16 April 2008

Shiatsu Nirvanaa

Body massage in Asian countries always sounds like a good plan. All those ancient methods of body manipulation at a reasonable price. But that had not been the case in Vietnam.

I’d looked forward to the incredible head massages that I assumed I would get at any hair salon. I’d gotten used to it in Malaysia. No matter which salon you went to there, even if the cut sucked, you were assured the most incredible head massage when they washed out the shampoo.

The first time I got my hair cut here, I had to stop the gal after one minute. It was not a massage, just some sort of attempt to rub my head and it felt weird, not good. Then there is the shoulder and arm massage that the assistants try to do on you every time you are in the chair waiting for the stylist. I have no idea what they are doing but, frankly, it’s creepy. They sort of just grab a body part and start squeezing. Nothing at all pleasant about it.

Along the streets in the main tourist area, There are lots of young ladies dressed in traditional outfits who approach you saying, “Massage, madam?” and shoving a brochure in your face. I have heard that these are rather questionable places. Out where I live there are two “massage” studios within a block of my house. The young masseuses are either hanging out of the windows, or sitting outside in bright green mini-skirts, midriff and tattoos in full view. I had heard that there really is a legit massage studio in town that also offers courses in body work. But the last thing I want to do is go all the way there, at least forty minutes away, get a massage, and then jump in a taxi to come home. Way to labor intensive for something that is supposed to relax you.

A friend of a friend said she’d found a good beauty salon that offered massage, facials and hair cuts, just down the street from where I live. Assuming it was one of the “massage” places I passed every night, I didn’t follow up. But then the friend went for a facial and came back with a good report. I went over to check it out.

The Sun Salon is Korean owned and it certainly looked like a reputable business. Since no one there really spoke anything but Korean, I pointed to the price list and asked about a Shiatsu massage. I then made an appointment for that afternoon.

When I arrived, I was escorted up to the third floor, having left my shoes at the front door. I was shown into a small changing room with wood, cubby-hole lockers. Then I walked into the massage room. Six beds were laid out in a room with the lights turned off, blinds drawn. Soft, filtered light filled the space along with soothing music; not quite new-age tunes, but restful. One other lady was getting a massage.
I thought I had ordered a massage by a Korean trained masseuse, but the young woman was Vietnamese. I tried to explain the situation and just gave up. Not ever having had a total shiatsu massage, I actually wasn’t quite sure what to expect and figured I’d just go for whatever was to come.

Within a few minutes, I knew that the masseuse was well trained. It was the perfect combination of pain and pleasure. Most of the time it was wonderful, but with enough discomfort to know that she was doing her job. About the only thing lacking was aromatherapy. I love both western and eastern herbal oils, and none were present. The only part of my body that I would like to have had more work on was my head. Maybe that comes with the 90 minute massage, not the 60 minute.

According to the price list, a shiatsu massage was $20, which was fine with me. They handed me the bill and it was only $10, plus a 20% discount. I couldn’t believe I had just had an hour massage for $8! I also clarified that it hadn’t been the ‘shiatsu’, but a regular massage. When I ascertained that they had been there for ten months, I was rather upset. I am leaving the country in less than two weeks and just now I find the massage studio just down the street? I plan to go back a few more times before I leave.