Yesterday I arrived in Taiwan for the first time. First time ever in Asia, in fact.
I found my way through all the corridors and immigration lines to the exit, where I saw a long line of signs with names on them, arriving people being met by locals.
Two smiling young women held a large blue sign with my name on it.
We greeted each other, posed for smiling pictures under a large sign that said Welcome to Taiwan.
Someone's phone rang before we got a taxi - it was another host who informed me she would be waiting for me at the hotel and that they had booked me for a massage at a nearby spa.
By now I had been up longer than 24 hours without being horizontal, one of the least good things about traveling. I also felt like I needed a shower. Taipei is hot. They reassured me that it didn't matter, I could go get the massage without needing to take a shower first.
We got to the hotel. My hosts, by now numbering 4 young women, escorted me up to my room, made sure I was connected to the internet, made sure everything was OK.
I'm not used to having so many people taking care of things for me. Very luxurious.
The room itself is very luxurious, a giant kingsize bed, a large bathroom with heated toilet seat, a washlet that can spray at least four different ways, a large walk-in shower and and deep soaker tub, both, gold faucets...
Anyway, I had no time to enjoy any of that because there was a massage therapist waiting for me, and they seemed very determined that I go meet her and let her do her thing. My impression was that they could not imagine anyone who might not be attracted to the idea.
I had not received a massage since... about 1994 I think.
I've never been that crazy about massage, getting it from a stranger, even though I learned to do it in physio school, and remember that I liked it a lot at that time.
In any case, I complied, caved to peer pressure, and off we went.
We walked halfway around the block to the spa.
I was given slippers to put on. Shoes and socks sat in neat rows in the front lobby. The place was quiet, smelled good, was full of quiet smiling people serving ginger tea.
My massage therapist, Ann, ushered me into a room at the back; a raised bleacher-style bench was punctuated at intervals by large round crocks. She asked me to sit in front of one of them. She sat at a low stool on the other side. Slippers came off. Feet went into the crock. It was filled with lovely hot water. She proceeded to massage my feet and lower legs up to the knees with some oil and some gritty stuff that felt good. She even filed away at my calloused heels. I was glad I had been doing that for myself, so that someone else handling my 67 year old feet would not find them as cracked and rough and thickened as I had, a couple years ago... Amazing how time takes a toll on foot epidermis. I use foot cream on a regular basis, which helps a lot.
As she worked on my feet I noticed that the floor behind her had a long strip of large glass panels, under which swam live goldfish.
When the foot treatment was finished, slippers went back on and she escorted me to the toilet, indicated that I should use it. So I did.
When I emerged she took me to the massage room, a lovely room with a sliding door. We went in. She opened up a small package, and pulled out the smallest pair of panties I've ever seen in my life, a g-string really, made of the same stretchy material as panty hose are made of. There did not seem to be any point in putting them on, but she wanted me to, so I did, to help her maintain her own professional boundaries. She gave me lots of time to get my clothes off and get comfortable face down under the blanket with my face in the hole. Lovely quiet spa music was playing.
She came in and went to work. My awareness became completely kinesthetic. First, she made complete contact with my entire back and back of hips and legs through the blanket. Just some lovely pressure. She would make contact slowly, then accelerate. Like she knew what my brain needed, how it liked being contacted or something.
She put hot wet towels onto my back. Something inside me melted when she did that. A bunch of spinal tension I had had when I first lay down, and when she had first pressed through the blanket, went poof and just.. disappeared.
She uncovered the entire lower left limb. First she massaged it in its straight position, then she bent it up like a frog's leg and worked on it some more. She did not leave out the foot, even though she had already worked on it in the room with the fish and the big crock pot.
Then she did the right leg.
Then each arm.
Then the neck and back.
The table was very wide. Clearly, she was up on it, and working very symmetrically with both hands. Yet I never felt her touch me with any part of her body except her hands.
I thought to myself that she must be very strong and agile, and that this was hard work. That she must be pretty tired by the end of a day.
Then she said, lie here for a moment, and left the room. After awhile she came back in, and covered my back with hot wet towels. She used some sort of hot sandbags on it also.
When she was done she asked me to roll over onto my back. Which I did. As she held the blanket up in front of herself like a curtain, to preserve my modesty.
The blanket came down over me.
She moved behind me and worked on my neck some more. She rolled my head to one side, massaged my head and ear. Then the other way. I was pretty limp by then. I can't even remember the last time someone was able to turn me into a cooked noodle like that.
She asked me to sit up, worked on my shoulders some more, then let me know we were done.
I turned to look at her, and saw she was wearing a face mask!
This is something I have seen a lot of people wearing here.
The woman who processed me at immigration was wearing one.
I don't think they are sick. I think they are protecting themselves from inhaling other people's germs probably.
The entire massage encounter had lasted about two and a half hours. But it all had gone by in a flash. So nice to feel a different sense of time, to experience each moment as a Now, not be sucked into either the past or the future.
I got dressed and exited the room. She was there to guide me up the hall. She gave me her arm, in case I stumbled. The hall was basically a set of railway ties, painted black and heavily varnished and impeccably clean, quite close together with white rocks in between. But you do have to walk on the ties, not the rocks. I guess that was a way to make people's brain come back into focus - give them a small predictive motor task.
I was taken back to the tea room. It had floor seating all round the wall, flat foam cushions with wall cushions for leaning back. I was given a plate with ginger tea and some sesame cookies. When I was done with the tea, I went back to the front lobby and put my shoes and socks back on.
My hosts had vanished, and it was now about 6 pm. I didn't wait long though - they arrived en masse to walk me back to the hotel - Joanna, Rainbow, Livia and Tina.
After a quick shower I joined them downstairs - another host had joined us - Poppy. We went out for a lovely dinner at a restaurant just across the street, and I had the opportunity to remember how to use chopsticks.