Chapter 4: Kathoey Gesundheight by Gale Myers (The Further Adventures of Normal Man)
The Further Adventures of Normal May
by Gale Myers
At last. I’m out of my room beyond a twice daily excursion out for meals and reading material. I’ve spent the last five days holed up suffering from a cold that really put me down for two days, and left me glazed at about 70% of my energy the rest of the time. On the lowest two days my head tasted like I had a wad of aluminum foil in my mouth and my nose and mouth seemed to be competing over which could leak the most disgusting fluids into the mountain of tissue filling the waste baskets. Now let me tell you about the delicious dinner I had tonight.
I was pleasantly surprised this morning at how much better I felt in just one night after the turn around. Coincidently, the sun was shining yet it was relatively cool so I gathered my beach gear, rented a motor bike and set out for Hat Ao Nang. We in Thailand call beaches, “hats”. Or does adding that “s” change the whole meaning of hat? I don’t think there are plurals in Thai. Oh crap, I’ll never be cool. So anyway I’m heading for the beach on a motorbike, once again vowing to stop along the way back and take photos of the incredible limestone cliffs and caves along the hiway, and I was also struck by the idea of doing a photo essay of the various modifications utilized to transform the basic motorbike into utility vehicles of the most ingenious and utilitarian modes of transport.
I’ll come across bundles of sacks the side of a Volkswagen bus and find that it is all being propelled by your humble 125cc motorbike with the driver imbedded in the starboard side of the load weaving through traffic calm as a monk. Today I saw a variation with a load only the size of a Volkswagen Bug (I am not making these dimensions up). I ‘m not sure how the load was attached but in this case there was nothing added to the bike. As I passed it I noticed the driver was in front and smack in the middle of the load which stuck out about two and a half feet on either side. His helmet was perched on the top right hand corner of the load, making for a rather disconcerting picture from behind.
Another variation is the traveling kitchen. I can see that these are generally large rectangular trays with one or two wheels attached to the left side. On the trays are the various utensils required for whatever cuisine is being offered, along with display cases and racks. Most often there is the product already on display so all the proprietor has to do is pull up to his allotted spot and start serving. Quite often I’ll see charcoal fires smoking away as the chef chugs his or her way through traffic. Talk about meals on wheels.
Now, I am kind of making light of this observation but I am not making fun of it. I don’t mean disrespect or, snigger, look at that. I am humbly impressed how these people go out in life every day, working without any guarantees or benefits and wrest a living from a social situation that would absolutely break me. I have no doubt. I, as most all who read this, have been blessed to be born in a bounty of wealth and social protection that is only enjoyed by the most materially advanced cultures of each generation. When we pride ourselves on our achievements, remember we started from an elevated foundation.
Another aspect of the 125cc motorbike phenomenon is the aplomb of the polymorphic motorcyclist. Whether it be a wild 14 year old student with shirt tail flapping as he’s bent over the bars screaming through traffic, or a plump, gray haired matron sedately weaving through the far left lanes, sometimes infringing on the sidewalk, with her granddaughter holding onto the handlebars in front with a puppy in a basket hanging around her neck, and her little brother holding on behind reading a comic book, they all seem to share an acceptance that, this is just how it is……period…..and, I guess it is.
When I think about my parents, their attitude about motorcycles, I have to smile. I had to grow completely out of the house and stake my claim to independent adulthood and maturity before I even thought of getting a bike. And, believe me, they weren’t thrilled by the concept even then. Well look at our society’s concept of motorcycles. The battle about helmet laws, the outlaw biker syndrome, continual admonishment to be careful, be careful. And the thing is that’s all true and really reflects just good common sense. But that common sense is founded on a privileged foundation. When resources are so dear that necessities, such as fuel, space, and time, take a large percentage of your earnings, you do what you have to do to survive. Sometimes the practical thing to do involves more risk. Then too, familiarity with a system allows it to flow more smoothly and factors tend to even out. I know, most of the other cyclists are safer than I am even though I do have thousands of miles of touring experience.
I have noticed that nowadays they issue helmets with the bike rentals. Back in 19... back when I was here last, I never saw them. Of course they are about the weight and durability of Tupperware. If I leave my baseball cap on underneath my helmet, I probably double my protection from injury.
It’s not uncommon to see three or four people on these tiny bikes. Families, friends, work buddies and school mates. Hop on and head out. Only twice have I seen five on one. The first time was in Phuket. Four young students, all boys, same size, short hair dressed in uniform lined up as even as a block of dominoes, with one younger boy, about eight or nine years old standing in the very front smack up against the handle bars. They were stopped at a light joking and talking. The lights changed they pulled smoothly out making a right turn, and tooled off into the traffic. The second time I saw this was just yesterday. A young man, his pretty little wife, and three children were all entwined on the bike wending their way through a market on a side street of Krabi town.
