The Massage Ladies - 2014
I have ‘massaged my way’ around the world. Not giving them, receiving them, and hence feel I can speak with some authority about something I feel quite religious about.
We come to Bali regularly. Gerald and I have been here this time for two weeks and had a massage almost every day. Bali is the epicentre of many of life’s sensual pleasures, and definitely holds the title, “Queen of Massage”. Hundreds of massage parlours line the streets, pretty girls seated on stools in front of the establishments, handing out brochures with smiles, “You like massage?” (Who doesn’t???) Undoubtedly, some of these parlours offer other sensual delights, but I have never witnessed anything shady. The beach too, is crowded with rough blue painted wooden benches, and hand painted signs, advertising specialties. There are massages of every kind imaginable, and some you cannot, humble premises and luxurious premises, and prices ranging from $5 an hour to $150 an hour.
Putu and Dewi work in a small, well equipped and clean shop, directly opposite our villa, and charge us $6 for an expert massage. We feel we have to leave a hefty tip to try to compensate for this low cost, and they are always so grateful.
The worst massage I ever had was in Lukla, Nepal, after flying from Kathmandu and landing on an airstrip as big as a Band Aid, with a short run way ending in a mountain, onto which motor car tyres had been fastened in case the plane failed to stop. We were heading out on a twelve day trek, and a massage seemed an essential part of my preparation. I went with a girlfriend Barbara, and we lay on dodgy, mildewed beds. It was too cold to snow outside, and unheated inside, and disrobing seemed unwise in such conditions. My masseur had evidently only attended the first of her training classes, or perhaps none at all, as she ineffectually kneaded and tickled, trailing rancid cold oil over my body for almost one interminable hour. We were saved by a fire, yes you heard me, a fire, in the room, after an ancient heater which had been cranked into the room, twenty freezing minutes after our massage began – exploded. Barbara and I leapt naked from our prone positions, covering ourselves with a blanket, whilst men beat out the flames. ‘No harm done’, was the Nepali translation to our flurry of questions. And no explanation either. Later that night, amongst my fellow trekkers and some alcohol fuelled hilarity, I was asked why I never stopped the massage long before the fire. All I can recall was her happiness at massaging me, probably her first paying client.
The most embarrassing massage ever had was Kathmandu. I had been working there for several weeks with a charity I volunteered with for twenty years. I lived with a generous, kind and loving local family, in a small room at the bottom of a large old, cold house. I was tired, very very tired, and very very cold.
I had noticed a very pink building in Thamel, not far from a small hotel I sometimes used to have a shower, (also cold). The sign promised massages, hair washing, facil thredding (an ancient and effective removal of hair with a piece of sewing thread), nail pinting, and toenil pinting too. I was keen. I climbed three floors on a metal staircase precariously nailed to the side of the building, and entered a room filled with plastic flowers and elaborate wrought iron gilt chairs and mirrors and tables, paint now chipped, a red tiled floor, and bubble gum pink walls. An eye watering and overpowering smell of gardenia pervaded the room, and my sinuses started to hum. A large circular rug covered in flowers in hues of the rainbow held centre stage. And there were four women, draped across furniture, all asleep.
Deciding to make a quick exit, I backed away, colliding with a chair, and they were instantly awake, smoothing their hair and clothing, smiling broadly, bowing, namaste-ing, holding my hand. There was no way out, I’m guessing I was their first client in many a day, possibly the first Western woman ever, and I surrendered.
All eyes were on me, a rarity in their midst. I was treated like a Queen – Ma’am Sandra – given a cup of milky tea, was seated on a wobbly gold chair plumped with cushions as they prepared the room, they asked questions about my life and my family, and I asked many about theirs. Ten minutes in, we were all friends, in the way of the Nepali people.
Then I was led to the massage room, and instructed to ‘remove all the clothing, including the inside trousers’ (knickers, I realised). My friends will tell you that I am happiest naked, and will ‘remove all the clothing’ at a moments notice, so this was not that confronting to me. Then the four of them stood and closely observed me undress, with many nods of heads and clucking of tongues, and a running commentary in Nepali which I could not follow. Perhaps I imagined a chuckle or two at my many layers of clothing, or my aging body - perhaps not. Despite a small heater the room was cold, and I could feel my nipples shrivelling, I thought my bum had frozen to the table. They were heating oil, heavily perfumed with gardenia.
Gazing downwards, I saw two of the women, one standing at each foot, and in unison, they grabbed a leg each, spreading them as far apart as the table would allow – even I found this position a trifle intimate, and I protested, asking for a cover. One of the non masseurs brought me a pink facecloth, about nine inches square, and placed it reverently and ineffectually over my pubic area, patting my face with a motherly smile.
The massage began in earnest. This was my first experience of a ‘four handed massage’ and both women massaged my legs simultaneously, with wide sweeping movements, bending low over my body. With each stroke their noses stopped an inch from my exposed and vulnerable nether regions, with their fingertips just brushing my pubic hair before sweeping back towards my feet.
Every now and then, one of them would stop, bring her face close to mine, and loudly ask “You LIKE?” They chattered to me and each other incessantly for the next hour, including the three friends who arrived to see them and were invited in. They sat around me on chairs, offering professional advice on matters of all kinds, drinking tea, and watching the spectacle of me, Australian Woman Having Massage. And they laughed a lot, I prefer to think it was not at me.
It was a moment in life I really got to understand the meaning “Go With the Flow”. I also got a new understanding of the companionship of women. I even let them wash my hair afterwards. A year later, I returned to Nepal and went back, hoping for another afternoon of entertainment and relaxation. The pink building was still there, but the ladies were not.
I like how I feel when I tell this story and I remember those women with affection.