Thursday, July 5, 2012

Trip Report, Pt. 15: A Massage Boy's Story

In the interest of privacy this is not where Nat works. I met him in Pattaya. Center Point is a shop in Bangkok.

Nat was deep in thought as I approached the massage shop. Rather than calling out the familiar welcome to passers-by he was adding up what monies he'd need to finish out his current "fiscal" month. There was enough for his portion of the shared room rent and food, but there wasn't a whole lot of extra left over past that.

As many of us do (or have done in the past) he'd had a few too many the previous night and was paying a minor price for it today. As it stood, it was very late in the evening and his work day would be ending soon. He was thankful for that - and the promise of something to eat before heading back to the room to sleep. He would be very happy to see Bee when he arrived on his motocy to give him a ride home after finishing his shift delivering food.

Still, when he noticed a pair of feet stopped in front of the shop - mine - he looked up and flashed his best smile.  "Massage?" he asked, hopefully. "That's what I'm looking for," I replied "but that's all, really." I'd heard nice things about the quality of the massage at this place and figured we could cover the specifics later. I was on my way back to my room, and had decided that a decent massage would be the best nightcap for the evening.

There were three other guys sitting out front; one staring off down the street, deep in thought, and two others staring intently at the small screens on their cell phones; the light from the displays eerily illuminating their faces as they frowned in concentration. Their boredom looked to be approaching the near-paralysis stage.

Since it's always somewhat of a toss of the dice (a crap shoot, if you will) with massage guys and their level of actual massage training and skill I figured Nat would be the one.  At least he'd acknowledged my existence.

"Do you speak any English?" I asked, hope against hope. "Nit noy (a little bit)," he answered so I asked "how many months have you done massage?" "Not month. Four year," came the reply, and that settled the deal. I figured he wouldn't have lasted that long if he was a complete klutz at it, so I said "OK, you win the lottery".  He looked puzzled, but smiled when he saw me do the "after you" motion toward the door with a sweep of my hand.

I showered and met Nat back at the room where I'd left my things, lay my weary self down where he indicated and started taking some deep breaths to relax. The window was open near my head, and I could hear the sounds from the street below; the rise and fall of motor scooter engines, the clattering of street carts, the talk and laughter of people as they went about their lives.

To be polite, I asked where in Thailand he was from, and that started him talking. More than I wanted, actually; this wasn't work time for me, but hey - a story is a story. I tried to make mental notes while trying to relax; not something I do with much skill, but here's what I remember...

Nat was in his later 20s, and had been born into a farming family who had staked their claim near Suphanburi generations before. The oldest of four children, he was the one who was leaned on for support more than the others. The rainy season flooding in 2011 hadn't helped the family finances any, and now that he was fairly recently back to work he had legitimate money worries. With a sister's medical bills still an ongoing burden to his mother and father back home upcountry he was forlorn that there wasn't anything to send home to help them. 

Beginning massage in Bangkok he'd left the business after a few years to work in a shop selling bags near the two Baiyoke towers, figuring that although the money wasn't as good it was consistent, at least.

Nat had realized early on that he was gay, but hadn't met anyone special until he was away from the countryside and into Bangkok. It was during this stretch of time he was selling bags that he met someone and entered into his first relationship. His boyfriend was a "lady boy" of one stripe or another; I didn't understand what Nat was trying to say more than that. After a single tumultuous, stormy month Nat ended the relationship and went back to Suphanburi to visit the family and lick his wounds.

He was back with his family for a visit when a friend called him to say he'd bought a massage shop in Pattaya with the funding from a farang friend, and would Nat like to come join in the operation to try his hand at massage again, so to speak.  Finances being somewhat dire at the time, Nat agreed. Initially he'd done well, and still had his group of regulars who asked for him, but things had slowed down dramatically in the area overall.

Nat said I was his third customer in five days, and nobody in the shop was making much money. Here it was, close to closing, and I was both the first and last customer for the shop that day.  Knowing that it was really no wonder the guys were rather listless out front.

Maybe Nat figured he'd talked enough, I don't know, but he stopped and was quiet for a few minutes - and I didn't ask him any more questions.  "You OK?" he asked, and I said "Yes, fine". He definitely knew his massage moves, and although I got a full hour of treatment the time seemed to fly by.  Soon I was showered again and back gathering my things; Nat waiting in the hallway already dressed in his street clothes when I came out of the small room.

I tipped him as if he'd done the extras many expect, and he seemed pleased with this gratuity, giving me a polite wai and leading me back downstairs through the now closed shop. The guy at the counter was there to collect the massage fee, but everything else from outside was now inside, and the lights were off, save the one over the reception counter.

"Do you want to have something to eat?" I asked Nat. "No, friend me waiting," he said, pointing to Bee, sitting in front of the shop on his motocy. I patted him on the shoulder firmly, telling him "good massage!" and he smiled.  "Thank you," he said, holding the door open for me. "See me again."  I hope I do.


Anonymous said...

Very nice article. I always like to hear about the boys lives.
They have such a sense of duty to support their family.
A very disappointing customer count for him. Lets hope things improve for them all.
Likewise I also like to take one for a meal, even if nothing else develops. Thanks for the post.

Anonymous said...

i too loved the story. Always nice hearing about the pvt side of their lives. Please let us know if you ever return for another massage


khunbaobao said...

Thank you both for the comments. Oddly enough, I'd gone by that shop to see if a different masseur from the previous trip was on duty, and he was there - but only to say hello to friends. He'd moved on to another shop. I'll see him next trip.

My favorite guy was gone the year before last, but I've spoken on the phone with him once since. I'd stopped at the shop and the owner had called him for me. Now I have his number, and if I ever decide to go that far into the bush I could see him back home.

I appreciate you guys chiming in!