What Kind of Massage Is This?
May 10th, 2011

I love massages. I try to get at least one per vacation, often as a way to force myself to take it easy one day so that I don’t end up completely worn out. The one thing I’ve learned in my overseas spa splurges is that every country has a different idea of what a massage entails. Since embarrassing stories about ones self always make for a good laugh for others, I figured I’d share some of my accumulated massage knowledge as a tool for those looking to get a massage while traveling. There were definitely several situations in which I wish I’d known before-hand what to expect. Although then it wouldn’t have made for nearly as good of a story. I’ll save the best one for last, so keep on reading! I’ve divided them by country. You may notice a common theme here….have a good laugh!

 

 

French Polynesia (Tahiti, Bora Bora, Moorea): It’s French by nature, which means that people are generally a bit more relaxed about their bodies and nudity doesn’t seem to phase them as much as it does here in the States. They assume their massage clients feel the same way. If you’ve never had a massage, the general American version allows you to lay under the sheets unless they are massaging that particular body part, and they generally try to keep all parts you’d normally want covered in public covered. Not so in French Polynesia. This was my first experience with a massage outside of the US so needless to say when they started the massage by completely whipping off the sheet that was covering me, I was a little surprised. I recovered, and the massage continued nicely. That is, until the lower body portion of the massage started. Suddenly, I noticed that they were spending an abnormal amount of time massaging my rear-end. By abnormal amount of time, I mean at least a quarter of the massage which would be a good 15 minutes or so – to the point where it was slightly unnerving, especially since I had absolutely nothing covering me at this point. I’m generally quite comfortable getting massages, but there are certain parts I expect to be focused on, and certain parts I do not. Moral of the story – if you’re going to French Polynesia and plan on getting a massage, get the gym and brush on your lunges and squats before you go.

 

 

Brazil: I got a massage in a Cabana by the pool at my resort on the Costa de Saupe, Brazil. When they said a cabana massage, I assumed it was a closed, or at least semi-closed Cabana. Instead I got a big picture window, right at table level, where everyone walking to the pool passed. So while my Polynesian massage should have served as a warning, I figured they surely weren’t going to follow suit here in a semi-open cabana by the pool guests (at least my Polynesian massage was in a closed room). I guessed wrong. At the point where this got interesting, they had me lying there face down with no sheet to cover me, right by the large cabana window. I was uneasy, but figured there must be something about the window that prevented people from looking in. That is until a family walked by my window, peered in, and exclaimed “oh a massage, that looks nice!”. For the rest of the massage, I closed my eyes and pretended that I was covered by the sheet and that there wasn’t giant a window where everyone could see me. Moral: if you’re a little afraid for your dignity, carefully choose your massage in Brazil. (For a reference of just how many people could view my massage here at the pool,  see the picture below)

 

 

Thailand: I didn’t research Thai massages much in advance. Ok, I didn’t research them at all. I assumed the procedure was somewhat similar to other massages, and since every other foreign massage I’d gotten had been pretty “no holds bar”, I didn’t see why Thailand would be much different. Now, if you’ve ever had a Thai massage, you know that the masseuse basically performs yoga to your body while you lie there wondering how your joints and muscles actually bend like that. They sit and stand on top of you, pull your limbs every which way. It is not a gentle massage to say the least, and I have to say, I was wondering how much the sheet covering me was actually able to conceal during this process. A Thai massages feels good, but it’s not for the weak of heart, or flexibility. This time, the embarrassment didn’t come until well after the massage. I was comparing massage notes to the other travelers in my group and said something about changing before my massage. All of my fellow travelers turned, confused, and asked “you got undressed for your massage?”. Apparently, this is not the tradition for Thai massages! They’d all been fully clothed for their massages. Oops! Guess the sheet wasn’t doing much after all! Some masseuse got a great laugh at my expense. Well, you know the moral to this one.

 

Korea: Ok, I told you I’d save the best for last. It’s better if you can hear me tell it in person with hand gestures (I’m Sicilian, after all), but it’s entertaining none the less. First, let me say that a Korean massage is really a misnomer, there’s not much about it that resembles a massage, at least in my experience Here’s how it went down. The nice Korean lady who escorted me into the locker room, gave me a robe and instructed me to change into it… while standing less than a foot from me and looking at me the whole time. Ok, I’ve been in gym locker rooms and I can handle that, but generally people aren’t actually watching you change. Little did I know this was the least of my embarrassment to come. She then brought me upstairs and to a lobby-like area and told me take my robe off (remember, I had on just the robe at the this point) and hang it on the hook. Now this was getting a bit odd. I asked for a towel to cover up and she laughed, but then handed me a towel the size of a postage stamp. I next was lead into a room with a giant heated pool. A naked heated pool. By which I mean everyone in the pool was naked, just to be completely clear. There were showers along the wall, and I was told to take a shower and wash my hair. Again, with the woman standing right next to me and watching. At this point, I figured, what the hell and did as instructed. I was then taken to a table behind a half wall. By half wall, I mean that it was basically only as high as the massage table and all the women in the naked pool could completely see me. At least they were naked to. I guess that makes it less awkward? In Korea, apparently, they don’t even give you the guise of having a sheet over you that they then take off. They just lie you down on the table, face up. I next got a mud mask, so at this point I couldn’t see anything for the rest of the massage. Which looking back, I’m kind of thankful for. Next thing I know, I’m being vigorously rubbed all over with oil by this woman. After about 15 minutes of this, she tries to turn me over, which was somewhat like trying to catch a greased pig. She finally succeeds and continues the same vigorous oil rubbing on the back of me, while continuously slapping my butt (I’m still not positive what the point of this was). When the naked oil butt slapping rub was finished, she turned me over again, sat me up, and tried to spin me around. Why, I’m not sure. But I was then spinning on the table like a top because of all of the oil. Finally after several rotations I was able to lay back down. She rinsed off the mud mask and because this whole thing wasn’t odd enough already, she washed my hair again. I finally heard her say “time to rinse off”, which at this point I was thinking, thank goodness! Oh, but she didn’t mean I got to rinse off, she meant she was going to rinse me off. After I was finally washed and dried (by her!), I looked over her, and realized – this might have been the most disturbing part of all – that she was wearing just her bra and underwear and had been the whole time she was doing the massage. I have never been more glad to be finished with a massage in my life! I don’t even think there’s a moral needed here. Just know what you’re in for if you get a massage in Korea, or at least at the hotel where I stayed in Seoul!

 

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