“But, I am being very gentle with you” exclaimed the masseuse.
“Define gentle, please. I am adverse to pain, especially when it's my own. Ouch, ouch, ouch.”
“Good grief, and he’s still got the other foot to go with this Oriental Foot Massage”, I pondered lonely amidst the clouds. “I’m so grateful not to be an octopod”.
According to Buddhism, we living beings are trapped in the cycle of existence known as Samsara. In Samsara, we wander aimlessly and experience unbearable suffering, or foot massage as some call it. It was my dubious fortune to have accepted an offer to undergo a variety of ‘treatments’, at a luxury ‘spa’. It was at the top of one of Malaysia’s many mountains within the Titiwangsa Mountain range. The air was cool, the were clouds are aplenty and the venue thronged by myriad people.
The offer was generous. It featured an overnight hotel room, a choice of facilities available from one certain health and treatment company (and their subsidiaries) in exchange for a little writing. As the Americans tend to say, it was, seemingly, a win-win situation. The only, slight, difficulty was, that I am a confirmed, dyed-in-the-wool, none spa-going sort of bloke. I like spas about as much as I like gyms, and for the very same reason - I can’t see their point. I’m not a health nut, fitness freak, a gym rat or bunny. I simply cannot see the purpose of lifting heavy weights, only to put them down again to gain a six-pack while I already have at least twice that. Nor do I see the sense of running ten miles, on the spot, on some contraption and getting nowhere, literally. I don’t do games where spherical objects bounce, or fly, back and forth, or have to be chased after being kicked. Equally I seem to be immune to being anointed with various smelling oils, being poked, prodded and pretending that not only is it doing me good, but I am enjoying it too. That’s just me. Many do like this, and pay copious amounts of money to ‘enjoy’ one of the many processes on offer at any number of spa ‘treatment centres’. I prefer to read a good book.
Ten years before I had been invited, by Malaysian Tourism, to undertake a tour of spas in Perak, Malaysia. I was asked to write about the experience for the magazine Senses of Malaysia. Some spas were located in wondrous settings, some were not. Some had steam baths followed by cold baths, others did not. It was then, during those days of visiting different spas, that I discovered this lack of ‘fit’ between spas, the healthy life, and myself. My experiences left me disinclined to repeat any of the massaging, poking and prodding, even despite the glorious surroundings, the incense and the soothing music. I am, after all, not adverse to soothing music or the odd stick of sandalwood. Ten years later I was willing to put my (many) prejudices aside, and just see what I had been missing.
The ride up to the mountain ‘resort’ was interesting. It was not, quite, the helter-skelter of other Malaysian mountains but a smooth ride, albeit a rapid and windy one. It was pleasant to look out of the speeding car, witnessing rain forest tree tops set against a surprisingly bright blue sky racing by. It was wondrous to see large ferns waving in vague tropical breezes and huge, rainproof, banana leaves, not to mention towering coconut trees and other momentous Malaysian flora constructing attractive green vistas as I swiftly passed. Unfortunately, all this sumptuous scenery simply disappeared as I neared the top of the mountain, some 1700m above sea level, and entered what I could only describe as one huge builder’s site. This vista, coupled with being amongst the clouds, with mist everywhere, rendered a distinct lack of view which continued into the copious concrete underground car-parking space.
Maybe this was the management’s cunning plan; to bore visitors to near death with drab concrete and ugly renovations and then, as they exit the car park, astound them with towering, bright, red, Chinese dogs (wearing sunglasses) and assail those visitors’ auditory senses with fairground cacophony. The immeasurable mall projected a Blade Runner ambience (without the rain), tinged with a soupçon of Disney world. The immensity of giant digital displays were due to reach their fullest potential at Chinese New Year, but they were doing a damn fine job of impressing me right then and there.‘Venerated Michael’ gave way to scenes of rain forest, which disappeared to promote a plethora of red gearing up for Chinese New Year. The mall was massive and so were the displays. Within the mall there was this World, and that World all vying for children’s attention, while myriad shops and restaurants teased, and delighted, the adults just as much. Several floors up of this materialistic consumerism and I had reached, not just the end of my tether, but my destination.
Aromatic (and this was a word I was to hear oft time repeated on this journey) Ginger tea was proffered, and consumed whilst I sat and decided which of the many ‘treatments’ I should sample. I had, effectively, one day (split into two halves) in which to get to grips with this spa experience. I was determined to do it justice, as per my brief.
I began at the top. I had a haircut. I say haircut, it was more a hair sculpting. The process was congenial, pleasant even. My raggle taggle mop of wild vines were slowly transformed into something vaguely human, shapely even, under the hands of a very gentle, comely, young Chinese woman. My hair washed, cut and washed again and I was positively glowing. It was “not a bad start”, I thought, ogling myself as much as possible in the mirrors.
|Steam Foot Bath|
“Mmmmmm, er, mm, mmmmm”
“Is everything alright’ inquired Jon, we’ll call him Jon (the male masseuse) though it wasn’t his name.
“Eer, it’s a bit painful.”
“Do you want me to stop.”
I desperately wanted to say a resounding ‘YES”, but didn’t want to appear to be a wimp.
“Hmm, no, that’s alright”
“Are you sure.”
Again a pause for thought.
I wasn’t sure, and I wasn’t alright. Jon had managed to find every single pressure-point on my lower legs, the soles of my feet, and even on my toes. I grumbled about his obviously being trained by the CIA and my expecting ‘waterboarding’ next, but Jon declined to understand. I was probably the most reluctant customer he had ever had to deal with as I mumbled and squirmed. Jon, with his deadly kung fu hands, continued to discover my bodily weaknesses. I continued squirming, edging away from the source of my pain the best that I could, but my foot was being firmly gripped in a proverbial vice-like grip. Jon had his head down but, just for a moment I had the sense that he was actually enjoying my discomfiture. And, then, it was over.
The next morning, there I was again, sharp at opening time (10am).
This time, my feet were treated to a bath in a porcelain foot bath. That was before I was ushered into the ‘Quiet Zone’, through doors which, most effectively, cancelled the sounds from the mall. There was the obligatory incense curling its ‘aromatic’ smoke into the room, and a small candle with a very romantic flame. I was asked to undress, and then to lay prone. Once again I felt Jon’s sturdy, but decidedly unromantic, hands on my torso. There is little to say about this performance, except that it was a repeat of what happened on my lower legs, feet and toes, but this time on my body. I still felt every single pressure point. I felt the pain as Jon screwed his knuckles into them, felt momentary relief when he paused, and so on for the next hour. I would have described this as the most exquisite torture, only there was nothing even vaguely exquisite about it, just torture. At one point I was asked to lay supine (on my back). Jon placed a small, cool, ‘aromatic’ rice-filled lavender pillow over my eyes, and kneaded my temples with peppermint oil. This time the ‘treatment’ flew by and, before I knew it, it was finished.
I rested. Ginger tea was brought and drank.
I became curious about the black, standing, contraptions, near the front of the shop lot. “They’re On Site Chair Massage machines, used for walk-in customers.”, I was told. “Would you like to try one?”. We have a saying in England - ‘in for a penny, in for a pound’, which basically means once I had started these treatments, I had committed myself to their completion. Again, I said yes.
The experience of sitting, leaning forward into the machine fully clothed, and being pushed and poked again by Jon, was just as painful as the two other times. This time, like the infamous Dutch lager ad., I felt the massage refreshing the parts other massages cannot reach. Could it be “Ouch” that I “Ouch” was actually beginning to enjoy these massages. Surely not.
|Gearing up for CNY|