Calling Masseur Feelgood
“I bet they have the best pad thai!”
“Is it like the movie The Beach!”
“We should go! No! I love you, man!”
“Oh my god, but did you see Brokedown Palace? Claire Danes was badass.”
“Did you just throw up on my shoe?”
It was during this drunken conversation at a bar in Australia that Jason and Sejul—two friends I had become close with while studying abroad—and I decided we should go to Thailand. So the next day, perhaps still tipsy, we bought our tickets and two days later we were on our way.
What exactly am I going to do in Thailand, I thought to myself, sitting on the plane shortly after takeoff. I realized, sitting there, flipping through a Bangkok tour book, that our drunken conversation was the extent of my knowledge about the country. For a planner like myself, it felt completely alien, but I figured, no, for first time in my life I am going to be spontaneous, even if it kills me. And I hear it can be a dangerous country, so it just may.
Two hours later, we got off the plane and were accosted with the most humid, sweltering heat I had ever felt in my life. I imagined that this is what heart of darkness felt like. We headed into the airport and groaned when the air conditioning hit us as we went through customs. After a quick taxi ride, we were in Bangkok. It was only a matter of time before the exhaustion set in, so we decided to start exploring.
Within five minutes we realized that not only was the city oppressively humid and smelly—many people wore paper hospital masks, which was not reassuring—but it was so incredibly crowded, Times Square on New Year’s Eve seemed spacious by comparison. Within seconds several rickshaw drivers approached us smelling fresh, tourist meat. We decided to go for it—if things got wacky, we could always jump out of the rickshaw Chinese fire drill-style at a stoplight.
“Where you want to go?” the rickshaw driver asked.
“Wat Po, please” I said, pointing to a picture in my guidebook of the largest reclining Buddha in Bangkok. I had tried to cram in a little research on the plane ride, but quickly got overwhelmed with the sheer number of buddhas in the city, which seemed to cover the area like Starbucks stores in the States.
“Okay dokay,” he shouted, taking off before we could negotiate a price.
“But wait! How much?” Sejul yelled, as we all gripped each other and the sides of the rickshaw as he sped off. Sejul was beautiful and petite and exotic with her Indian background, so she often managed to get things done her way.
“I give you special visitor tour!” he said, smiling.
This did not sound promising, but we figured, what the hell. First the driver stopped at a market, replete with every cheap knickknack and piece of crap imaginable. Apparently before everything made in China was dropped off at our ninety-nine cent stores, they made a quick stop here. While there was a Buddha there—a fact that we would soon learn was not surprising—he was not very big and he definitely wasn’t reclining.
“I’m so not paying, and I’m not getting out of this rickshaw,” Jason said, looking frustrated and angry, which was difficult as he was stick thin and wearing a very tight Care Bears T-shirt.
“We want to go to Wat Po,” I said to the driver, the tension apparent in my voice. “Come on guys, let’s just go,” as we started to collect our things.
“Yes! Yes! Wat Po. I take you! You calm down! So many buddhas here. I sorry!”
We settled back into the rickshaw, feeling like we had taken charge but also already exhausted from the 112 degree temperature. We sat back, enjoyed the limited breeze and soon were at our destination.
Except, once again, it wasn’t our destination.
“Ah, this isn’t our buddha. It’s a diamond center, whatever that means,” Sejul exclaimed. “Listen! We don’t have money, okay? We’re poor college students!”
The rickshaw driver's head drooped sadly and the dollar signs in his eyes receded. “Okay dokay, I take you to Wat Po.”
“No, that’s okay,” I said getting out of the rickshaw. “This is bullshit. I’m not being taken advantage of. I’ve only been here for three hours.” I handed the rickshaw driver 100 Baht which equals about $2.88. “Don’t even think of giving me a hard time.” As he was a small man and I was feeling feisty, I was ready for a battle, and arranged myself in my best crouching tiger, hidden monkey pose.
The rickshaw driver screamed something at us I was glad not to understand. Jason glared at him, which strangely did the trick, as he drove away.
“Well, what do you want to do now?” Jason asked.
“How about a massage? Aren't they known for that here?” Sejul said.
“I could use one,” I said, feeling guilty as I had no other ideas as to what we should do. We sat on a curb, clutching our belongings to our chests as I checked in the guidebook. “It says to watch out because a lot of them are brothels.”
“Great” Jason remarked. “Let’s just end up as sex slaves and”—
“It just says we have to be careful, not to be worried that we’ll be sold and bartered. I just don’t want to end up with an STD.”
