The triumph of hope over experience

To the person who told me that I ‘must have a foot massage in Cambodia’: what sort of masochist are you?

Despite previous experience of Khmer massage techniques, as this had been highly recommended, I was expecting a soothing afternoon – a sort of human version of a Dr Scholl footbath.

I lay down and noticed her long fingernails, and began to feel a familiar sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach … this was going to be Stress Release Massage,  The Sequel.

I gritted my teeth as she dug her long nails, bony fingers and even bonier knuckles into my instep – but even then I wasn’t prepared for the stick.  She had removed it surreptitiously from a basket on the floor, and with a lightening move jabbed me in the foot with it.  She smiled as I shot upwards and headed for the ceiling with an agonised yelp, but she kept an iron grip on my foot so that the pressure didn’t release even for an instant.  She held the stick in place for so long that it started to feel as if it was red-hot as well as sharp.  Of course, once she realised how painful I found it, she wasn’t going to stop at one jab, and eventually my entire sole had been perforated and tenderised.

After the stick she clambered up onto the bed, but I was face up this time, so I could see her coming and prepare myself.  There was a lot of chopping and pressing, and then she pulled every finger and toe until it cracked, and bent each one in every conceivable direction – both the possible and the impossible.  Since when have fingers been considered part of the foot?  I understand now how Apsara dancers are able to bend their wrists and fingers backwards; they’ve obviously had regular massage sessions since childhood – poor sods.

Next I had to sit up and she climbed up behind me and started jabbing and prodding at my back, like someone who’s desperate to get to the bar in a crowded Glasgow pub on a Saturday night.  Then she dangled from my shoulders for a bit, as if we were limbering up for a particularly daring circus routine, and finished up with a flourish of karate chops to my back.

And the absolutely worst thing about a foot massage is that as you suffer every agonising jab and prod, you know that you’re going to have to relive the whole thing again when she moves to the other foot.