There are massages where your tired muscles are kneaded into doughy bliss, and you find yourself drifting off to sleep as the rain-forest music plays in the background. Then there are massages where you need to maintain a tight hold on your core body strength, compressing your muscles around your spine, because if you don’t then there’s a good chance one or more limbs will be torn free from their sockets, and your spine will be cracked like a bread-stick.
I recently had one of those, the second kind.
I’m in Thailand with the family this week, enjoying a lazy beach resort holiday. As part of our package, we have some free sessions in the hotel spa. I used one of those sessions on around day three, an “aroma-fusion” massage, which meant the masseuse went easy on me and my moronic sunburn which I’d managed to inflict on myself after only one day in the sun.
As my tender, rare skin faded to a more acceptable medium/well-done, Nicole and I decided to give one of the beach massage services a try. These are not part of the hotel, little shacks offering great value massages. We picked one which was 300 baht for an hour. For context, I’d pay that for a beer in a lot of Sydney bars. How could we not have one of those every day? Or two?
We couldn’t. I soon discovered why.
The massage started well. Nicole and I were face down on a platform built for two, and the masseuses began to work on our backs. Firm pressure, hitting the knots, but overall not too painful. I think my masseuse sensed my complacence, and decided to kick it up a notch. She positioned herself so that her whole body weight was channeled down her arms, through her fingers, and directly into the back of my shoulder. I’m pretty sure my shoulder isn’t supposed to rotate backwards, like some toy action figure. My masseuse — let’s call her She-Hulk — disagreed, and tried to make it so. I could hear tendons straining, muscle fibers snapping. She must have registered my silent weeping, because she let off before she could do any permanent damage.
The worst part about a painful massage is knowing that a terrible symmetry must be achieved. If the masseuse tries to practice some outlawed Twister moves on your limbs, and you survive it, you can’t relax because you know the whole process is about to be repeated on the other side of your body.
After attempting to destroy my other shoulder, and thereby leave me as a disappointing hole in any future Mexican waves, She-Hulk moved down my body to the buttocks area. I thought, I can handle this. There aren’t too many nerve clusters or tendons in my arse, are there? She planted one knee against my right buttock, reached back to grab my foot, and then proceeded to ever so gently massage the back of my head, with my own heel. I think it was a local technique which roughly translates to “screaming broken white man”. What followed was a series of manipulations which must be violating some kind of humanitarian convention.
She-Hulk massaged the front of my legs while I was face-down, because apparently my hips can rotate 180 degrees. Who knew? Maybe I am an action figure. With both feet planted in the middle of my back, she would grab different sets of limbs and then see if she could get them to swap places. At one point I found myself reaching for Nicole’s hand, the way you might grab a fellow passenger’s hand if your plane suddenly goes into an uncontrolled nosedive and you think you’re all about to die.
Then, after the customary double-fisted blows to the back, an uncharacteristically meek voice said, ‘Finish.’ That was it, I survived. I hobbled away from the massage table — I think She-Hulk did manage to sprain my ankle when she tried to knock me down from a size twelve to a nine — thankful to have my life, and about eighty percent use of my legs.
We leave Thailand tomorrow, and I have to admit, I am giving serious thought to another hour-long massage in the hut of pain … because it’s the cost of a freaking beer!