I opted to study at Wat Pho, which runs a course which is really well-regarded in the rest of Thailand. However the first task you have to pass before you enrol is actually finding the school. After a ride on the Skytrain and a boat down the river, I arrived at Wat Pho itself, one of the city's most famous temples. But it turns out the classes are no longer held there any more as student numbers have become too big. So there was a lot of pointing and waving arms as one person after another tried to direct me to the school. I eventually found it tucked down a little side-street. The girls on the front desk were very sweet but didn't speak much English. However they kept reassuring me "yes, yes", everything was fine. I could just come back in the morning to start the class immediately. I was a little hesitant as to how the classes would be taught though, based on our current communication problems, especially when I asked whether they would in English and they told me "yes, English and Thai".
But I decided if it was good enough for the Thais, who certainly know the power of a good massage, it was good enough for me. Signing up also meant I had to break the habit of a lifetime and invest in a pair of 'poo pants'. Many people will know my aversion to the dreaded 'poo pants' (think MC Hammer) as they are often favoured by the type of person who thinks you can't be a 'traveller' unless you are constantly wearing a pair, along with friendship bracelets up to your elbows and no shoes. However, I'm ashamed to admit this after so many years of complaining about them, but they are actually the comfiest things ever.
Starting the first day of school is always daunting, what with all of the 'what if nobody likes me?' teenage angst to deal with, But luckily for me I was immediately put into a group with other people from all over the world and we were given out introduction to massage in English. For anyone who has never experienced a traditional Thai massage, it's definitely quite different to the relaxing aromotherapy or Swedish massage we're more used to in the UK. In fact, I think 'relaxing' is probably a word which wouldn't feature in the same sentence as 'Thai massage'. There's a lot of pulling and pushing and stretching with the massuese sat next to you on the bed and even at times kneeling or walking on you. So learning how to massage is definitely one where you have to leave the English reserved nature at the door as pretty soon you're going to be kneeling on the back of someone you've just met.
After being introduced to the first two steps we were split into different groups and I was partnered with a Thai lady who told me: "This is my first time massaging" before proceeding to give me an amazing massage. It turns out she regularly gives them to her elderly parents and was only coming to the school to get her certificate so that she could open her own salon. It was the same story for the other three Thai people in the group. They had all grown up learning the technique but just needed the official qualification. After starting the course I noticed that massage is something which is very much incorporated into daily life in Thailand. You see little kids in the street giving their parents head massages; stallholders cracking each others' backs and workers having foot massages at the end of a busy day. I actually think the massage technique may have something to do with the fact that you see so few people in Asia with walking sticks. One of my teachers who must have been well into her 70s regularly asked the other teachers to walk up and down her back.
Our teachers were lovely and in a mixture of broken English and Thai soon told us if we were doing things wrong. This included some of the older ladies smacking us on the bottom if they wanted us to sit down during a particular move. Again, pretty sure that's not something you'd see at home.
|Working those poo pants.|
By the third day my body felt really achey, which was quite ironic considering I was in a massage class. Throughout the course of the week we were taught all five of the steps. There was a lot to learn and it was a bit of a shock to the system having to use my brain again. But as time went by I was reassured by the teachers that I wasn't going to break someone's back by kneeling on their legs and I found a way to politely tell my Japanese friend to go easy on the pressure points.
|Picking up the techniques.|
|The morning commute.|
|My fellow passengers.|
|My lovely classmates.|
Somehow or other I managed to pass though and I am now one of those tiny ladies who can cause a great deal of pain (in a good way, obviously).
|Woohoo! I got the certificate and everything.|
|#20 done and the waiting list is open.|