I had no warning, but maybe that’s better. I might have denied myself the cultural experience and physical benefits had I known what was about to happen to me.
You see, recently I started CrossFit, and while that’s a new culture and physically challenging workout in itself, it was the effects of CrossFit that led me to get a Thai massage. In fact, my husband’s unofficial CrossFit motto applies to both activities equally: “If it doesn’t suck, you’re doing it wrong.”
It took three weeks for me to overcome my fear of walking into the Thai massage place in South Korea, knowing only a few basic Korean phrases, to get a massage. I hadn’t fully researched Thai massage before going, therefore my thinking was littered with mistakes.
She proposed I change into the comfortable outfit provided, and thus came my second mistake: assuming other cultures value privacy as much as Americans do - because the door was still wide open. I hesitated, and again she gestured for me to put on the outfit as if I didn’t understand her words. Politely, I asked her to close the door, expecting her to understand my desire to not fully undress in public. She seemed to grasp that part and closed the door, but she didn’t leave the room or even turn around. Nope, she just stood there watching and waiting for me to get changed. Awkward. I turned around - she was only going to stare at my flabby butt.
Once dressed she asked me to lie on my stomach and I complied, feeling at least safely concealed in the outfit I wore waiting for her to start. My other massages have always started with a gentle warm up before digging deep into the knots in my muscles. Mistake number three was not researching the actual methods the Thai use to massage a body. Out of nowhere she jumped onto the soles of my feet and started walking on them! She then proceeded to walk up my legs, thighs, butt, back, and shoulders, and hop off occasionally to pound (literally) my muscles. Even though I was shocked, I was okay with the amount of pressure knowing the outcome I would have from this intense massage. In fact, I can best describe Thai massage as a combination of massage and adjustment. She made sure to crack everything that could possibly crack, almost like a visit to the chiropractor’s office.
All of that changed however, when I flipped over and she shoved her feet into every crack and crevice you can imagine (without violating any laws). Mistake number four: falsely assuming she surely wouldn’t shove her feet into my inner thighs and butt to work the sore muscles! Let me warn you, Thai massage is invasive.
Another mistake could have arisen from my lack of research beforehand. There’s an aspect of Thai methodology that includes being bent into some very absurd positions. Thankfully, I had no issues with this part because I’m extremely flexible. She bent me into positions I can’t see normal human beings attaining, even with her “assistance.” That, however, was the least invasive part of the entire massage.
My final mistake was thinking that when she was done she would leave me to get changed alone. Nope, once again, she plopped down on the floor and sat facing me, waiting for me to get changed. And just like in the beginning, all she saw was my flabby - but now relaxed - butt as I deliberately turned away from her.
While the whole massage was a learning experience, it was what I learned culturally that was disheartening. She asked me how long I had lived in Korea and I replied just a few weeks and that I would stay for about a year. She told me it was the same for her, she had come to Korea to work for a year. Sadly, she explained that she lived in the office, and while the office was part of a hotel, she didn’t have a room in the hotel she just slept in spare massage rooms, and that she worked 24 hours a day. She said all the masseuses try to sleep when there are no customers and as customers come, their boss will wake them up in turns. I asked her if she missed Thailand and she looked on the verge of tears, as she missed it very much, but she did this because of the money involved. I understood that need to provide and hoped she made enough this year to have saved in abundance for her return home.
The cultural differences I was exposed to really made me think. I wonder if the methodology is similar in the states, because I just can’t imagine most Americans being okay with leaving the door open or having the massage therapist watch while disrobing. Given the choice, I would prefer to go to a chiropractor for the adjustment and a traditional deep tissue massage therapist for the massage. However, overall, I am glad I have experienced a Thai massage in Korea, even with the abundance of mistakes in my thinking. Had I done research and heeded the warnings, I might have missed not only an incredible experience for my body (I did physically feel better afterward), but a cultural learning opportunity as well.
Many Kind Regards,
Read how Ariele stepped out of her comfort zone and into a small space during deployment
Original Photo Credit: micagoto