Singapore Adventure

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Rubbing Me The Wrong Way
by jima

As I lay face-down on the table, the masseuse kneading the soft-ball-sized knots in my shoulders, I smiled inwardly in blissful relaxation. This was thankfully very different from my last tragically ill-fated massage.

I have been a fan of massage for years, treating myself occasionally to reduce stress and to reduce the size of the knots in my muscles. My US massages ran the gamut in location, duration, and attitude, ranging from a new-age-y salon with aromatherapy and tinkling bells to the spare bedroom in a fellow snowboarders's house under a No Pain No Jane poster pinned to the wall.

Massage has a bad reputation, though, and this is particularly true in Asia. Singapore massage parlor evokes mental images that are not clean, not relaxing, and definitely not new-age-y. But my job in Singapore is very stressful, and the wonderful and relaxing massage that I got thanks to Venitha's lucky draw prize convinced me that regular massages need to be part of my life here, so I started looking for a place nearby, a place with long hours, a place that's cheap, and I was thrilled to find not only all of this, but they can also fit me in right away. It's almost too good to be true!

Of course, all of you reading along at home realize that this is too good to be true. But in my defense, I was suckered in by the proximity, the convenient hours, and the low low price, and all I thought as I made the 5-minute stroll down the block was that I really wanted this to work out, that I wanted something in Singapore to be easy for once.

It didn't feel right as soon as I was shown to the room. In retrospect, it was painfully obvious what the place was, but at the time, I thought back to a recent discussion with Venitha and overruled my instinct to run. Years of living in a culture give you an inner sense, great instincts, and the ability to sum up a situation in the blink of an eye. Being thrust into a new culture, though, leaves you slightly off, and that initial read you get from a place, person, or situation is often completely wrong.

Unfortunately, not often enough. I lay face down, very very tense. My masseuse set to work, giving me a lousy massage interspersed with a few attempts at banter that did nothing to ease my tension. Shortly, my instincts proved accurate after all, and I was completely unsurprised to be propositioned.

"Want any extra services?" I'm certain she was confused and disappointed to have me decline. I do wonder how often she gets turned down.

I returned home sheepish, contrite, and ashamed, and Venitha (God, I love her) nearly fell off her exercise machine laughing. Until she realized how upset I was. It's only now, over a month later, that I can write about this and see the humor and appreciate having learned some valuable lessons. This afternoon, as I reflected on the experience while I lay on a nice clean massage table in a dimly-lit cubicle with not too much privacy, thank you very much, and some pleasant new-age-y music tinkling in the background, I decided the following:
  • If it seems too good to be true, it is.
  • You get what you pay for.
  • My initial instincts, while they might be fooled at times, are still working, and I need to pay attention.
  • A good massage is a wonderful wonderful wonderful thing!