Alright, I’m back in Australia now, but I suppose for coherency’s sake I should give a brief summary of Bangkok.
Bangkok is fine; it’s entry level, as far as Asian cities go. It’s cleaner than Delhi, smaller than Mumbai, slower than Hanoi, and less pretty than Ho Chi Minh. But it parties hard, and that’s pretty much all I did with my time there. I met a bunch of amiable folks in the hostel and spent five or six days lazily exploring the city, battling against the atrocious humidity. I visited the Grand Palace and the Golden Mount, and watched monks in orange robes chanting and sweeping and banging gongs. I rode the waterbus around the city, took a couple of motorbike taxis, and ate several metric tons of Thai curry, which invariably blew my head off.
Every evening was the same – hostel workers would jangle from room to room clutching bottles of rum, tipping everyone’s heads back for shots. I’d change out of my sweat-drenched day clothes and put on a slightly less smelly shirt, then head down to the bar area for drinking games. Some people were cool, some people were not. I have never seen so many topless males in snapbacks and sunglasses. Everybody was calling each other ‘brother’ for some reason, and there was a lot of naked back slapping amid intermittent threats of casual violence.
But anyway, I had my fun. I saw ladyboys, they were very pretty. One of them grabbed at my penis through my jeans one evening, which was a new cultural experience. At the red light district Soi Cowboy I sat and drank with friends on a couple of evenings and watched scores of pot-bellied white men in sky-blue polo shirts and board shirts, all duel-wielding young Thai girls who gazed up at them with immaculately-executed looks of complete adoration. I definitely passed judgement at first, heavily, until a friend reminded me that we don’t know any of their stories. Perhaps that sunburned man in the Bart Simpson t-shirt had never been loved. Perhaps he had lost his wife ten years prior and never felt a lover’s touch since. Who knows?
I got a massage one day. I’ve never had a massage before in my life; the idea of paying for a stranger’s lubed-up hands to caress my nude body doesn’t really appeal to me. A lot of the guys in the hostel had already been for ‘massages’, and their stories unvaryingly ended with them having their dicks fondled against their will. Or at least, against their will initially. I’m extremely anti paying for sex for a myriad of reasons, and I was terrified that my massage would degenerate into my sprinting in horror around a massage parlour with my bouncing genitalia being snatched at by a little old Thai woman. But I was in Thailand, possibly for the only time, and by golly I’d be damned if I wasn’t going to leave without experiencing my first massage.
Around the block from my hostel I found a reputable-looking establishment with a modern, shiny exterior and lots of golden statues and incense sticks in the lobby. I told the girl on reception that I’d never had a massage before and she recommended me the oil massage as opposed to the Thai massage, which she described to me as ‘like Muay Thai’. No thank you. I took a seat and sipped a tea until a young girl beckoned me to follow her upstairs. For what is meant to be an enjoyable and relaxing experience, I felt horribly on edge.
I showered in a little bathroom and wandered into the massage room, which to my dismay wasn’t some lovely open-plan garden but a low-lit room with no escape route. The girl told me to change into my towel and left me alone for several minutes, during which time I stripped down but kept my boxers on to discourage any roaming hands. She re-entered, and gestured towards the massage table.
She nodded at the table.
“What? Should I lie down?”
“On my front?”
“I don’t bloody know, do I?”
The words slipped out before I could catch them and ensured a stony silence from then on. I lay on my front and felt dreadfully exposed, despite the towel over my midriff and the secret underpants that lay beneath. She began to knead my feet, calves and thighs, while I struggled to find a comfortable angle to rest my head at. I remember wondering what the hell was so relaxing about massages. I’d much sooner take a nap or read a book or have a pint or do just about bloody anything than get an angry massage in a gloomy den with a locked door.
She moved up to my shoulders and did weird shit with my arms that made me wince in pain. Apparently they stop the bloodflow or increase it or something like that. It felt as though my forearm was on fire, and again, I wondered why the hell I was bothering. She then wrestled some horrible knots out of my shoulders, a process which felt akin to someone rolling marbles around beneath your skin. One side of the room was a wall-to-wall mirror, which meant that I could periodically sneak glances at whatever madness was transpiring out of my field of vision. Each time I looked, I found that the girl was balanced in some weird, spider-like position over me, digging her elbows and knees into all of my most sensitive areas. And then came the dreaded moment: “Turn over please”.
I grudgingly obliged. I really didn’t want to turn over. I felt like a corpse laid out on a slab in a mortuary, with some stern DCI peering down at my pasty body in an attempt to determine the cause of death. She once more began massaging my legs, slowly working her way up – high, too bloody high. I tried to maintain a placid visage while she moved my legs and arms apart until I was laying spread eagled on the table, helpless and splayed like a bearskin rug – and with the same bewildered expression.
Then she began to massage my belly. What the piss? Nobody in any film I ever saw who got a massage had their fucking belly rubbed. Wasn’t it just meant to be your back and arms and shoulders and stuff? Crack this, relax that, Bob’s your uncle? But no, apparently you have to have your belly rubbed with oil. It didn’t help that I’d had a hefty meal just before, and so to add to my malady of troubles I was now desperately withholding an absolute fart barrage.
And so I lay there, in the dark, sweet smelling room, with a black-clad little Thai woman working both elbows into my bowels, running her hands over my precious body, with some mad flute music playing gaily in the background, all the while tensed up in horror that I was going to get my cock grabbed at any moment. And I began to laugh. I couldn’t help it. The sheer idiocy of lying on a slab pondering quietly if you’re about to be wanked off against your will took hold of me completely. I had to bite my lip and hold my breath to avoid bursting out into fits of giggles. The girl obviously noticed my twisted expression and asked if I was okay.
“Fine,” I croaked, three octaves higher than usual.
She sat back on her haunches and smiled at me sheepishly.
“You want special massage?”
“Oh, ah, it’s okay thank you,” I stuttered.
“Okay,” she smiled, before leaving the room.
I lay staring at the ceiling for perhaps five minutes, wondering where she’d gone. Oh Christ, I realised, what if she’d misunderstood? What if she thought that ‘it’s okay’ meant ‘yeah sure go ahead’? What if she was, right this moment, heading out to summon another girl to come in and grab my penis? A professional sexer? Is that what happens? Do the masseuses leave and tag the sexers in? Oh god no. I don’t want to be sexed. I came in for a relaxing time, I do not want to end the day in a blazing row with a prostitute.
She came back in the room and told me to sit up. We bickered a little because I didn’t have a clue how she wanted me to sit, but eventually she wrestled me into an awkward seated position, with her behind me. She then set about methodically cracking every shitting joint I have, wrestling my head around, twisting me to and fro until every vertebrae snapped and burst and my spinal column felt like a forkful of wet spaghetti. She dug her thumbs into my skull until I saw stars, then ragged me about a bit more and punched me between the shoulder blades a few times.
Then she bonked me on the head one last time for good measure and climbed off.
“All done,” she smiled, then exited without another word.
I felt loose, confused, and slightly violated as I slowly dressed on my own in the dark. I didn’t bother showering the oil off; I just wanted the relative safety of the hostel. I changed back into my clothes, paid the girl on reception, played a little with the small floppy dog that was hanging out in the lobby, stole a fistful of free mints from the counter, and hobbled away into the depths of Bangkok.