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Price of Pleasure

Massage tip #1: don’t ever ask a Thai masseuse for a strong massage.

I consider myself an expert, a connoisseur, of massages in Southeast Asia. I’ve had about 100 massages in this part of the world – on the beach, in fancy hotels, down back alleys, from blind masseuses, women in lingerie, in Bali, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Thailand. And my absolute favorite are Thai massages.

In the United States, massage therapists use their fingers, hands and sometimes their elbows. But here in Thailand, they also use their forearms, knees, shins, and feet. Their foot is bracing your thigh while they’re leaning back and pulling on your calf. They get into each and every crevice, frequently I have to open my eyes and see what contortionist trick they are employing this time. It’s amazing.

I’m still on Koh Mook, Thailand, a small island with only one massage business (usually there are hundreds of masseuses in Thai cities). They have three open-air massage huts on the beach, and since they have a corner on the market it’s almost double the going rate at $11 an hour. I walk up to the desk and ask for a Thai massage. She calls over to another woman who approaches me. My usual strategy is to seek an older, thicker woman, and always steer clear of the inexperienced 18-25 year olds weighing under 100 pounds (in Vietnam, most of the masseuses match this description). This masseuse looks a bit green to me, so on the recommendation of a friend, I ask for Cat, telling her I want a strong massage. The receptionist tells me she is Cat, looks me up and down, sizing me up, shakes her head as if I can’t handle her and insists on the other woman.

It turns out Meow is an amazing masseuse and really works on my frozen shoulder. She clucks in sympathy when I occasionally grimace in pain from my shoulder. A few days later, I return and ask for Meow again. By the end of the second massage, Meow tells me if my shoulder is still hurting, I should ask for Cat. Finally, I’ve been greenlit to see Cat!

So a few days pass and I return asking for Cat. I’m lying on my back and she starts on my left leg. From her first touch, she is rough and it hurts, and not the good kind of hurt. Usually masseuses ease into it but Cat is immediately manhandling me in unpleasant ways. I grit my teeth, breathe deeply and tell myself this is what I wanted. By the time she gets to my second leg, I realize I’m being silly and there is no way I can enjoy this so meekly ask her to make it a bit softer. Cat immediately laughs, mocking me, repeating my request for a “strong massage!” Not wanting to get on her bad side, I return her laugh and tell her she is too strong for me. She tells me she is not too strong, waggles a single finger at me and softly presses it into my thigh and it hurts like crazy. As she starts working on my frozen shoulder, her cell phone rings and she answers it, cradling it and chatting away. Now she’s really not focused on me while she’s continuing her rough style and I start to yelp in pain. Even after she hangs up the phone, she is digging into my shoulder and I’m screaming and laughing at the same time at the absurdity. Occasionally raising my head to look at the other prospective customers, drooling and telling them not to worry, I have shoulder problems.

The next morning, I wake up and my shoulder really does feel so much better! But I also notice my legs, arms and back are littered with bruises. So I’m taking a break from massages for now. And next time, I’m asking for Meow.



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