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Saturday, Jan. 5, 2002
The trucks and bolts of perfect massage
By AMY CHAVEZ
Anyone who has spent some time in Asia has become familiar with massage. You can get all kinds of massage here: Japanese "shiatsu," Chinese foot massage, Thai, Vietnamese and even Swedish massage. But all the different methods can be confusing. Let me set it straight for you.
The masseuse presses points up and down your body so that you emit oohs and aahs. She steps on you and squashes you like a bug and karate-chops your shoulders, but overall it's pretty painless. If you're looking for pain, however, I highly recommend therapeutic Thai massage, especially if you are getting old enough to realize you are no longer invincible. All those sports injuries have come back to haunt you, and you have a stiff neck from sitting at the computer all day.
For my first therapeutic Thai massage, a tiny Thai woman leaped on my back and started pounding with her fists and digging in her elbows. Then she took out daggers. Next, I'm pretty sure she drove a truck over my back. Not just a normal pickup truck with a couple of bales of hay and a dog in the back, but a Mack truck full to the brim with chickens clucking and feathers flying out the sides. Believe it or not, it felt great. When I become too old to work, I'll volunteer to be a part-time speed bump.
When I tried Vietnamese massage, at first everything went smoothly. Then the Vietnamese woman started with the farm implements. She stabbed my back several times with a pitchfork and heaved a few hoes at my shoulder blades. What followed was similar to sibling rivalry as I was repeatedly jabbed with elbows and shoved in the back. Then came the oxen hooves. It was as if there was a whole herd of them lined up, taking turns kicking my lower back. Vietnamese massage should come with a warning from the surgeon general.
Shiatsu is what I call toolshed massage. It's slow and focuses on pressure points. Once the masseur found a tight spot in my back, he pressed until it felt like he was slowly screwing a bolt in. Bliss! When I walked out, I felt like the Tin Man having just had my rusty joints oiled.
This is supposed to be a milder form of massage, but don't believe it. It requires you to take your clothes off. There's nothing mild about taking your clothes off in front of a stranger. After dousing me in coconut oil, she kneaded me as if I were bread dough. While she was at it, she reached deep into my tissues and scraped out residue between my shoulder blades, then took out my spine, placed it on the pillow next to me and reassembled it later, vertebra by vertebra. To finish off, she drove up and down my back in an SUV, which occasionally got stuck in the coconut oil and spun its tires.
Chinese foot massage
Foot massages are painless. After washing my feet, the masseuse jabbed the ends of my toes with a wooden stick. This is because in Chinese reflexology, your entire body is represented by points on the bottom of your feet. The tips of your toes, for example, represent your sinuses. There is nothing quite like having your sinuses jabbed with a stick. Some things about reflexology remain vague, however. If the bottoms of your toes represent your eyes and ears, then does this mean a bout of athlete's foot will give you smelly ears? Since your big toe represents your head, is it possible to have a blister on your head? And how come the toenails haven't been assigned a part of the body? Especially when there is one part of the body that badly needs representation: nose hairs.
Contact Amy at email@example.com or visit the "Japan Lite" home page at www.amychavez.com