatment building. I was whisked away to lockers and a bathrobe, my feet washed in a freshly prepared bath of herbs and nubbly kaffir limes, and then guided blissfully up to the main hall where I sat in a soft chair, feet elevated on a poofy cushioned second chair and had my feet and head softly rubbed with fragrant lotions. Too softly, if the truth be known; I had expected the sort of merciless but extremely effective mashing I'd gotten in Chiang Mai, whereas this was more like loving petting one might give an ancient and fragile cat.

While I encouraged more pressure, eventually I gave up the cause as lost and instead revelled in the music and scenery and the scents of the potions mixed just moments before. And it was nice. Perhaps the achy bits weren't getting pressed into oblivion, but on the other hand I wasn't biting my lips to keep from begging for mercy either. This was merely pleasant.

Time flew, and soon I was escorted dreamily to the private massage room. At first everything went as one would expect, and then she had me turn over onto my back. This is par for the course, except that this time she undraped me down to my waist.

Huh. That seemed odd. She wasn't going to rub my...oh, oh dear, she was. Oh no.

I was getting a chest massage and there really was no polite way of getting out of it. I laid there, trying to rationalise. We've all had breast exams. I've nursed my kids in public. It made perfect sense to massage those puppies, they go through a lot, cooped up in a bra all day. I mean, I'd already had my hips and rear end rubbed and survived that, so what was the big deal? Put on my big girl panties and handle it, right?

I kept telling myself this, but it wasn't working. This was just flat out too weird for my Western sensibilities.

She finished, and just when I thought I could relax, damnit, she started to massage my belly.

Now, I am really shy about my stomach. It's just not my favorite part. It could use some gym work to say the least, and getting shaped and kneaded like dough for a loaf of bread was not my idea of a good time. Then she began jiggling and flopping it around like Santa's bowl full of jelly.

The horror. The mortification. The total disbelief. This couldn't be happening.

Like anything else, with continuous breathing in and out, time passed and she moved on, covering me back up and moving on to other areas.

Silent but heartfelt prayer of thanks at this point.

It took the rest of the massage and leaving the room for me to relax again. How sad it that? My last treatment was the facial, the first one I have ever had, which gave it points in the "new experiences" department.

At least I knew to expect the facial. How on earth was I going to explain that other bit to Mike? I decided to ask later if he'd gotten a chest massage. Which it turned out he did as well. He, being Mike, thought the whole thing was pretty funny.

Someday I may think that too. I'm working on it, I'm working on it.

In the meantime, it's a pretty good story, don't you think?


Tanya said...

Its not even 8am and Ive just had my first out loud belly laugh for the day! I am not a massage person which means Im not a spa person either and being a gym person Im not a prude and having breast fed my boys- the youngest till he was 3- Ive definately whipped them out in public (all for a good cause tho) but that would horrify me. Sounds like you dealt with it rather well!

Jeni said...


camelland said...

yup, massages in the US where we are 'so mnodest' - very careful placement of the towel over certain areas of our bodies. much less modesty in asia and europe when it comes to massage. full body usually does mean full body where here it's more legs, arms, back, and neck -and with some but not everyone the glutes. you are still allowed to request they 'skip the belly' if you want in the future. i had the gal on elba skip my feet, but i let her do everything else (but then i had chosen the lymphatic massage, so it stood to reason she'd be on my chest and belly.)