Receiving a professional massage is one of the purest pleasures in life.
In Canada, I had massages about once per week. A friend of mine was my masseuse; she was able to get my brick wall of a back to loosen up. I may appear easy-going, but I'm wound up tighter than a snare drum.
Yet for all my time in Hong Kong, I hadn't gone for massage therapy. Until last night.
Mabel booked us for a session. I was looking forward to it, but at the same time, visions of a sleazy little back alley parlour clouded my mind. God knew what we'd find when we arrived, but being intrepid explorers, we set out to discover massage, Hong Kong-style.
After being buzzed in at the door, we climbed the stairs to the first floor shop known as Oasis.
Standing in the doorway and wearing a big smile was Isobelle. Yes, that's how she spells it. After a warm greeting, she ushered us into a small foyer. It contained six comfortable rattan chairs complete with cushions, lumbar pillows and matching footrests. We sat and put up our feet while she served tea.
Any feelings of disquiet I had were gone; this was a professional business. We discussed their services to decide what we wanted. Mabel opted for a 45-minute foot reflexology massage, followed by a 45-minute body massage. I went for a 90-minute body massage.
I was invited into the massage area: a curtained-off room with two massage tables. The lights were low and soothing. I was introduced to Jenny, who motioned for me to get ready.
In Canada, I used to completely disrobe, lay face down under a sheet and then call my friend into the room. But here, the curtain wasn't closed; Isobelle and Jenny moved in and out of the room.
Zero privacy. On the table were two towels, one to lay on, and one I presumed I was to wrap around myself.
Being modest, I shucked off my clothes but not my boxer briefs. I wasn't about to expose myself to two Chinese women, no matter how many naked men they may have seen in their careers. When I planted myself face-down on the table, the fun began.
Jenny began working on my back. The knots in my upper trapezius muscles gave her a lot of work. She used oil and hot, moist towels to loosen me up. As she worked her way down my back with her strong hands, I relaxed and soaked up the atmosphere.
I noticed soft jazz music playing in the background. I recognised one of the tunes: Let's Call The Whole Thing Off. You know the one: You say tomato, I say tomahto, let's call the whole thing off...
Weird choice of music.
When you're face down on a massage table, there isn't much to see. You can, however, hear and feel movement: Jenny was all over the place. I felt her climb onto the table, straddling me.
This was new.
What in the world was she up to? I felt her rise up, and then she kneeled on my lower back, digging in with her knees. A few minutes later, she stood up. I thought she was going to walk on my back, which I'm accustomed to; I have Mabel do it all the time.
I was unprepared when Jenny placed a foot on the back of my thigh, just below my butt, and stepped up. She walked on my thighs, from my butt down to my knees. It didn't hurt, but it felt strange; it was relaxing.
After a few minutes she climbed down. More hot towels were draped over my thighs while she worked on my calves, which were in dire need of work. Even my Achilles tendons got a good kneading.
To finish my back side, Jenny worked on my backside.
Yep, even my butt got massaged.
It was wonderful, because I'd once crushed my tailbone in a snowboarding accident. Since then, the area where the lower back meets the gluteus maximus is often taut. I wasn't uncomfortable with her manipulations.
The only thing out of place was the music. It was set to repeat, and again I heard Let's Call The Whole Thing Off. I wished for a different CD.
When Jenny was done, she had me turn over. Sitting at the head of the table, she worked on my head. She used gentle pressure on the nerves at the inner corners of my eyes, then moved up the forehead, kneading the muscles and nerve endings in a path toward the top of the skull. She rubbed my temples and even my ears, followed by attention to the neck and shoulders, flushing out the tension.
When I thought Jenny was about to finish, she continued. Her hands massaged my chest, stomach and hips. That was followed by more hot towels, and then attention to my quads, which was exquisite. She even worked the muscles along the shins.
As she moved her way back up, she bent each leg out and kneaded the calf and inner thigh. For the final touch, she pressed into the groin and hip flexors, taking care not to disturb the package.
A third spin of Let's Call The Whole Thing Off played; it was starting to bug me. By that time, Mabel was on the other table as Isobelle gave her a massage. Isobelle asked if I wanted Jenny to continue. I said yes. Please.
This time, she paid particular attention to my forearms, wrists, and hands, which were in need of therapy from overuse at the computer. She popped the muscles and stretched the joints. My hands hadn't felt that good in years.
This was a true total body massage.
Jenny finally packed it in; I wore her out. I reclined and watched Mabel as she enjoyed her session.
When we left, we vowed we'd be back.
But next time, I'm bringing Eden by Sarah Brightman, because if I have to listen to that other song one more time, I will call the whole thing off.
September 10, 2000
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