A Body Massage A Day Keeps The Doctor Away (New Year 1990/91)
At the end of 1990, I wanted to go back to the 'Far East', Taiwan, Philippines, Hong Kong and Thailand. Get away from the North German cold and dark and drizzle for a few weeks.
To put things into the correct perspective, I had been 'cultivating' a slightly messed-up spine for a few years, having tried lots of suggested remedies in Germany – massage, exercise, even a chiropractor's trial-and-error attention. All that had, for the largest part, benefited only the bank accounts of the medical Mafia eh, professionals.
Lugging my suitcase toward Hamburg Airport – December-chilled slightly touchy back muscles straining against 20 kilograms – I managed to pull one of those muscles. The flight to Taiwan via BKK really did nothing to improve the situation. My hotel in Taipei boasted a rather soft comfortable bed – and that somehow delivered the 'coup de grace' to my spinal construction. Impossible to get up in the morning. No go. Hell on wheels. Tried to rise three times, but collapsed crying out with pain.
Somehow I managed to crawl, worm-like on the bed, towards the bedside table and the phone. Called reception, 'I need a doctor, can not get up, bad problem with my back!' Normally I am the kind of bloke to call for a doctor when more reasonable folks would start asking for the services of a priest from their respective church. Well – or not so well – some 30 minutes later reception calls me back (! nice crawl to bedside table again !) to tell me it would be much better that I should go to see a doctor. HOLY CONFUCIUS why could this man not simply confess his command of English was not good enough to really understand the dire urgency of my call for help and the obvious impossibility of ME GOING to the doctor. Whereas I have never had problems even with the kind of English that is spoken in South-East Asia since attending a high school in up-state New York for a year, way back.
Gritting my teeth and muttering curses in several languages I somehow turned onto my stomach, crawled over to grab a bedside table, wormed myself onto that contraption and used it to get my feet down and then straighten up, as far as possible. To pretend that I did not cry out with pain, several times during that process, would be a blatant lie. Getting dressed was another adventure, trying to avoid those invisible ninjas who seemed to be shooting fire arrows into into my back whenever I moved.
About one hour later I made it to the hotel lobby, bent-over and twisted like Victor Hugo's notorious hunchback. Well at least they could get Quasimodo a taxi to a doctor. That doctor spoke beautiful English (American style, from studying in the States) and quickly commented that what passed as my backbone did not seem very well-suited for an upright stance. An X-ray confirmed his views, yet with a pharmaceutical 'blockbuster' injected into the centre of the problem he managed to 'reset' my back's basic functionality. The small heap of pills he handed me for the next days – mere painkillers – quickly found its way into Taipei’s sewers, probably giving some rats a bad case of 'cold turkey' later.
Did a lot of walking and (careful) exercise during the next days. State of my back improved, thank God and Buddha and all Kami for small graces. In the Philippines, I was feeling like I could pass 'Upright Walking 101' again. Right after the military coup attempt, I had been probably the only tourist in Manila, and ended up running into an elderly Pinoy dentist at a down-town Manila McDonald’s. With the result of spending Xmas and New Year with him and his family – three times, but that is another tale altogether, one that will be worth a story of its own. Some days in Hong Kong, and in Bangkok my back seemed to be almost up to SOP again. Enjoyed lots of walking, everywhere.
Somewhere close to Wat Phra Khao I found a pier for the 'water buses', rode along across Chao Phraya river and into the klongs to the terminus somewhere in Thonburi, admiring the people getting off the boat with well-practiced grace, sometimes just gliding up onto rickety small piers. Spectacular sights (scenery, water, houses, people and vegetation). Near the terminus I explored a wat that had probably not seen a farang for at least a year, interesting talk with two monks who spoke pretty good English (I did not speak Thai then). Just a special beautiful afternoon. So far.
Back to the east, to Bangkok. Oh NO, the Thai version of the great migration seemed to be building up, in the direction of Krung Thep. More and more people. Spaces on the boat got smaller and smaller. More passengers still, things were getting REAL crowded. The last half hour I was wedged in there, doubled over and stuck on a tiny hard plank. On top of that, when reaching the river proper the boat started hammering into the wave crests, kicking like a mule. 'Spine to brain: Can not stand this any longer!!! OVER!!!' Only with the help of two friendly Thais seeing my predicament I could get up at all and leave the boat, where I used the ferry's advertising billboard to pull myself upright as far as possible which was not really much.
Slowly crawling along on my hind feet, that is possible. The old horror again. Spotted a taxi, entered it. Somehow, ouch, da…n it, grunted something about 'massage', the cabbie seemed to comprehend and got me there, not far, all right. But it was NOT the 'medical' massage. OK at that moment nothing could faze me and, what the heck, maybe it would help a little.
Somehow I managed to make it clear to the 30-ish 'Body Massage Lady' that I had a 'problem with back', Buddha be thanked. The warmth, her gentle yet firm touch and the surprisingly good massage really worked miracles, brother! Within something like 30 minutes my back was performing at something like '90% within specs' again. Saved by a Body Massage – even at a slightly cheaper rate than the Taiwan doctor with his massive drug shot!
And the whole thingy could almost have had a highly erotic component …
Could have, almost. Just six feet from the massage-mattress a TV set kept blaring along on a small pedestal, displaying a Thai soap opera. Just guess where my charming companion kept looking all the time. And the worst detail was: so every three-four minutes, when I could hear the characters of the opera were really getting into each others hair (could not understand a word but THAT was obvious), then did my graceful lady freeze almost completely (well she probably did not stop breathing!) to better concentrate on the TV. Only when the 'normal' noise and action level resumed she turned her focus – and activity – back to me, a very clear-cut order of precedence. Such is life in Thailand.
Massage is done, I am towelling off, realizing that my back is almost straight again and behaving nicely. Wow, thanks a lot! Then I see the lady turning the TV set around so that it faces the bed – and she asks me whether I would like to enjoy her with or without a condom. 'WITHOUT TV PLEASE!'
Total consternation, 'What is that? Are you a pervert or what?' And in my mind a vivid picture, just imagine we continue right from here, and I am just on the 'countdown for a moon orbit' and then these freaks in the TV show go on another rampage and SHE freezes again for a minute – and I would just shrivel up and perish right there …
OOPS. A bucketful of icy cold water could not have been more devastating. That she did not understand or did not want to understand my misgivings, that only contributed another cold shower to the dismal picture. 'OK. Lady, thx for the back and BYE to you!' Probably just confirmed her 'Farang baba-bobo'-attitude this way, but never in a month of Sundays would I compete in the sack against a brainless TV-show! Told her she could use the remaining time for undisturbed viewing now. Ciau, bella!
Side remark: my wife played basketball in college, and when the girls fell or got hurt otherwise, there were some of them who could 'fix' things real well using traditional Thai massage. Those experts spread their knowledge around, in case they themselves got hurt, and my wife picked up quite a lot. After she had a few 'goes' at my back I have not had any more serious problems over the last twenty years. Nice.
A straight back, upright stance, and NO soap-opera on your countdown, all good wishes from