One last observation and I will move on. I pulled up through traffic to a stop light and looked over to one of the most beautiful sights traffic has ever presented to me. A young Muslim maiden, pink burkha flowing gracefully down over an exquisite feminine robe, soft dark eyes beneath long black eyelashes, her skin was a flawless translucence with a light of its own. Her perfect delicate hands revved that little 125cc Honda and flowed out into the traffic leaving me there dangerously rapt in fantasies of magic carpets and the lost dreams of Aladdin. (do I have the name of that head piece correct?….anyone?)
Well, I finally made it out of the hiway and am heading through the small hamlets dotting the way to the beach. This part of the road goes through rubber tree plantations which are one of the main products of Thailand these days. I think it’s number three or four of their exports. That’s not an exact figure. Unless I look these things up again and state specifically, just figure they are pretty close approximations and within a reasonable proximity of the truth. Kind of like a good horseshoe toss but not a ringer.
I saw sign at one plantation that exclaimed. “See Rubber Gathering Process. Tours Available.” Now that was a tantalizing concept. I couldn’t decide. Let’s see, cobra show? Watch sap flow out of a tree trunk? Cobra show? Watch sap flow out of a tree trunk.? Finally in a fit of conflicting opportunities for excitement I just went to the beach.
After laying around feeling sorry for myself for some five odd days I splurged this outing. I took a free chair in the shade that was offered by a massage stand. The chairs really are free and they are very decent about not hassling you for a massage. They offer books to read, beer, food, started with a free piece of pineapple and a banana, then just left me alone. I went out for a long leisurely swim and floated around. Came back and lolled in the sand and sun. Went out for another swim. Lolled on my other side. Back in the water swimming and floating like a sea otter, then back to my chair to read and snooze.
It was getting kind of late in the afternoon and I decided that since I was stiff again from laying in bed so much with a cold, that a massage would actually be a very practical and pleasurable indulgence. About that time a Thai guy who had been working the crowd with the women offering massages to passer bys asked me if I was ready for massage. Picture a long row of thatched roofs under the trees lining the beach. Under the roofs are long tile or hard wood floors with twenty or so mats lying there next to each other stretching 30 feet or so back into the trees. There are several hundred feet of these, it’s like a massage industrial park. I’ll get a picture of this soon. So, anyway I figured these to be bona fide Thai massage treatments. They give traditional Thai massage, face massage, oil massage, foot massage, hand massage, about a dozen or so at about 150baht, to 300baht. $5 to $9. For more intimate massages you go to indoor parlors where the options are broader and bolder.
What I wanted was a good strong traditional Thai massage where they wrap your limbs around each other applying leverage and generally turn you into a limp grinning pile of molecules. Right around the massage platforms where I was sitting there were a dozen or so tourists laying languidly in the shade with blissed out grins on their faces.
So, I agreed to his suggestion and walked from the chair about fifteen feet over to the shady platform where I expected him to introduce me to my masseuse du jour and submit myself to the sublime torture of a Thai massage. First he had me stand in a large bowl of water to wash my feet then walked me back next to a wiry middle age woman with arms like Popeye, said a few things to her, they giggled and he had me lay on a fresh towel then walked on back to the rear of the cabana. I layed down next to a Thai woman the lady was working on and started to relax, almost falling asleep to the chatter and laughter of the masseuses all around.
Soon, I heard a woman’s voice at my feet speaking in a melodious joking chatter with the other women, and a pair of strong hands started pressing on the instep of my feet, right where the bundle of nerves seem to tense up from the trials of the body as it gathers stress in our lives without proper outlet.
She worked on my feet for awhile then moved up to my back. Rubbing with her thumb and knuckles, she found knots and lumps I had no idea existed. She worked mercilessly, sometimes even painfully but bearably until my trapezius were smooth and my lower back relaxed. She leaned over close to my ear and asked “OK?” in a sultry voice. I mumbled “Oh yes” and opened my eyes.
Well, I didn’t yell “JEEZ!!” and didn’t jerk my head back, in fact I didn’t really register at all. That’s how good his massage had been. But I was sure getting tired of opening my eyes to strange men’s faces six inches from my nose. It was the guy from up front. The organizer as I thought. The procurer who passed the customers on to the masseuses. The maitre de of asexual sensual delight. Where did that voice come from? He seemed to take on a whole new persona. He asked me to roll over onto my back.
I’ve had massages by men. I’ve had massages by women. But this is the first time I’ve had a massage by both at the same time and still with only two hands involved. I surreptitiously looked around me. No, there wasn’t a group of tourists standing around smirking at the old man getting a massage from the kathoey. In fact the only person paying attention was me. My masseuse was talking to the masseuse next to me who I thought had been rubbing me down. They were chatting and giggling like hens in the hot afternoon shade. So in the insightful words of Pogo, “W’at the hell, w’at the hell.” and l laid back and enjoyed the rest of a unique Thai massage.