Posts Tagged ‘Cambodia’

The time I got a Thai massage

A few years ago, two friends and I were travelling around Asia. As Thai massages were dirt cheap, we’d been getting them every few days. You know, to ease the tension of travelling and having fun. It can be strenuous, honest. We usually got the massage were you change into blue pyjama-type things and they tug and pull and lean on you and by the time they’ve finished, you feel like you’ve had a proper work out.

This one time, we were in Cambodia, I think. The sign outside the massage place said they had been trained in the temple. Brilliant. I’m not saying that writing on a board outside a shop are credentials, as such, but we decided it would do for us. We went in and the others decided on the type of massage we had been getting everywhere else.

I, on the other hand was feeling crazy. I decided to get an oil massage. My friends were like, “O, but you need to be naked for that one cause it’s with oil,” and I was all carefree about it and like, “It’s no big deal. They must see naked bodies a thousand times a day. It’s all good.”

Sure enough, they told me to strip off and wait in the little curtained off bit lying on my front. This I did, whilst discreetly arranging the towel over my bum. There was lots of oil and lots of massaging and it was lovely and relaxing. There were times when she headed bum-ward when massaging the tops of my legs but I was terribly British about it and pretended it was totally cool and like, whatever, I hadn’t even noticed, I’m just so, like, cool and comfortable with my body and stuff. Yeh.

Then she asked me to turn over to massage my front. Clearly, I only had the one towel still so I made out like it was totally cool and I hadn’t even noticed that I was now boobs-out.

She massaged my legs with oil for quite a long time then patted the excess oil off with, yes you guessed it, the only towel covering me. She patted all the way to my feet then left the towel there. So now I was just a totally naked girl, lying on a floor in a massage parlour, wondering what on earth would happen next.

I daren’t open my eyes to look in case that was the signal she was waiting for, because by now, I was wondering what kind of ‘temple’ she had learned this massage stuff in. Yeh, I’m sadly at a loss on what the dodgy-massage-etiquette might be.

So I lay there and pretended that I was having such a relaxing massage that I’d just, kind of, fallen asleep.

Next minute, she asked me part my legs a little and she knelt in between them. My brain was really really not sure what was happening then. In the absence of any other plan, I continued feigning sleep. Then she leaned onto my hip bones with both her hands. For a very long time. Is that a massage technique? Hip leaning? Because this action had put her face very near the part of my body that had previously been covered.

I. Honestly. Didn’t. Know. What. To. Do. What would you have done, reader? What would you have done?

Me? I just kept my eyes closed and pretended this was all fine and natural and not wierd at all and, just, like, whatever, not even a big deal or anything. Yeh. Totally fine.

Then she stopped leaning and she just knelt there. It felt like she was waiting for the go-ahead. I kept ‘sleeping’.

After a little while, she came to kneel behind my head and there was a bit of almost-boob touching that I’m not sure was real massaging or dodgy massaging.

Then before I could say DodgyThaiMassage, one of the most surreal hours of my life was over.

I’ve still never worked out whether that was a real massage or a dodgy one. Opinions?

Songs that remind me of stuff

Mariah Carey – Heartbreaker album
I was big into Mariah when I was younger. I’d sit warbling away to My All or Always Be My Baby, imagining a life where I was christened The Voice and asked to sing for the Queen and made people get a little teary with my beautiful singing. In my late teens, I still listened to anything and everything she sung but kept it a little quiet and pretended I was listening to Destiny’s Child. When I started learning to drive, my instructor was a slightly older gentleman who was a bit of a pushover. I wasn’t supposed to have any music on but knew he would let me, so made a mixtape of all my favourite Mariah hits, mostly from the Heartbreaker album and would listen to it on my driving lessons. There’s an area of Liverpool called Garston, that we drove through a lot so I always think of Garston when I hear that album.

Leaving on a Jet Plane by Peter, Paul and Mary (or Bjork)
When the gap year organisation that I went away with did the training session I was on, there were a few country groups being trained together. Us Namibia volunteers had been put with the two Mozambique volunteers, the two Bolivia volunteers and the really huge China group. There were about thirty of them going to different projects. Two of these volunteers, a boy called Joe and a girl called Robyn became my new favourite people. We were glued together most of the time, finding everything ridiculously funny and just generally having fun. Somehow, a discussion of our favourite songs came up and Joe and I had the sane favourite song – Leaving on a Jet Plane. And we all were about to leave in jet planes for our gap years! I loved the original by Peter, Paul and Mary. He loved the cover by Bjork. So this confirmed it. We were destined to be best friends forever. In case you were wondering, Robyn and Joe and I are still good friends. It must have been the mutual song-love.

Dispatch – The General
When I was on my gap year, my friend Lucy used to listen to this song all the time. This reminds me of foolish nights out when we had first arrived and didn’t quite know what we were doing and had a load of friends over, post-pub, talking nonsense for hours, despite the fact that we would be teaching a few hours later.

Lauryn Hill and Bob Marley – Turn Your Lights Down Low
We were on the longest bus journey in the world, my friend and I, travelling from Ho Chi Minh City to Phnom Penh. It was Cambodian New Year so the traffic on the roads was horrendous. Instead of taking six hours, it took twelve. My friend had a combination of things wrong, an ear infection, really bad bites, vomiting. It was really worrying but there was nothing we could do except wait to get to Phnom Penh. Being the non-doctor I am, I had diagnosed possible malaria. It was all quite scary. He was sleepy so I leaned awkwardly and lay his head on my chest and stroked his arm in an attempt to comfort him. After an hour or two, I had extreme backache, sideache, neckache, shoulderache and everything else but couldn’t move as Chennour was finally sleeping. I gingerly leaned around him and got his iPod and plugged myself in, hoping to tune out from the pain for a bit. Somehow, Lauryn Hill and Bob Marley had been set to repeat and I couldn’t figure out how to stop it. So I spent the last few hours of that journey extremely uncomfortable and listening to Turn Your Lights Down Low on repeat. Painful/humorous memories.

