Sunday, May 18, 2014

Big Pain One Two Three! Adventures in Massage

It all started with a birthday present.

Katie’s birthday is April 1st, and this year I purchased Katie a gift certificate for a 1-hour back and neck massage, which cost $50 at a nice hotel here in Mwanza. Because it is a bit pricy for our missionary incomes, we’d never been to this spa, but it was her birthday and I wanted her to have a treat.

Well, even fancy hotels in Tanzania, no matter how nice, still manage to skew the best-laid plans. Katie found some time when she wasn’t busy with her work, and called and made an appointment, as per the manager’s instructions. She arrived at the appointed time, only to be told that they had two walk-ins and that she should just wait an hour or two until they were done.

Not cool.

Long story short: Katie couldn’t wait that long, and she got the manager to agree to give her ANOTHER $50 massage for her troubles! So yesterday morning, Katie called and arranged for her to get her massage at 4pm, and that I could get the free massage at 5pm. Pretty sweet!

We arrived at the hotel right on time, and all the appointments were on the books as scheduled. Katie goes first, I work on my laptop for the hour, looking out over the lake and watching kingfishers dive into the water. Lovely.

At 5pm, I am waiting outside the spa entrance and I see Katie come out with a strange look on her face. She says “I feel fine, but I’m glad that's over.”


Now, we’d heard that this masseuse used a lot of pressure when she worked. Our friend Kristle had been there recently and had told us as much. I was prepared for it, but Katie’s face had me worried a little bit. She said it was good but it hurt. Also, the masseuse didn’t really know any English.

Well, I walk in and am greeted by a little Asain lady in REALLY broken English. She is from Thailand and has been in Mwanza a year. She shows me to the bathroom and tells me to change, basically by pointing to the rack of towels and yelling “CHANGE.” No problem. I strip down, leaving my underwear on, wrap a towel around me, and walk out into the room.

The masseuse immediately laughs at me. Not sure why. It’s not cruel, it’s just odd. I smile and ask if I wasn’t supposed to have take my clothes off. She smiles and points to the massage table. I climb up, keeping the towel around me as I lay down on my stomach.

She immediately rips the towel off, and there we are, staring at each other, her smiling, me in my underwear. I just laugh. We laugh together, in fact. Then she puts the towel over me and the massage begins.

The massage is not bad at all. She clearly knows what she is doing. But she gets to my neck and starts saying “NO GOOD. BAD. BIG PAIN. BIG PAIN.”

I would like to point out that I am not making fun of the way Asians speak. But I am trying to convey how bizarre and nonsensical this lady was sounding to me and she was talking with me.

NO GOOD. BIG PAIN.” I assume she has seen that a week ago I got a very bad sunburn on my neck because I am dumb and live by the Equator and forget to use sunscreen. My neck was peeling a bit. She stops massaging me and reaches under the table and brings up a wooden spoon.

THIS GOOD. YES? VIY KG K VGV G KGV” because I honestly couldn’t understand what she was saying.

“Sure. OK.” I say, and she starts rubbing my neck with the spoon. HARD. REPEATEDLY. And it HURT. She is just going to town on my neck. I tell her I need less pressure, that it was hurting too much (especially on the sunburn!). She says “BIG PAIN ONE TWO THREE IT GOOD!!! NO BAD! BIG PAIN ONE TWO THREE!!” And then she starts working down the back. I assume she is just exfoliating the hell out of my skin. She starts on the other side, first with the neck, then down my back again.

She finishes, and says “VERY BAD! VERY BAD. IT’S GOOD! COME COME!” She motions me to a mirror, but as she walks off, she pulls off the towel, so there I am in my underwear, walking across the room. She hands me the towel again, I cover myself up, then she points to my back and says “VERY BAD. BIG PAIN ONE TWO THREE DAY. THEN GOOD.” And this is what I see:

Holy hell! WTF DID SHE DO TO ME?! All I could do was laugh. Kinda maniacally. And she laughed with me! So there I am I’m all blistered and bruised standing in my underwear laughing with a little Thai lady.

I have since learned that this is a technique called Gua Sha, a Chinese traditional method of alleviating pains and illnesses. And no point was this explained to me, nor was it listed as part of the deal. I’m not much into these types of traditional healing methods (I’m skeptical) and I likely would have passed on it had I known. But you can’t unring a bell, so there it is. Gua Sha.

The rest of the massage was quite nice, although she was very rough. Lots of pressure on her part, lots of grinding of teeth and holding of breathe on my part. We made small talk (VERY small talk) and she kept smacking me and telling me to relax, then laughing. Honestly, she laughed the whole time, which COULD have been creepy, but actually kept the mood just light enough to where it was amusing and not so uncomfortable.

And then she laughed at my penis.

OK, this is purely speculation, but I’m pretty sure she laughed at my manhood, like, THREE TIMES. So, the whole massage was surreal, and I had a bit of a smirk on my face the whole time. She kept saying “WHY YOU SMILE? SMILE?” and laughing. She was working on my right arm, when suddenly she pointed to my crotch and said something like “HA HA YOU HAPPY. SMILE!

Let me be clear, there was nothing to laugh at at that moment, and I wasn’t actually “happy” at all. I just smiled and sort of laughed and then she kept going.

Did she just laugh at my penis?” I lay there thinking. “Did she just make a boner comment? Surely she didn’t.

Then a few minutes later, she say “YOU SMILE. YOU HAPPY!” and pointed in the general direction of my crotch again, and then started lifting her arm up, up, up like... well, you know.

At this point, I thought, “Is she propositioning me?” But nothing in her behavior indicated this. I think she just thought I was, I don’t know, giving her a sincere compliment. But I was not. NOTHING DOING DOWN THERE. For real, y’all.

Finally, she finished the massage, I get dressed, she serves me tea, I sign her book, and I’m done. I walked out to find Katie with the same strange look on her face.

“How was it?” she asks.

“Strange...wait until you see my back!” I say.

“Oh, I know. I just didn’t want to scare you off...” And then she showed me hers.

Needless, to say, we both had an unexpected adventure today.

But only one of us had their junk laughed at.

UPDATE: A friend of mine who works as a massage therapist and specializes in more traditional methods told me that this technique shouldn't have hurt like it did. More importantly, she confirmed my suspicions that I was indeed being offered the infamous "happy ending." Hence, the crotch pointing and repetition of "Happy?" Needless to say, no special services were received that day, but regardless of her offer, she could have given me no happier ending than when she stopped dragging that damn spoon across my back.