Touching, outside of America



I had to take Cmekta, this random Russian medication in Armenia when I got food poisoning from eating a mussel (in a landlocked country. such a dumb move). it was totally chalky and revolting fruit punch flavored nastiness. it would have been so much worse if the glass was not a see-through glass. I acquired this stuff by miming stomach cramps and poop butt at the pharmacist and then went back to my hotel room to drink it and lie down. When the housekeeper came into the room to clean it, I was lying in bed with my clothes on since I had come back in the middle of the day from a conference. I was lying very still on my back like dracula in a coffin. She started talking to me in Russian, probably because I look more Russian than anything else, but I had no clue what she was saying-she had noticed the Cmekta and divined I was sick. She came over and started massaging my head! It was the nicest most comforting thing in that moment. trapped in a weird country with food poisoning, feeling like absolute hell, and all you want is your mom, and then some mom-adjacent figure shows up to murmur soothingly and massage a total stranger’s head.

Incidentally, I also got food poisoning in Korea a long time ago from eating a clam. We were living with host families for a whole month, and this was far worse food poisoning than Armenia and involved projectile vomit and diarrhea and a crushing headache, all while having to contend with an indecipherable east asian toilet that sprayed water on your nether parts or at your face, if you were standing over it trying to flush it because none of the buttons were obviously for flushing. My host mom came and massaged my head and my feet at regular intervals and did some pressure point stuff in my hands because my head  was pounding brutally.  It was very comforting.

Americans do not touch each other enough.  Military service is compulsory for men in Korea, and do you know that they teach them massage and acupressure? It’s unbelievable. One night we were chilling with the sons of our host families, guys in their 20’s. They gave us back massages and awesome hand massages, learned in the MILITARY, for relaxation techniques. Can you imagine the US military even thinking about that for 2 seconds? Americans have Daryl Metcalf level aversions (seriously, watch the video) to touching while the Koreans, who live 2 miles away from actual nuclear destruction have compulsory massage lessons for all their men doing their military service.

Any time I’m in Asia I spend lots of time paying people to touch me. it’s cheap, because most people are touching people, so there is not a huge premium attached to a massage like there is in the US, and its all very democratized and affordable for way more people than in Western countries. Some places in Beijing, you can get a full body massage for 5 dollars or an amazing foot massage/acupressure massage for the same price. It’s no frills, and no one leaves the room for you to undress modestly or pours fancy unctions on you,  and the massage table definitely doesn’t have clean sheets on it, and the towel they drape on you smells like 45 other people, but I do not even care.  someone to touch you for an hour and for 5 dollars? it’s glorious. I would get like 2 a day.

I got a massage (still while dealing with food poisoning) in Armenia from a stereotypical Helga-type soviet woman, probably great at the shot put at some point in her life.  you are told to take your clothes off, all of them, right then and there. the lights are florescent and turned all the way up, the room is not very warm, and Helga is tapping her foot, and there is no aromatherapy, but there is a tub of mutton fat lubricant or something, but for $37 instead of $90, I could give a shit about all of that.

Ive had 2 really bad massage experiences. The worst massage I’ve ever had was in Iran. And of course, in true Iranian fashion, I was told it was the BEST massage in Tehran. I sat around in a hamam getting all damp and sweaty, and then was taken 2 hours late into a clammy room that smelled like dampness and miasma of mildew and drain pipe and told to get on this huge slab of a bed on top of a towel. a woman in her bra and underwear made some lame attempt at a massage while coating my entire body, face, hair in this awful thick oil, so much oil, SO MUCH OIL, she would get up on the table and sit on me and mash and splash around the oil, and my face was wedged in this tiny breathing hole slit in the table ace-ventura-rhino and my neck hurt so badly, and when she flipped me over there were dead cockroaches in the lights above me that I tried not to think about.  It took 3 shampoos and I still left oily all over, and I swear to god my back felt worse than it did before I went in.  it was so gross and so lame and I was pissed for the rest of the day because I had placed a lot of hopes on a good massage since I had been so stressed out from fleeing pigeon ticks in our rented apartment and trying to find a new one in the middle of ramadan heat and dehydration.

The second one was at a Russian bathhouse outside of Philadelphia, which took place in a 100 and whatever degree sauna by a huge bald sweating Russian who almost certainly had another job as a Russian mafia hit man. I was in a bathing suit, so the vigorous rubbing with the spongy soap thing he was using was awkward, because the scrubbing kept taking off my bikini in inopportune places. It was so hot that a bag of ice has to be placed under your neck so that you don’t die, but the hit man/masseuse doesn’t get the benefit of one of these life-saving ice bags, so he’s just wheezing and panting and dripping dangerous sweat with desperation eyeballs and it was the MOST HOT and claustrophobic and life-threatening half hour of my life while suds mixed with both our sweat and tears in some kind of  Eastern Promises sauna fight scene with Viggo Mortenson. eastern promisesHe scrubbed so hard and it was so hot that he made the skin on the back of my calves raw and they itched for a week while it healed.


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