Zen and the art of surviving Balinese massage madness
Greetings from Bali where I’m enjoying my annual flirtation with throwing in my ordinary life to become a yoga-loving, incenseburning, chia seed-growing vegan. Every April when big city life has brought me to the point of combustion I check into a $50-a-night room in Ubud and restore myself with vinyasa, meditation, freshly squeezed watermelon juice and a daily massage.
It’s idyllic: the dawn waft of frangipani as I make my way through the rice paddies to yoga; the coffee steamed with coconut milk; the laughter of the Balinese; the way time seems to take you gently by the hand rather than stab you constantly in the ribs as it does at home.
And then there’s the late afternoon massage. What is supposed to be an hour-long submersion in the sensual turns into a slide show of my neuroses. My mind throws up a million demented thoughts that strafe the karma like a machinegun.
Here’s how my massage madness plays out:
In Bali they offer you a cold drink before your massage. Any beverage below room temperature has the instant effect of making me need to go to the loo. What if I’m being massaged and I suddenly need to leap up to use the toilet? Will that ruin my zen? But what if I don’t take a sip? Will they be offended? Also, I don’t like waste. Will they throw my drink down the sink? Will they think me entitled?
Then there are the oils. Which one should I choose? Never frangipani because there is no essence that’s ever captured the true scent of the flower. Lemongrass? Sandalwood? Bit blokeish. Definitely not lavender since it’ll leave me smelling like the bathroom of a 1970s department store. Don’t they have verbena? The last place had verbena. Why didn’t I go back there? What if this massage isn’t as good as that one? Should I be loyal to one place or share my daily $15 massage allowance around? Actually Amisha has a lovely smile. And her toenails are nice. There’s nothing worse than having your head pressed into the equivalent of a toilet seat and all you can see are your therapist’s gnarled toenails.
But first, the paper underpants. Which way do they go? Will they feel like a nappy? Are they recyclable? Oh FFS just wear them Angela, or leave your own on.
OK, now I’m lying down. Should I call out to Amisha? How does she know I’m ready? Oh no, I haven’t shaved my legs. The poor girl has probably massaged Chrissy Teigen and Lindy Klim this morning and now she has fat, hairy me.
But here she is rubbing my feet with a hot towel. It’s bliss. I’m going to look like Gigi Hadid after this. Or is Bella the pretty one? How crass of me to compare sisters. Are they even sisters? When exactly did I stop knowing this stuff. Am I old?
Mmm, the pressure is a bit light. I need it firmer. How should I tell her? What if she then does it so hard it’s like being struck in the eyes by a spitting cobra. Asking for a stronger massage is akin to saying you want your curry hot then having to struggle through a bowl of chicken steeped in a thousand chillis.
Oh no, I’m going to fart. If I clench my buttocks I might avoid it. But then she might massage my bum thinking it’s where I hold my tension ...
Did I pay that parking ticket before I flew out? What if I didn’t? Will the fine have tripled by the time I return home. I’m an idiot. That’s nice. I love the way she presses her elbows into that crease next to my shoulder blades. Ah, this is what massages are all about.
Except what if Amisha doesn’t get my $15? What if she’s bossed about by a massage pimp who gives her 50c at the end of her shift.
Am I exhibiting cultural superiority by indulging in a massage in the Third World? Although it’s not politically correct to call it the Third World is it? We’re meant to call it a developing country.
Incidentally, what about the Second World? Where is it? Does it exist?
Gosh, she’s getting a bit close to my nipples. Eek. I wonder if men get erections when they have massages?
How do they know if they’re going to be offered happy endings? I wonder if any of my previous boyfriends have taken up the offer. That dodgy Mike may have. God, he was a creep.
I think we’re nearing the end. I think my head is stuck in the hole.
What if they have to bring in three men to break the table to get me out. I should’ve worn my own underpants.
Damn, it’s about to end. She’s squeezing my earlobes. If I was wealthy, forget the Porsche — I’d employ someone to squeeze my earlobes every day.
Now she’s running her fingers through my hair. Did she wash off the oil? Did I bring dry shampoo? Oh sod it, it’s over.
I think that was relaxing. Or was it? I need a cocktail.
“If I was wealthy I’d employ someone to squeeze my earlobes every day