Thai massage is apparently famous, for what exactly I don’t know, but I’m told it’s famous. After having one performed on me, however, I can speculate that the Thai massage is famous for its painfulness.
Until yesterday, I had never had a massage in my life. Whenever I would tell people this I would usually be met with shock, as if I had just told that person that I have never had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. From all reports massages seemed like a rejuvenating experience. People would tell me how relaxed I would feel afterwards, and how my body would feel totally rested and ready to take on anything.
Here in Chiang Mai, you’re either walking by a restaurant or a massage place, so I figured I would lose my massage virginity at some point. Massage is so popular here that there is a massage place built into the public park, and that’s just the place we went to after a morning spent sampling as much food as possible in the open air market.
We weren’t in the park for five minutes before our host, Roberta, asked if we had gotten massages yet. Roberta is Brazilian and has been living in Chiang Mai for six months, so she’s accustomed to the lifestyle here, massages in particular. Our answer was of course no, we hadn’t tried massage yet, so without a second thought she informed us we were going to get massages.
The massage space in the park is open, and faces out so everyone walking by can see you. On the floor are several mattresses and a few Thai women in their forties, waiting for customers, or, as I see it, victims.
Before we could begin Billy and I were both told to change out of our pants and into loose pink capris. I have never worn such ill-fitting pants in my life. The waist was enormous, and had only some dangly strings to tighten things up. Billy had no issue figuring out how to charm these pink pants, for moments after stepping into the bathroom to change he came right back out to hushed laughter from the staff, looking like MC Hammer in the midst of a pink phase, replete with a charcoal-grey button down shirt.
The massages were well underway by the time I came out of the bathroom, hoping to God that I had tied the strings tight enough so the entire park wouldn’t see what boxers I decided to wear that day. I lay down on the mattress and tried to imitate Billy’s serene expression while a complete stranger fondled my toes. I couldn’t do it, and just ended up staring at ceiling with the dumbest grin on my face.
The initial foot massage tickled, but after five minutes came the pain-zone. This innocent looking middle-aged Thai woman began throwing more elbows than a WWE wrestler. Elbows, perhaps the sharpest bone in the body, we’re being dug into every muscle imaginable. I glanced over again at Billy, who still had on an expression of pure bliss, the bastard. Billy and I did have common ground, however, in that both our masseuses would speak to each other in Thai and then start laughing. Never have I been more acutely aware of my lack of rippling muscles than when she wrangled my arm bones.
Maybe I just needed to relax more, so I closed my eyes and tried to take deep breaths. The funny thing is, though, that it’s hard to take deep breaths when you’re lying on your stomach with an old Thai lady on all fours on your back, kneading into you like a cat that’s just found a nice new scratching bed.
Every new position and muscle brought surprise, the “Oh, I didn’t know that muscle could hurt that much,” kind of surprise. I was told after the fact that you can tell the masseuse if it’s too painful, but if I had done that then no massage would have occurred at all. How, I wondered, do people pay for this procedure weekly? What about this is so great? People, I decided, are suffering from the delusion of massage. It’s a giant placebo effect. One idiot decided it felt good to have a stranger mash his muscles into a pulp, and the everyone else miraculously joined. Or maybe people are just masochists to begin with, who can say?
After the excruciating hour (yes, hour) was over we reconvened in the park. Billy admitted that sometimes the massage hurt, but he wants to do it again bless his heart. I explained that I felt like I had just walked through a car wash, to which Roberta laughed, and said that she had fallen asleep half-way through hers.