i rolled over in bed. with every muscle in my body yelling out, “stop, you fool! we are not ready to move!” i imagine its the same chorus of pain jared experienced the first time he ran to subway. my muscles weren’t crying from running to a sandwich shop though but from my two hail mary massages that my body begged me to consider.
chinese massage [anmo] // 1. a cultural experience best enjoyed by one with a strong tolerance for pain 2. chinese equivalent of being in the boxing ring with mike tyson
in comparison, they definitely weren’t as physically invasive [unfortunately] as the korean-grandmother-duos who simultaneously massage polar ends of your body and eventually meet in the middle to ensure complete balance of the body and mind AND who will most likely be seated next to st. peter at the pearly gates offering anyone who is lucky enough to pass through a facial and head massage before receiving their heavenly crown.
if you are wondering who might massage you before you enter the depths of lucifer’s flaming home though, the award goes to the newly-single-40-something-abudantly-hairy man from incline village in north lake tahoe who apparently mistook my birthday massage gift as a free hour off of work to play twenty questions with himself. i do wish him the best with his divorce though.
i could go on about massages from around the world: the ridiculously cheap head massage at the night bizarre in siem reap surrounded by mosquitos sucking the blood out of dead carcasses. or the sexy icelandic liam neeson in reykjavik who worked effortlessly to help restore my back from my infamous january 2012 pinched nerve episode. (by far my top 3 massage of all time)
now, bethany, i will add pressure on your spine but tap my arm if it is too much pressure. and if i leave the room, it’s only because my daughter was naive enough to be kidnapped by a foreign man she met at the airport. now, does that feel okay?. – he whispered in that one and only liam neeson whisper
unfortunately for tk, i bring up icelandic liam anytime i ask him to attempt to give me a neck massage.
liam would never have been this lazy! put some effort into it, son!
but then there are chinese massages. a whole new world of using surprising, bruise-inducing measures.
see, in my country of u-to-the-s-to-the-a, if you have a hurt back and need realignment, you go to the chiropractor. if you need an hour of silence [unless you run into mr. chatty kathy in lake tahoe], soft soothing sounds of enya and warm oils to help one take a deep breathe and doze off into the i-only-have-an-hour-to-not-be-stuck-in-reality-that-awaits-me-outside-of-this-room-slumber, then you go get a massage.
i have had two back massages since i have been here. the first from a young man officially deemed #7 by his strict older boss on the fourteenth floor of a twenty-something sky rise. the second was by a young innocent-looking girl deemed #23 in a small establishment at the bottom of my apartment complex…conveniently the same spa that gives employees the opportunity to stare out of the street-facing window and giggle at me while i walk to and fro my home.
he was a shy, young guy who shook like a leaf when he first saw me. as if he had a flashback to that bully on the playground five years ago.
just because i am twice your size doesn’t mean i will hurt you, i wanted to assure him.
in his most daring attempt, he was able to get those two words out “head here” as he pointed to the obvious hole on the top of the bed. before he left the room and before i changed into the pajama set that even 12 year old bethany couldn’t fit into, he readjusted the temperature to reflect a room somewhere between a hot ymca sauna and a summer in new delhi. as soon as he left, i beat the temperature gage down to 20 degrees celsius, slipped under the covers successfully without ripping the pants and waited. and waited. and waited. and waited. eventually, he returned to the room and went to work. he started off by pinching my skin while the quiet tunes of frank sinatra crept in from the next room. immediately, three important realizations came to me that hadn’t until that point: 1) wait, why am i wearing pajamas? 2) is he really going to pinch me through the x-small cotton pajamas for the next hour? 3) do they actually play music besides celine dion christmas? [just to clarify, i adore celine, but i have a moral obligation not to listen to christmas music outside of december]
the next hour was excruciatingly funny. oops, i mean excruciating. and somewhat funny.
he had me blow my nose every time he heard a sniffle. and like a giddy graduate out of chiropractor school, he turned my body into a semi-pro contortionist. meanwhile he still handed me tissues and signaled me again to do the right thing. so i blew my nose again. even when i didn’t have to.
