So here we are, arriving in Koh Lanta. For those who haven’t had the chance to visit the islands on the West Coast of the Southern part of Thailand, Koh Lanta is a relatively smallish island where no reality tv show was made.
On the boat, we sit with a couple from France, who happened to also stay in hour bungalow place in Koh Phi Phi. We let the people from the hotels tell us how great their places are, and we settle for one that appeals to us all, “Lanta NAture Beach Resort” on the Klong Nin Beach (West Coast), a stone’s throw away from Relax Bay, where Greg stayed a few years ago.
As I check-in with MP, I mention to the receptionist that I would like a Thai massage, and can she recommend someone. Of course she can. She calls the massage family people straightaway, he will come in 10 Thai minutes (i.e. anything from 10 minutes ago to in an hour or two). I meet an older woman, she says that her son works here normally but is with his daughter in the hospital. He teaches massage also.
He teaches massage? Here in a beautiful resort on the beach? The idea is exciting. Until the lady massages me. She’s not very good. What she does is painful, but in a bad pain kind of a way. I have a scratch on my right big toe so I mention it to her, but when she starts massaging my feet she has already forgotten. Yikes it hurts! My toes starts throbbing… She apologizes, only to press on my delicate toe again a few minutes later.
Disappointment strikes. There is no way I want to be taught anything by someone like that who does not care about what she’s doing, and generally is not very good. I still want to meet this guy, her son, and check him out, we never know.We set an appointment for Thai 8.30am the following day.
By 10am, still no one. So I get MP and another guy we met the night before and we decide to hire a tuk-tuk for the day, to visit the Island. Tuk-tuks here are very simple: a simple motorbike, joined at the hip to a wheel-barrow type machine. It’s slow, but steady. We take it in turns to drive, and the joyride begins.
Except a tuk-tuk is not made for going up and down hills, and we plan to do exactly that. I volunteer to jump out the thing whenever the up or down is too steep.
Visualize me running by the side of the road, a weird motorbike/wheel barrow thing with two scared passengers on board in the most aerodynamic position possible, surrounded by Thai kids laughing their heads off.
Anyway, we made it to where the road ends, and we trekked through the tropical jungle to see a satisfying waterfall and some elephants… And we even made it back, after eating delicious unknown shellfish in a restaurant on the main pier.
The following day (that would be yesterday), another appointment was set up with the massage therapist. I could hardly believe my luck when a short, dark guy with a moustache and a beard turned up and said hi. He was wearing tracksuit bottoms, a purple football shirt and a big grin. I was actually practising my Thai massage as I’d learned it in Wat Po on MP, so I asked him if he could wait just a few minutes… Pressure was on as he observed what I was doing. I got a little flustered and forgot a couple of stretches. Nevermind.
We started chatting in his “massage home” a little elevated sheltered area, which was built after the tsunami destroyed his previous bamboo massage home. His eyes glaze over as his mentions the destructions and the loss of lives on Kho Phi Phi.
We go onto talk about the massage. He seems unimpressed by my Wat Po qualification, but appreciates the fact I am actually serious about this. He asks how long I can stay, and I answer without blinking: 1 month. He laughs.
He then goes on to ask me why I want to learn Thai massage. Now is the time to explain to this Thai guy with poor English that structure and function are inter-reciprocally related… “I am like a Thai massage therapist, only the Western equivalent. I don’t work with the energy lines, but with muscles, joints, organs, blood etc”
He nods politely but I am not sure how much of this he understood.
The best, he says, is for him to give me a masage, and then I can start learning. I agree, as I am sure I don’t want to take classes from a guy who can’t massage to save his life.
I lay down, and he starts. The second he lays his hands on my back to spread his special herbal oil, I know that I have met someone exceptional.
He explains that this oil is made with Chinese herbs, made with a recipe from his great-grandfather, who was a Chinese doctor. And he works away. I try to focus on what he is doing, where he puts his hands, what order he does things in, how much it resembles what I do and not what I learned at Wat Po. But slowly my mind drifts away, far away from his expert hands.
My spine cracks and it feels good. My muscles are unknotted one by one. My tight kayak shoulder feel as light as a feather. He works my back, buttocks, legs, feet, arms and hands before I turn onto my front.
He takes several of my pulses, including axillary (armpit) and declares that my Left shoulder is weak and slow compared to the right. He says more work need to be done on my scapula (shoulder blade), and did I have an accident on that arm? I explain my football tumble of last year. He cringes as I go into the details.
