So there I was, after four and half days of learning, practising every night for 2 hours with my new massage friend, I bowed and joined my hands ceremoniously “Sawat Di Kha”.
The person I was to massage didn’t actually understand or speak English, and my Thai is not great. After introducing myself in Thai, I went on to mime the important questions before one can start a massage. Imagine me kneeling down, twice the size of my patient, moving in all sorts of directions and waving my arms to ask whether she had any diseases, recent serious injuries, cancer, rhumatoid arthritis, gout or a skin infection.
Somehow we managed. She lay on her back and I started working. As I mentioned before, Thai massage is very choreographed, and hand position have to be learned, as well as how the practicioner should position themselves. I start from the left sole, then the foot, leg, thigh, hand, arm and finger. Then I switched sides.
Most postions are kneeling, either resting the bum on the heels of the feet, or keeping the toes bent and having a 90 degree angle at knees. It’s pretty tiring for the quadriceps, who have to keep certain positions for ages.
She turns on her other side, and the guy next to me jokes around, stupidly I listen and continue on the Gala-Taree line turning my palms up. One of the two examiners tuts whilst tapping on my shoulder. I imediately turn my palms down, and look down too. First mistake. When I let my concentration slip just a second, I make a mistake. I focus even harder, despite the joking around.
Then I made her lie on her bach, and repeated the gestures I have seen my teachers doing. Teachers, those who hand down knowledge are very respected. One must bow everytime one crosses their path, and always be smaller in size than them when addressing them or simply walking by them. As I like to imitate my peers, I looked utterly ridiculous -yet respectful – as I crouched down when necessary. Because I’m about 40 cm taller than my smallest teacher, I basically crawled everytime I walked by. Or kneeled when she was speaking to me.
Next position: lying on the face. I’ve been working for about an hour now, and I’m really proud to have made one mistake only. Most the others have been corrected a few times.
This is my favourite part of the massage, as we get to kneel onto the back of the patient’s thighs and then walk on the legs. It’s fun, and I get to work my favourite part of the body: the back.
Then she lies on her back again, for the fourth part, which comprises lots of stretching. I do well, except she it’s difficult for me to crouch and kneel down low enough.
Fifth part. I try not to get too excited, but I do a little bit. Mistake. I don’t position my thumbs exactly on the imaginary line of Jun-Tha-Pu-Sunk. The teacher kindly repositions my thumbs. She also restraightens my back, but then I can’t grab the person’s shoulders, so she puts me in my previous positioning and smiles an apology. I continue.
When it’s over I can harldy believe it. I mime to my patient that she must drink lots of water, do some exercice, eat well and come back for another massage soon. I bow and thank her “Kho Kunk Kha” and sigh in relief.
I final grilling: major contra-indications of Thai massage. Easy. Don’t practise on drunk patient, on open wounds, over broken bones, etc.
Then the examiners go away, and I am left slightly worried. Are 2 mistakes too many? I saw all the others make more than me… Did I not say the right things? Was my miming not good enough? What did I do wrong? Another white guy taking his exam is talk at my the examiner, and he bursts into tears. Not those of joy, but of sadness. He has failed.
My eyes start to feel prickly, and that familiar knot ties itself around my throat. I will not cry if I fail. I will just keep practising until I get it. It’s hard remembering everything, but if I was promoted to the group of Thais rather than whites after the first day, there must be a reason. I must be doing well and next time I won’t make any mistakes at all.
The examiner gives me a paper to sign, I sign it and hold the tears back. She thanks me and leaves. I am really upset. She turns around with a “I think I forgot something face” and give me a big blue envelope. Thank you she says. I open it. The knot unties itself, and transforms itself into tummy butterflies. I did it! I got it! I am so happy!
The head of the teacher comes over to congratulate me and says he is looking forward to seeing me in the advanced Thai medical course. I am overjoyed. The diploma is beautiful!
I nearly run home, where Marie-Pierre is waiting for me with the bus tickets for Koh Phi Phi. What a great present… a holiday after a really intense start to my Big Project.
We have been in the islands for 3 days, after an uneventful journey on the bus. It was rather comfortable and I slept like a log. A 2-hour boat journey takes us to touristy Koh Phi Phi, so we jump on a long tail and arrive in Paradise. The place we go to is expensive by Thai standards, but absolutely beautiful.
Marie-Pierre and myself are pretty exhausted after our massage courses, so we both decide to take it easy. By hiking up the hill to viewpoint, and the following day we kayak our way to the surrounding islands.
It is exhausting. My left shoulder kills me, but we keep going. We see beautiful fish, amazing desert islands and horrible tourist resorts. We paddle home, but we are both tired. I spot the hugh dark clouds of the evening tropical storm behind us. I can see it is already raining on the islands we have visited. We try to go faster but we can’t. MP is more exhausted than I am, so I paddle for two.
The twinges in my left trapezius turn into a burning sensation with intense radiation into my left arm. My joint is ok, but my tired, weak muscles are crying for help. I try not to listen to them. We keep going around in the same directions, because my right side makes us go to the left…
We can now hear the thunderstorm, but our bungalow is nowhere to be seen. We play a game to keep our minds off our screaming bodies.
And then we see it. As each wave starts to get taller, and the canoe fills up, we see the boats of the fishermen who live close to our bungalow. We both laugh as we paddle harder towards shore. Cold raindrops start to fall on us, gently at first. One of the staff helps us carry the boat out of the water.
We walk to our bungalow, and get drench by the storm. We look back at the sea before having a shower: the sea is rough and the wind blowing towards the sea. Wow, we made it in the knick of time.
I have to get off the Internet connection, and I don’t have time to reply to emails just now. We are heading to Koh Lanta this morning, and I will try to get in touch as soon as we have found another computer.
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