Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Old Lady Massage

One of the things I was curious about when I came here was Traditional Thai Massage. At the night-market next door there are rows of comfy chairs set up for foot massages, and behind the chairs there are mats for full-body massages. I really wanted to try one last weekend… but when I got out there all the masseuers were busy. But there’s a massage parlor in my residence building so I figured I’d give that one a try. Let me start out by saying that if you want to get a PG version massage in Thailand, you specify “Old Lady” massage. If you want the other kind… well, I can’t help you there.

It was, like most things I’ve done here, a somewhat surreal experience. Being a foreigner here automatically reduces my IQ by about 10 pts., I think I lose another 20 pts. for not knowing the language. So basically if I have about average intelligence in the US… here I’m downright feeble minded. There’s nothing to do but laugh at me. And I really don’t know any better, so I just laugh along. There’s actually something a bit freeing in that …if I know I’m going to look stupid no matter what I do, there’s no point in worrying about it.

Anyway, I walk in the door and ask for a massage. “Old lady?” the manager asks “Old lady.” I confirm. I ask “How much?” and they point towards the door which has a complete price list in English and Thai. Feeble minded I tell you! They steer me towards a mat on the floor and I stand there looking a little dumbfounded. There’s a set of clothes there and they manage to get me into the bathroom to change into them. It was surprising, I was convinced they’d be too small, but both were an okay fit. They’re supposed to be significantly looser than they were I’m sure… but it wasn’t a complete disaster. I considered briefly using the toilet… and then, realizing there’s no toliet paper, I forgo that option. Yup… not smart enough to figure out a Thai-style bidet. I am now a feeble-minded three year old.

Eventually I come back out and lie down on the mat…the wrong way of course. But no problem, she motions for me to lie on my back first and I’m catching on here – I do so. What happens next is no question the most literal interpretation of a full-body massage I could imagine. Not only am I getting the full treatment (well, the full old-lady treatment that is), but the whole process is somewhat… collaborative… for want of a better word. It’s a lot more like physical therapy than the relaxing massages I’ve gotten in spas at home. There’s a lot of contorting and stretching and pounding. The masseuse uses her hands & arms, but also elbows, knees, legs, feet, etc. At one point I’m lying on my back, knee bent kinda out to one side, and she puts both her feet on my inner thigh, she grabs my foot and pulls back. At another point when I was lying on my stomach she was kneeling on my butt, and I’m pretty sure she was walking on my legs for a while. That woman earned her pay tonight.

Did it feel good? Um. Not especially. I mean, the stretching was probably really good for me, there were some yoga-esque moves that I’m sure loosened me up in beneficial ways, but it was not very relaxing. Being overweight & out of shape made the whole thing rather awkward… she was trying to move me into certain positions my body just can’t achieve. So she’d laugh… and I’d laugh… and there you go. One of the weirder hours of my life. But, it was cheap – less than $10 and it’s worth that much just to add it to the collection of things I’ve experienced here.

Tonight I made it over to the night market next door early enough for a foot massage though, and that was a lot less sureal. It helped that there was a whole row of people getting massages so I could watch them and see what was going to happen next. There's a part of the whole scenario that just feels weird. I mean, there's this whole row of women (and it's always women) rubbing on people's feet. But I looked around and there were more Thai people getting massages than farangs... so I figured it okay. The girl rubbing my feet looked about 14... which means she was probably closer to about 20. People look YOUNG here. I thought most of my class was in their early 20s - college aged, but later found out that one of the 'kids' was actually 32 - only a year younger than me!

Anyway, the foot massage involved far less contorting than the full-body massage, but it was still a bit on the rough side... they really work the pressure points & try to get your Chi moving. Or something... I'm still completely clueless on the theory behind Thai massage. At the end they actually start punching your legs & feet... not hard, but still. Overall though,, 90% of it felt really good, and the chair was so comfortable I almost fell asleep at one point. And it was only about $4... so I'll be going back.


IamSusie said...

Yipes! The news coming from Bangkok is sounding increasingly volatile. I hope things are okay for you, your classmates, and students. It doesn't sound like trouble for foreigners, but I hope you'll stay in safe places away from all the protesting.



Exuberant Color said...

It sounds more like physical therapy than a massage. I think I would have been aching the day after.

Michael5000 said...

More awesome reportage. I'm guessing you should stay away from the "young man massage."

Doug Anderson said...

Every time I have had an "old lady" massage it has been very painful, excruciatingly so. Each lasted two hours, with 30 minutes spent on each leg. These "old ladies" are typically in their 40s or 50s and they have been doing massages for many years. They have fingers of steel. They all use the same technique, and practically all of them got their training at Wat Po in Bangkok, which is considered the best place to learn Thai traditional massage.

The most I ever paid was $15 for the two hour session.

Each time I have had this kind of massage, I have vowed never to do it again, as it is so painful, but you know, on each visit to Thailand, I do it again.

Hadewisa said...
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Nancy Savino said...
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