Goddamnmotherfuckingsonofabitch—fuck-me-that-hurts. That’s my response. Under duress. I’m responding to Tom, whom I’ve met on the long end of three minutes earlier. I’m in Lumpini Park, Bangkok, getting in a morning bodyweight workout. He’s there… well, to kick my ass, Thai massage style.
I had been doing lunges and this small man walks by, stops, and does a squat all the way till his butt grazes the grass and yells “Exercise good!” Fortunately, I’ve been doing a lot of squats lately and have almost perfected my Asian Squat. I squat as low as he does and he yells “Good!” and gives me a look of surprise. Farang (along the lines of Gringo in Thai) is in better shape than expected. Showed him, ha.
At this point he motions for me to sit down on the nearby bench, whips out a small container of oil and Tiger Balm (“Tiger Balm! You know?!”), and proceeds to make my trapezius muscles wish they were anywhere but here. At this point I’m swimming a bit; I’m in a country where I can barely communicate, can’t make heads or tails of the alphabet, and know all of two people. Jet lag is still making things a tad surreal and now I have a stranger pressed up against my back, his chin bumping the back of my head, and his forearms and elbows pressing into aforementioned trapezii. I travel to experience new things, and I’m experiencing a new thing.
He finds a knot. Of course he finds a knot, I hold stress in my shoulders and neck. The knot is in my right trapezius and is pretty large, I’m guessing from all the time I spend using the trackpad of my laptop on desks of various incorrect heights. No matter.
“Ahhhhh!” he yells. He always yells that when he finds something that needs massaged, kneaded, rubbed, hammered, crushed, brutalized, massacred. I digress. I’m only inches away, so he’s pretty much yelling in my ear. But I can’t quite hear him; blinding white pain shuffles the auditory response down a notch or two on the priority list. I’m doing yogic belly breathing and trying to mentally work through the pain. It’s almost working.
He then proceeds to stretch out my shoulders and arms, really working my traps. He knows all the pressure points and really digs into them. In about five minutes his forearms land on either side of my neck and I tense up waiting for the pain. Ok, Breathe deep, relax the muscles. It’s gone. No knot. When his forearm presses through my right trap and discovers no knot, he yells “Mmmmm!” It’s loud, he’s loud. I think he might be under the impression, like many people, that when someone doesn’t understand your language, a little volume is just the thing to make things clearer.
He works over my legs and back and I’m like jello. You know that slightly euphoric feeling you get after intense physical exertion? That’s it. After this we attempt to talk and I gather that Tom (Methinks this is a shortened version of a name I probably can’t pronounce. Not yet anyway.) massages Muay Thai fighters at the National Lumpinee Boxing Stadium. He invites me to a fight and a Who’s on First? comedy ensues. I ask him if the fight is today, Thursday, and he says yes. Then he says the fight is tomorrow. I ask if the fight is tomorrow, Friday. He says yes. I pull up Google Translate on my iPhone—a seriously useful app when travelling—and translate the names of both days asking him if the fight is on one, then the other. Yes to both. I’m baffled. He can’t figure out why. From somewhere deep in memory I dredge up that there isn’t singular and plural forms in Thai the way there is in English. I ask him if there is a fight on both Thursday and Friday. He nods. Yes, of course. That’s what I said—I see in his eyes.
At this point our regular, uhh, lexicon, consists of the following:
- No good!
- Tiger Balm
Not very extensive, but it’s getting the job done. We swapped phone numbers and when he called, our conversation went like this:
Jon: Tom! Massage, Park!
Click. He’s a man of few words. Which is good as I don’t understand most of them.
I’ve had massages after three workouts in the park—there’s nothing better. The massages last about 45 minutes and cost $6—apparently, I’m paying him on the high side. But I feel it’s worth it. Where else can you have a Thai masseuse work you over right after your workout, right where you are working out? And in a beautiful park no less?
And, when else am I going to get so much practice shouting?