Thai Massage – With Happy Ending
I am writing this blog post in my head.
In fact, this post may be my only salvation. For the past 15 minutes I have tried meditation, visualization, and everything else imaginable to take my mind off the fact that there is a woman sat on top of me.
Under normal circumstances, this would be viewed as a positive thing. But in this given instance, one of her meaty arms — which are thicker than my thighs — is currently working its way up my leg, leaving a wake of muscle destruction behind.
My only hope is that my travel insurance will cover the costs of a speaking computer such as the one Stephen Hawking uses — I’ll need it to express myself once someone wheels me out of here.
This blog post, which is slowly materializing out of the pain-shrouded mist in my brain, is a distraction as I teeter somewhere between the abyss and instant enlightenment through suffering.
All around me in the darkened room are the sounds of exertion: popping, groans, grunts, and smacks of hands on bare skin. Not even a whisper interrupts the ambiance of what sounds like the warm up for Roman gladiators about to enter the arena.
How did I end up here?
Just as when mortally-hungover people flop around on the floor like dying fish the Saturday morning after a bender exclaiming “I’ll never drink again!” they inevitably end up back in the pub a few nights later…
Here I am again.
I am attempting my second Thai massage in Chiang Mai. With neck and back aching after a 12-hour night train to the north, a massage sounded like a good idea at the time. Maybe it was the fact that the spa had a special: $3 for one full hour. Maybe in a temporary lapse of judgment I thought I should give this world-renown style of massage another chance.
Maybe I was wrong.
For four years I’ve been trying to forget my first Thai massage, and now I found myself sprawled on a mat again waiting to be squashed like a nervous cricket. My first Thai massage in 2006 — performed by a woman with more lip hair than I have — broke any romantic notion of attractive, silk-robed Thai girls smelling like jasmine while padding around on tiny feet.
No, my masseuse smelled of garlic and cheap cigarettes. By the time that woman finished crushing me with her calloused banana-fingers, I realized for the first time what it was like to ooze out of a place like a slinky; bones having been crushed to dust. The old woman took such pleasure in giving foreigners pain that I was afraid she would look up my family one day mafia-style to give them massages, too.
At least this time around Lucy — my thirty-something masseuse — is a total sweetheart. She has soft hands, a warm smile, and a good heart. But she is also a sadist.
Pop! What was that?!
Thai massage requires the bending and torquing of joints and limbs beyond their natural range. Satan’s own massage handbook couldn’t compete with this stuff. Women with robotic hands strengthened over years of repetitive massage knead muscle fibers like dough. Sometimes you find your legs entangled with the therapist’s, both of you sweating, and wondering: “Gee, is that [insert joint here] supposed to bend beyond 90 degrees?”.
Some of the massage positions are a little personal, borderline erotic even as you both share sweat and exertion; however, sexual fantasies are the last thing on your mind when you’re in this much pain — trust me.
Thai massage is a modern culmination of ancient medicinal brutality; think well-meaning doctors armed with saws during the Civil War. Make no mistake: this is combat — and unlike UFC or mixed martial arts fights, there is no tapping out on the mat or screaming “UNCLE!”
As my hour progresses and nerves scream out for intervention to end this madness, I wonder if I will have permanent damage. The years of adventure have been good to my soul but not to my body.
My back — a little iffy anyway after a rock climbing fall — makes me nervous. When Lucy’s impossibly-strong fingers finally made their way to my groin, I had to stop her for the first time. A gortex mesh — a gift from the surgeon after skydiving-gone-wrong in 2005 — separates my guts from casual viewers. If Lucy presses down with all of her weight, she has the potential to pop me like a grape. I would hate to make a mess all over the lovely spa.
Despite Lucy’s best intentions, right now I am her puppet and the strings are pain. She is a master at pulling those strings. As she lumbers around me on the mat like a polar bear, I can’t help but look past the half-pulled curtain and envy my neighbor who has an attractive, size-0 massage therapist using pencil-thin fingers on his neck. Wait…is that bastard even smiling?
All across the darkened room, which smells like camphor oil, I can see people intertwined in various postures. Some postures look erotic, some look like something that would scare Hulk Hogan white.
My hour passes languidly. As far as I can tell, we are nearing the end. At this point, my consciousness has left my body and drifted to the ceiling. Looking down, I can see some poor sucker really getting it…
Oh wait, that quivering mass of numb flesh is mine.
As I sit up, Lucy indicates that the massage is finished by smacking me with open palms. The blow to the head could have knocked out a Shaolin monk, but then something strange happened. A peculiar warmth — pure chi energy which was once blocked — began spreading across my chest and my limbs.
Either this is what the instant of comatose paralysis feels like, or something good has come of all this. Lucy knows her stuff after all.
Thai massage blends Eastern energy beliefs with deep tissue massage. I did not feel the warmth spread from toes to fingers during my first massage experience. The last time I remember this strange, tingling sensation spreading deep through my body was after getting acupuncture at my Shaolin school in China.
Whatever Lucy has done, it worked. As she helped me up, I was expecting to float back to the lobby on my cloud of new energy. Instead, it felt more like I was slinging numb, partially attached bags of meat (my legs and feet) in front of me.
My neck slumps, unable to hold the weight of my head. I’m quite sure that at least one rib is broken and my spleen may be leaking. I am 170 pounds of chewed bubble gum. I must now get accustomed to life with no bones.
Not good…but assuming that I regain muscle control within the next week, not all is lost. My happy ending was a cup of steaming-hot lotus seed tea, renewed circulation which I could consciously feel warming my body, and the realization that I don’t have to do this again — at least for another four years.
I even tipped Lucy. Maybe she won’t go after my family.