Faith Hill
This is another Namibia memory. We were trying to get to Cape Town for our Christmas holidays. We had bought bus tickets and needed to switch buses in a town called Keetmanshoop (pronounced Keet-mans-hoop, not Keet-man-shoop, which we did for an embarrassingly long time until someone corrected us). We got off the first bus and waited for the second bus. And waited. And waited. Two hours late, the bus arrived, everyone else got on, Lucy and I, ever the Brits, queued politely at the edge of the crowd and were last to get on. There was only one seat left, we were told. We got ready to fume, we had been sold tickets, we demanded to be allowed on! Not to worry, we were told, there’s one a few minutes behind. Ok, that’s fine then. We sat down and waited. We looked up and down the road, we took turns falling asleep on our bags, we ate everything we had brought for the journey, shops closed for the night then opened for the morning again, 9pm turned into 7am. We were two 18 years olds, in a town in the middle of nowhere, with bus tickets we couldn’t use and no other mode of transport available. Then a man approached. Your typical prematurely-balding, pale, wide-eyed, plays-the-psychotic-murderer-in-a-film type. And offered us a lift. We jumped at it. Bags were grabbed, common sense was left behind, and we jumped into the car with this potential torturer. He asked if we wanted any music on. The silence was a bit awkward. All I could find was a Faith Hill album, so I put it on and played it all the way through. Then pressed play when it ended, to keep the silence at bay. And pressed play again. And again. For the entire seven hour journey…..

Damien Rice
I’ve forgotten what his first album was called. I got it in first year at Glasgow Uni and would listen to it every night to try and block out the booming noises from the floor above. I don’t know whether the banging upstairs was music, I could only hear extremely loud thuds, like someone bashing the floor with a hammer. Awful. I hated them. Every time I hear a Damien Rice song, I can still feel the annoyance of the bangs from upstairs but also see the view of the park out of my window, which was nice.

Gwen Stefani – Cool. And James Blunt – Goodbye My Lover
These were both out around the time I was in China climbing the Great Wall. When I’d finished, I stayed with my friend Joe (same one as before) in Beijing for a bit. He was living there, studying. These two songs became about the distant nature of our friendship. We’d spent so little time together but still had an amazing time whenever we did see each other. These songs always remind me of those early days of our friendship, when we had to travel the world to see each other. Nowadays we just have to travel across London. Much easier.

Odd things that have happened when abroad

When my friend and I were living in Namibia, we did various different things – mainly running a local newspaper and teaching in some of the local schools.

Lucy is an amazing artist. I was always finding the loveliest little doodles on bits of paper around the house. Even her writing was beautiful, like looking at a picture. At the creche where we spent a lot of our time, the teachers asked us to brighten up the playground area. The walls were painted white and the paint was peeling so we decided to paint some lovely colourful pictures on the walls.

Lucy drew these beautiful pictures, a different one on each section of wall. I obediently painted where she told me to, not being the best at drawing myself. One evening, we headed over to work on the walls and there was an adult evening class on. They were mostly parents who had brought their children along and left them in the playground area while they went into the class.

So Lucy and I are painting away, an underwater scene this time, the kids are mesmerised by our painting. They were perched on a climbing frame in silence, when suddenly, out of nowhere, we heard this….

“If you see me walking down the street, staring at the sky, dragging my two feet, you just pass me by, it still makes me cry, you can make me whole again…”

What?! They were singing Whole Again by Atomic Kitten!

It was probably the oddest moment of the whole year. Here I was, 18 years old, I had travelled from Liverpool, across the world and made a new life for myself in Africa… And then randomly, whilst painting a wall, ten Namibian children were singing a song by some girls from Liverpool.

They knew all the words as well. Five year old children, who mostly lived in townships and didn’t have an awful lot, still knew the words to Whole Again by Atomic Kitten! Even to the talking bit in the middle. We just carried on painting and laughing to ourselves.

Another time I was in Cambodia with friends. We were in Phnom Penh and had decided to visit the ‘killing fields’, which gave rise to the film of the same name. It was an extremely profound place, made more so by the fact that one of the friends and I had had a mini falling out. One of those things where there’s actually not anything wrong, you’ve just all been spending a long time in close quarters.

So when we got in, we all separated off and went round alone. I found a little bench on the edge of the fields, next to a tree with low branches, and hid from sun, thinking about everything I was seeing and about how silly the argument had been and how I’d tell my friend I was sorry and forget about it.

A noise from the tree interrupted my moment of profundity. There was a little boy sitting on one of the low branches of the tree. He smiled. I smiled back but my face said that I was having a moment and not to interrupt.

But interrupt he did.

“Where are you from?”

“England,” I said, but not in a way that invited further conversation. I turned back to the fields and tried to regain my moment of thoughtfulness. I saw my two friends in the distance, each looking around separately. I thought about how silly the argument had been, especially when faced with the enormous seriousness of a genocide.

That’s when it happened. There was I, lost in my thoughts, wondering about the meaning of life etc. And there was he, a little Cambodian boy, with far more important things on his mind. He had established that I was from England so the first question which entered his mind was this…¬†

“Do you know David Beckham?”

Do I know David Beckham?! Hilarious. I ended up getting into a big chat with him about the merits of different English football teams. So there we were, at the killing fields, the raw evidence of a recent  genocide plain for all to see, having a chat about David Beckham. He decided Manchester United were the best and we left it at that. Odd.