He continues working, for what seems like beautiful, endless minutes. When I sit up, my head is dizzy and I feel incredible. He looks at me, smiling and laughs out a “finissed”.
I convince MP to have a massage, and Buuw (pronounce Baow) explains certain things as he goes along. He keeps repeating how hard Thai massage is to learn.
He learned from his father from the age of 18, and his Dad was taught by his own father at the same age, who was given one of the ancient books of Thai medicine by the King himself. I am told by the other members of staff that this is true, and that Buuw’s father is a famous man.
As he goes on tender, tight spots, he takes my hands and lays it on the sensitive part and says: “this is Pain”. I realise that he did not understand that it’s my job to know what is and what is not painful, and treat it.
What is the best way of explaining to someone who does not speak the same language what osteopaty is (and hopefully convince him I am a professional): treat him.
That evening, after spending the afternoon chatting and laughing with Buuw, his 15-year old daughter Dao (which means Sky) and his wife, I dragged him into the massage home, and authoritavely told him to take his t-shirt off, and lay face down. And he did.
I focused for a moment, and realised how important this treatment was going to be for both of us. I wanted to show him what I did in my country, that I understood the body in a different way, and that osteopathy is an effective, efficient and valid way of treating.
I started with his back, mobilising, using different techniques to show him, manipulating his thoracic spine, a rib or two on the way. I was rocking! I worked on his gluteus (buttocks), down his legs, up his arms… Put him on his side for a classic lumbar roll to HVT his L/S junction (sore and restricted on the Left): a big crack made us both laugh. On his back I worked his abdomen, going deeper and deeper, into his colon, his diaphragm. I worked the thoracic cage whilst I was at it… I was sweating, as one does when working hard on a sunny tropical afternoon.
His eyes were closed and his face seemed at rest. He opened them again and asked: “can you do my neck, it pain”
Sure can! I asked whether I could sit behind him (as the head is very important in Thailand, it should not be touched, and when lying down one should not walk behind it) he agreed and I was going at it again!
I used a little bit of everything: from strong techniques, to easy simple ones. A couple of manipulations, the wonderful “strain-counterstrain” where pain seems to disappear under my fingers, and to finish a big double crack on the junction between the neck and the shoulders.
“Finished!” He sat up, moved around a bit, and said he felt good. We set an appointment for tomorrow.
As we said our thank yous and good byes, he said something that is now engraved in my memory.
“I will show you Thai massage. It will take time, but you have magic hands. So it will be ok”
So I have magic hands.
Since then I haven’t stopped smiling.
Especially that he came to greet me at breakfast this morning: “my neck feels so good!”. And the staff have been treating me even better since the magic treatment… They are all asking me questions and want to be treated also. They say that Buuw has talked to them about me, and they want to try this new “French Thai Massage” too.
Today we did more training, first 2 hours this morning, I observed him giving a long treatment, him explaining as he went along. Then this afternoon, working on one of the staff. We covered the main lines of the back, the buttocks, the thighs and the popliteal fossa (back of the knee). It is fascinating.
As Chinese medicine and acupuncture, Thai medicine has “lines” which resemble meridiens. They are energy or wind lines. As I understand it so far, “wind” or “air” gets trapped in many places around the body. To avoid disease, and achieve health, the Thai therapist unblocks these with massage, manipulation and herbs.
When the patient complains of pain, the therapist finds out what the cause of this pain is, and works on that. Buuw jokes about treating directly the site of pain, how silly is that! With massage, he works on specific trigger points, which are situated on the energy lines, as well as working on the whole line in question, and those connecting with it.
For now, he is showing me the main lines, and teaching me how to recognize trapped wind. We are also starting to take pulses, and I am trying to feel something…
He is impressed with my palpation skills, I am impressed with his knowledge of the body. This special interpretation. He respects my point of view and background, and we joke about how similarly we work, yet how far apart our theories are.
The fact he was taught by his father, from his father, makes this teaching very special indeed. I am going to stay here for at least another few days, maybe a week. Continue my healthy schedule: run early in the morning, massage, then a healthy break with some amazing food and then more massage in the late afternoon, a final meal and then I collapse into bed…
I am doing my best to take detailed technical notes of what Buuw tells me, so I will have a written version of all the information I know will leak out of my brain. I will also take some pictures of him and some techniques in the next few days.
Marie-Pierre has taken off, and is on her way to Bangkok. So I downgraded to a smaller room, and hang out with the Thai staff where I am staying. They call me the professional footballer. I am not sure how many more compliments I can take before my head -or my ankles- swells up and explodes.