Thursday, 2 June 2011

Postcards From Thailand - A Short History of Massage

Dear Reader,

Some thoughts from the Far East...

A colleague from work suggested I should have a Thai massage whilst on holiday. Could the more sordid imaginations please stop wandering down Bangkok side-streets. No, we are not  visiting sleazy parlours where more money is made from the extra-curricular menu than the massages themselves, this is not what the post is about.

This post is a short history of my massage experiences culminating with my most recent. A very short history in fact.

Massages are supposed to be relaxing, they are supposed to release negative energy, they are supposed to relax stressed muscles, they are supposed to do all sorts of things that I mostly don't understand because I am a man.

Noted psychiatrist and psychoactive therapy pioneer Timothy Leary coined the phrase "Set and Setting" to describe the two key elements which would dictate a good or a bad trip on LSD or any other psychoactive substances. "Set" refers to the mid-set of the participant, and "Setting" relates to external factors such as surroundings. A positive and relaxing combination of the two should result in positive outcomes. These two measures could equally be used to in conjunction with a number of other types of experience, including massage.    

Massage 1
Set: Hmmm, having never done this before I am perhaps a little nervous. Like all my experiences I am in a foreign country at the time. This in itself does not make me nervous, but adds spice to the affair.

Setting: Provided by our hilariously down-market hotel, the room was small, really small. Not just in length and breadth but also in height. It wasn’t even a room in the true sense of the word, it was an attic. It is also extremely hot, not the best of starts. However, this is a new experience so I am not so perturbed. The massage itself was of the Ayurvedic variety popular in India. Not too physical. What I remember to this day however, was not the massage or the parlour, it was the masseuse. Not for any aesthetic reason, or any appreciation of the massage itself, of course I have no frame of reference. No, it was the chest infection I remember. Imagine if you will lying face down a massage table being, being manipulated by what sounds like an asthmatic train, rattling and occasionally stopping to cough up the contents of her lungs. Charming, that noise will never leave me.

Massage 2
Set: Is good. I am unwinding after another holiday, I have done this before so there shouldn’t be any surprises, same massage, different masseuse.

Setting: Is better, a largish hut, close enough to the beach that I can hear waves crashing by the shore. Very restful. Too restful as it turns out. Unlike the previous experience, this relaxing experience causes my mind to wander. A massage is a very relaxing and sensual experience. I am being touched by another human being in many parts of my body, that normally do not get touched. I am naked, apart from a towel covering my blushes. Whilst lying face down I realise that something is stirring that would be most inappropriate, a stirring that would not be adequately camouflaged by a mere towel. I spend the rest of the face down part of the massage thinking of football scores, favourite pop songs of the 1980’s and Margaret Thatcher. Anything to make the sensation go away, understanding that if I relax too much and give myself too much to the moment I may be a little red-faced once I am turned over in all my glory. Oh, and one other thing to pile on the pressure, my dear lady wife is being worked over on the next couch. I thought the point of this was too relax?
Suffice to say I survive this without causing an international incident. How do people put themselves through this on a regular basis?  

Massage 3
Set: So my most recent excursion. I am a little more up-market on this occasion and am for the first time visiting something that can truly be called a spa. I am in a good mood, I have forgotten the panic moments from the second massage but cannot believe that the experience of the first can happen again.

Setting: The spa is very luxurious. We are offered juice and cold scented towels before we begin. My dear lady shatters one of the towel receptacles, nobody seems to mind. We are offered a choice of body rubs, I opt for coffee. For the first time I have to fill out a form. The question that stands out is intensity, light medium or hard. I am a man, so am tempted to choose hard, but the inherent Britishness in me shouts “no!” and I opt for the middle path. We are led to changing rooms, where we are told to get naked, this is new. Previously I have always had an item of clothing on to cover blushes. Gowns have been provided thank goodness and we are led to the tables. A large sheet of muselin type material is held up by the masseuse, whilst I on other side of the muselin am instructed to remove the gown! I comply, not checking to see if anyone is peeking. The human-sized sheet of material is draped over me.

The massage table has a head shaped hole which, once I am laying down, I discover has a lovely bucket of lotus flowers floating in water beneath. The masseuse begins applying the coffee rub, quite pleasant. I notice one of the flowers has a discoloration on a petal which looks a little like a teddy bear. It is charming. I am drifting away, oh damn, I am stirring again. Think about tax rates, classic British cars and the Eurozone economic crisis, all is well. This battle of control continues throughout the entire application of body rub. The other disconcerting part of the procedure was the cloth covering. A section of this was brushed aside as the masseuse worked on the exposed area. What was impossible to ascertain was how much skin was exposed as each section was exposed. Did a breath of breeze whisper over an exposed buttock? Recitation of UK dialling codes and their respective areas seems to do the trick.

Once the application has been completed, we shower and return again to the table for the massage. This time a Thai massage. The same dance of the seven veils occurs, eventually I am face down, naked, staring at the teddy bear on the lotus flower petal. She begins, and I rapidly understand that Thai massage is a little more hands on than the Ayurvedic variety I have experienced previously. Whilst working on my back I have been climbed on, knees implanted into my upper things, as she pummels my poor shrieking  muscles to within an inch of their lives.

Upon being flipped over the fun really starts. I really don’t think that my legs are designed to go over there whilst the rest of my body is over here, ah, apparently you’re not listening. One consolation, any stirring in the nether regions have long since left the building. I remember that I chose a medium intensity massage, wondering how this could be any more intense. I imagine you need to sign some sort of life insurance waiver before you start, the masseuse undoubtedly climbs to an upper floor and delivers each phase of the massage by diving hands first into different muscle groups from a third floor balcony.

This all sounds very negative, but in fact I feel much better for all of this (once I had recovered from the shock) and have managed to type this post utilising the two remaining functional parts of my body, my tongue and the little finger of my right hand.     

I will need to clean the keyboard though, it is starting to get sticky.

More soon, dear reader xxx

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