Wednesday, October 14, 2009

That Time I Was In Asia: Massage in the First Degree

In the few short, hot hours we had been there, Hanoi had managed to effectively put us in our place as Westerners far, far from home. Fine. I'm no ethnocentrist. There's no better or worse – just different. Granted their different is objectively more nauseating than the Omaha Beach scene in Saving Private Ryan, but still – no judgments here.

So instead of retreating to our hotel, we decide to shake off the E. coli from lunch and walk down a block to a massage parlor that our taxi driver had pointed out to us on our drive in from the airport. (Wow, I never realized how seedy that was until I wrote it out.)

We walk in the front door and are met by three exuberant Vietnamese women dressed in brightly colored uniforms. We say massage. They say massage. It's pretty clear we're there for massages. We're led through a curtain, up a set of stairs, and into separate rooms.

The set-up is less what you might expect from a spa and more like a cleaned-out storage closet. There's no towel or slippers – just a table with a comically baggy pair of cotton shorts laid out. Through some not-altogether-internationally-recognized hand gestures, it is agreed that I will take off all my clothes, put on the skorts, and lay facedown on the table.

My escort leaves the room. Suddenly, I catch a whiff of excitement (which looking back may have also been terror or food poisoning). I'm getting a massage in Vietnam. It's all gone by so quickly that I've hardly had the time to digest that I am halfway around the world. This wanderlust, combined with severe jet lag and the perpetual state of confusion caused by not understanding a word of what is being said around you, is my only excuse for the piss poor judgment Brooke and I have shown thus far – including our choice of massage parlors.

The masseuse comes in and, with a swiftness that can only be described as catlike, jumps up on the table and sits on the back of my thighs. Then she cracks her knuckles and starts hitting me. Hard. Initially I'm concerned – not unusual when someone smacks you as hard as they can. But since she's doing it with her hands formed into some kind of dual-fisted karate chop, and the blows are producing this unique hollow cupping noise, I assume she must be using an ancient Vietnamese technique designed to release my chakra. (This traditional massage beating would prove to be a common occurrence, leading to the creation of our second vacation game, "Crime or Cultural Norm.")

It goes on like this for a while, her hitting various parts of my body; me resisting the urge to defend myself. Things almost boil over when she is massaging the back of my legs and, as she runs her hand up my skorts (without the least hint of modesty) half her hand swipes clear up my unclenched butt crack. I lift my head off the table with a start but quickly compose myself. Be cool, Dan! Be traditional!

Finally she tells me to roll over and, while straddling my shins, starts tickling my kneecaps. Now I admit, in hindsight this is where I should have known that something was wrong.* But at the time all I could think was "Who am I to question the ancient art of Far East massage? Maybe all those Western massages I've gotten are just pale imitations, like a shot of Starbucks espresso compared to a café in Florence. You know, you can't go off to the other side of the world with a closed mind and expect to come away with a broader perspective, educated worldview, or any of the things you were hoping to find when you planned this trip in the first place. That would be the height of ignorance."

Unfortunately, by the time I'm done thinking all this the masseuse is unabashedly cupping my balls. "That's not very traditional," I think as she continues coming on with the aggressiveness of a summer camp counselor. As she reaches over for the bottle of massage oil while leaving one hand firmly ensconced on my genitals, I sit up and start saying "No" in as many internationally recognized ways possible. A wave of confusion comes over her, and if facial expressions could be translated into words, I'm pretty sure our conversation would have gone something like:

Her: "Are you sure you don't want me to jerk you off? I believe in America they call it a "happy ending," and it is quite popular, especially as a humorous nod towards perceived Asian customs."

Me: "While you seem like a very nice girl with a surprisingly strong grip, my girlfriend is right next door and she frowns upon other women fondling me, whether paid for or not."

After a longer amount of time than it should take for someone to remove their hand from underneath your baggy cotton shorts, she climbs off the table and leaves the room. I get dressed, find Brooke sitting in a bizarre waiting room with two Vietnamese women staring at her, and say, "Let's go."

We silently put our shoes back on, pay, and hurry outside. I am the first to speak.

Me: "We need to regroup."
Brooke: "Definitely."


Brooke: (hesitantly) "Did she hit you?"
Me: "Hard. And she touched my privates."
Brooke: "She just kept whacking my head like she was mad at me."
Me: "At least it only cost $11."
Brooke: "True. You can't put a price tag on being beaten and molested."

* Brooke would later modify this experience into the educational game "Massage or Molestation" where she would touch a part of my body and I would have to determine whether it was the good kind of massage or the bad kind. Either I have a ton of erogenous zones, or this game was tougher than it sounds.


Blogger DevilsHeaven said...

OMG, I can just picture it. You try to be open minded, like I was when I got a pedicure in Egypt. A $300 Egyptian dollars pedicure that consisted of an office chair and one of those portable heated foot baths that you can buy at Bed Bath & Beyond. No heated massage chair. No heated whirl pool foot bath. No flat screen TV tuned to Judge Joe Brown.
But in the end, you realize that we just have it better here. As they pointed out to us, we're spoiled.
I'll take spoiled, thank you very much.
*my word verification? "Chestful" how appropriate.

October 14, 2009 at 2:43:00 PM EDT  
Anonymous Megan M said...

Wow, I kind of thought "happy endings" were just a myth or a cover up for something else (aside from a massage parlor I mean)....

Guess I am wrong.

October 14, 2009 at 3:20:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Liz said...

This story is the best thing to happen to my day so far.

October 14, 2009 at 3:26:00 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, I must stop reading your blog while at work before my co-workers think that I have nothing better to do than sit at my desk and laugh.

Oh, wait...there is nothing better to do while at work.

October 14, 2009 at 4:24:00 PM EDT  
Blogger deezee said...

I second the person who previously suggested you become a travel writer. Far too funny.

October 14, 2009 at 6:35:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Allison Hatfield said...

to die to die to die. what a treat these stories are

October 14, 2009 at 10:04:00 PM EDT  
Blogger [mother] said...

"Crime or Cultural Norm" - I spit my coffee across the counter.

Although I would never consider a trip to southeast Asia a fun time of discovery and cultural education, I do wish I could have been a fly on the wall following the two of you around. Of course, not for the massages. That's just creepy.

October 15, 2009 at 7:33:00 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It was all gold. But "We need to regroup" put it over the top.

October 15, 2009 at 8:54:00 AM EDT  
Blogger headbang8 said...

When I was in Bangkok, I once got a happy ending to a haircut. True.

October 15, 2009 at 9:22:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Jillian said...

Many a harder man has been humbled in South East Asia.

October 15, 2009 at 11:43:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Charlotte said...

Along with Anonymous, I need to stop reading your blog at work... choking down my laughter just gets too painful... one of your best posts to date!

October 15, 2009 at 3:00:00 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not sure how I missed this part of the 'vacation'.

*dies laughing*

October 19, 2009 at 5:13:00 PM EDT  
Anonymous vanillaice said...

I'll take spoiled, thank you very much.I do wish I could have been a fly on the wall following the two of you around.I need to stop reading your blog at work.

Women's Health

April 19, 2010 at 3:07:00 AM EDT  
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