Sejul checked the map and it turned out that there was a massage place within walking distance. We started along as our spirits lifted with the idea of our awaited bliss. But the parlor was sketchy at best. A woman not only rushed out of the storefront to greet us as we looked in the door, but started to lead us down a back alley. I figure massages, much like abortions, should never be started by leading you to a “special entrance.”
Our search stretched into hours, as parlor after parlor gave us a not-so-fresh feeling.
“This humidity is killing me. It’s like walking through soup,” I said. My hair, which had once been straight was now so curly I couldn't even run my fingers through it. We noticed the outdoor vendors around us covering their wares with plastic, which we found odd as there wasn’t a cloud in the sky.
Two minutes later it started to pour. Not rain so much, as it felt like the world was ending and frogs would soon be falling from the sky. We ran for cover but were already drenched. Five minutes later the rain stopped and the vendors pulled away their plastic as if this was a common occurrence. Apparently we were here during the rainy/typhoon season. The planner side of me cursed the new spontaneous side.
“Well, I’m not hot anymore, but Sej, I think I can see your nipples,” Jason said.
“You’re lucky you’re gay,” she replied. “Where is a freaking legitimate massage parlor in this town?”
We started walking and then we saw it. It looked clean, inviting, and non-brothelly. The Mecca of the non-red light district. When we walked in the front door, they simply welcomed us in. We were ecstatic. A plainly dressed, non-slutty looking Thai woman led us to a clean, good-sized room and told us to strip down and put on our robes, not seeming to care that Jason was a boy. We did so willingly, peeling off our wet layers.
We lay facedown on our strawlike mats and three miniature Thai women entered, chatting away with each other. With little more then a smile in our direction, they got to work molding our backs to their whim, never stopping their discussion. And it was a good thing they kept talking because they drowned out our yodels of happiness.
When I was turned over on my back and the woman started walking to the very top of my inner thigh, I learned I was tense in places I hadn’t even considered. I felt like we should share an after-massage cigarette and maybe spoon. By the time the women were done, the three of us were puddles of relaxation. It literally took everything we had to get back into our soggy clothes.
It had been a strange day but we were finally relaxed. That night we decided to go out and asked the concierge at our rather nice hotel—thanks to the exchange rate—where was a good place to go. We knew the red-light district was questionable, but asked if it would be fun.
“Oh yes, very exciting,” the concierge said.
“Is that good or bad,” Sejul asked.
“Oh, you must see,” he said, winking at Jason.
We decided to take a look anyway. As we walked around the area, we noticed every bar had scantily clad women dancing with what looked like forced abandon. Every time we looked in one of the bars some man would run out and beckon us in.
“I’m not sure if they want us to work there or buy a dance,” Sejul said.
“This feels like the massage experience all over again. Let’s find somewhere to get a drink without the boobies,” Jason said. “I mean, they’re fine to look at if you’re into that, but I’m not paying for them.”
So we continued wandering. We walked out to the open air bars where things were rowdy but the clientele was mixed. We continued to stroll along and take it all in. And then, as we learned was apt to happen on our trip, it started to unexpectedly pour.
We ducked into the first bar with some cover and shook ourselves off. The bar staff was completely mind-numbingly beautiful Thai woman and every single patron was an overweight middle-aged balding white guy.
“Ah, this is weird,” Sejul whispered.
“Yeah, but it’s pouring and I could really use a drink,” I said. I looked over at one of the women behind the bar. “Singha beer?” She nodded and brought it over. The woman and the three of us stared at each other for a while.
“You not from here?” the closest bartender asked, a very pretty, dark haired woman whose clothing looked like it was borrowed from Britney Spear’s tour closet.
“No,” Jason answered. “Vodka tonic, please?”
He opted for a Singha. We stared at each other some more realizing that a conversation would be difficult. And then one of the women leaned down behind the bar and pulled something out, laying it in front of us.
“Jenga?” We looked at each other. The women behind the bar smiled and began to set up the blocks in a tower of the popular Hasbro game and gestured for us to pull out the first piece. It felt like I was reliving my childhood but on acid.
And so, that night we played Jenga. As the game progressed we became friendlier. By the end of the night, we were drunk, the bartender had given us free reign of the music, and the male patrons of the bar left us alone and concentrated on their respective imported lady friends. Outside the rain had stopped but we weren’t ready to leave.
“Weird night, huh?” Jason said.
“Definitely. I like this beer though. Oh, sorry!” Sejul said, trying to steady herself by accidently placing her hand on one of the male patron’s bald heads.
“And unexpected. I had no idea that we spoke the international language of Jenga,” I said. And with that we turned to do a shot of something we hoped wasn’t a date rape drug and began to play another game.