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Blind Fish Reflexology
March 13, 2011  |  by jess m  |  Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Penang, Phuket, Thailand

I think it’s a universally known fact that if there was some way for us to get massaged for 10 hours a day we would be willing to do it. Hard to believe, but true. And while we haven’t figured out how to structure our lives so that getting massaged is a full time job, we have been doing our best to squeeze in as much rubbing as we possibly can on this trip. While we have had our share of perfectly awesome $9 “work me on the beach for an hour while I listen to the surf and are caressed by sea breezes” massages (a bodywork modality that is severely under-represented in the States), there have been a few highlights along the way.

Phuket Thailand: Royalty Sponsored Blind Massage
Cost: $3 for one hour

We were wandering down a street in Phuket Town when we passed a sign that said, “The Blind Massagers Club. Under the Queen Patronage.” BLIND massagers who had the blessing of the Queen? We had to check it out. We decided to go early the next day, before we had been wandering the streets in the stifling heat, sweating and generally becoming disgusting creatures. Alas, the following day we were distracted by a cute café with cheap wine, so we still ended up walking there in the impossibly humid peak of the afternoon. We arrived, two glasses of wine later, drenched in sweat. Lovely.

When you go to get a massage in the States, it’s usually accompanied by a fluffy robe, calming music, a massage therapist who speaks to you in soothing tones, maybe a little aromatherapy, and, well, privacy. This had none of these things. We walked in to find one long room with five beds in a row along the wall. The most horrific Thai pop music was playing loudly over tinny speakers. It sounded exactly like someone was strangling a chorus of cats. There was no English spoken, but there was one sighted women who, after a prolonged series of hand signals, got the idea that we were each looking for one hour of massage. Thankfully she was there. Charades are harder to play with the blind.

She ushered us fully clothed to our beds, then lead out our two blind therapists. After a brief conversation in Thai, no doubt explaining to them that they had two moderately buzzed, sweaty Farang to contend with, the ladies got to work.

And Oh. My. God.

Thai massage is a little bit like having yoga done to you while simultaneously getting the most intense deep tissue massage of your life. About five minutes in, it became clear that this blind 95 pound 4 foot 10 inch tall Thai lady could snap my femur like a twig. There was a moment when she had my ankle next to my ear, was sitting between my legs and working my hamstring WITH HER FEET that I almost lost it. How could she know if she was working too hard, or bending me too much? I’m no yogi, and it’s not like she could see the grimace of pain on my face, not to mention the look of sheer holy terror in my eyes.

When it was all over though, it was pretty awesome. I felt about a foot taller, and it’s a strangely personal experience to have someone connected to your body by touch alone. Jess C has a bum knee, and before her therapist started working her she somehow knew. Amazing.

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: Fish Spa
Cost: $6:50 for 30 minutes

We were wandering around one of Kuala Lumpur’s 7000 malls, killing time before a movie when we passed the Fish Spa. A Fish Spa. In a mall. According to the brochure, we would submerge our feet into a pool, where tiny little guppies would commence to eat the dead skin from our feet. A lovely relaxing experience that we would enjoy very much. Gross, but sold.

As it happens, a fish spa is a long tile aquarium, about 3 feet deep, into which you dunk your feet and lower legs. There was a tank with “small” fish, where we were to start, before moving on to the “large” fish in the adjacent tank.

Approaching the “small” fish tank, it became apparent that the truth in advertising laws we are all accustomed to do not apply in Malaysia. The tank was not filled with sweet little tiny guppies as promised, but those nasty 4 inch long algae suckers that you put in your fish tank at home, the ones with giant suction cups instead of mouths. As we hovered our feet in terror over the water, they swarmed in a feeding frenzy below, hungry for their next meal.

Jess C bravely took the plunge first. And lasted all of .6 seconds before yanking her feet from the tank screaming, fish still attached to her heels. Shaking her feet to get them off, they plunked one by one back into the water.

Absolutely disgusting.

It took me a couple of minutes more to work up to shoving my feet into the tank. The fish were circling fiendishly under my outstretched legs. Popping their heads above the surface, trying to get at the apparently delicious meal dangling just a few inches out of their reach. Clearly they had had the taste of flesh. They wanted more.

I managed to get my feet into the tank. The fish swarmed my feet, attaching themselves to any exposed flesh. It felt exactly like what you think being eaten alive by suction cup mouthed fish while being tickled with 1000 feathers would feel like. I screamed like a little girl. I lasted about a half a second.

Thankfully we had purchased thirty minutes of this torture. We sat on the edge of the aquarium laughing hysterically and being completely skeezed out. We both bravely managed to stick our feet in long enough to pose for pictures, then got the hell out of there.

The spa kindly gave us 30-minute foot massages to make up for it. Much better.

Penang, Malaysia: Foot, Shoulder and Head Reflexology
Cost: $9.80 for one hour

We ended up in here because it was right next to our bus stop, and getting a foot massage sounded like more fun that waiting outside on the surface of the sun for the bus to arrive. We walked up to the second floor to a windowless room with 4 very worn lounge chairs. Each had an ottoman covered by a small green towel decorated with a picture of feet and the words “Home Sweet Home.” The décor was classic American Chinese Food Restaurant. Brightly lit with white walls, a wooden clock carved like an anchor, a red wall calendar, and one lone bamboo plant. A man greeted us, settled us down in our chairs, told our feet to go to their home, and went into the back. He returned a minute later with our therapists. Blind ones. Apparently this is a theme.

Reflexology is a little strange; they spent about 40 minutes rubbing our feet, focusing on each small reflexology point. As it happens, the backs of my toes are painfully sore. Maybe that’s where you liver point lives, I don’t know. At the end they did this really cool thing on your head that felt exactly like that head tingler thingie they sell at the mall.

Far and away the best part of the massage was Jess C’s guy, who spent the better part of the hour belching loudly, and occasionally ripping a real stinker and then giggling about it. The muzak renditions of famous movie theme songs playing softly in the background were a nice touch too. That Bryan Adams song from Robin Hood really set the mood.

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  1. Someone needs to let the “American Society for the Blind” know about this–what a great career path–NOT! Stinky,sweaty bodies and feet all day–eeek!

  2. Reee tried desperately to convince me to get the fish foot mssage in Malaysia, but I was NOT havin it. They even do it at the airport! One of my biggest fears, coincidentally, is fish mouth. Gross! You are a braver woman than I.

  3. What a great treat for a Sunday morning read. Pure joy in early day guffawing. Thanks Jess. I’m so enjoying your adventure!

  4. Living vicariously through you is never boring, I’ll give you that!:)

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