by the end of the hour, #7 had made his strict boss and the medical association proud. he eagerly showed me how i could upgrade to a foot massage or better yet, a massage with oils. wait, that was an option this whole time?
i politely said no and got up from the bed. he then went on to hand me his business card with his name #7 circled. i left quickly, leaving my lukewarm hot tea he brought to me behind.
how did it go? tk asked.
meh, terrible. i will try a new place next week.
i was ecstatic to see that the entrance of our apartment compound was surrounded with both green trees rustling in the wind and spa services lining the street: a nail salon, a full-on gym with yoga, karate and dance classes, a foot bath where i received a foot massage a few days prior (different experience: it was amazing…well for feet only except for the special 2:00 a.m. service for the creepy husband crowd) and of course, another spa where #23 was employed.
i walked in there yesterday hopeful the chinese massage industry would redeem themselves. i made sure to ask for the oil massage before being lead back to a music-less room. #23 made up the bed, told me i could not listen to bon iver during the session and to change out of my clothes. and by quickly asked, i mean she signaled with her head yes, no, here. unlike #7’s two english words, #23 could not speak a lick of it. and in that moment, i was frustrated at one person and one person only: myself.
i am in their country. i need to learn their language.
she shut the door and i undressed. and of course, unlike #7’s long disappearance, she immediately returned to meet me and my naked self. well, okay then.
in an instant, i realized that this young woman who was pushing a 80-85lb frame was no mike tyson. she was mike tyson’s boxing coach. she was the clint eastwood to hilary swank’s million dollar baby. she was the jackie chan everyone else. she was a beast.
not only were her hands made of steel but her lack of oil use was as if she only had sweaty palms from her boxing gloves. what could be worse than getting a pinch massage through cotton pajamas? oh yes, when one has oil on her hands but not enough of it to actually work…this type of massage 101 would make nails against the chalkboard shiver. maybe she is just warming up, i thought. soon i realized that this little petite figure was going to make me cry if i didn’t say something. dangit, why don’t i know mandarin?
finally, i did all that i could to make her stop: i grunted.
not my finest moment to say the least but it did the trick. she quickly responded in chinese and i signaled for her to go softer. it worked! it worked!
for a enjoyable thirty seconds.
that is, until her friend came in to share what i assume was the office gossip. * cue anjela johnson nail salon * once her friend left, so did any memory of her acknowledgement of our grunt-chinese conversation, and her inner beast came out once more.
this time, it was death by pinky claw.
pinky claw // 1. term tk and bethany deem for the awkwardly long fingernail on the outermost finger (i.e. the pinky) on both hands 2. popular amongst cab drivers, old men and others including teeny tiny masseuses 3. purpose unknown
have you ever been to a tepanaki where the chef diced up the flaming onion? do you remember indian burns that your sibling would give you? if you combine those two situations along with the pinky claw, then you can picture the next stage of my massage. in the moment, i couldn’t even speak, cry or even grunt. i laid their frozen from intensity and pain.
she got up on the table.
holy mother of moses, i am done for.
quickly, i tried my best to shift my mental gears. and so the final twenty minutes consisted of what i consider the survivor game. in other words, a way to divert my attention away from the pain. so, i decided to name each one of my knots that she was drilling out with her pinky claw and to think about how that situation was so much harder than this. and honestly, it worked.
that knot is from waiting six months for a visa.
that huge knot are our college loans.
that knot is from boyhood losing the best movie at the oscar.
that knot is from agoraphobia. (more on this later)
that knot is from not knowing how to make lasagna from scratch.
i felt a light tap on my shoulder. it was over with. the clouds had parted, the sun was out. i am a survivor. i said xie-xie, paid my debts and ran home hoping my back would ironically loosen up. i’m going to feel terrible tomorrow, i thought.
how did it go? tk asked.
meh, terrible. i will try a new place next week.
disclaimer: since writing this blog, the chinese gods have redeemed themselves. i had the best massage of my life at the grand hyatt in pudong district. yes, it cost 10x more than the other massages, but it was worth it. and if you want to know what 10x more is, it is still less than an american massage =)