Enjoying a foot massage while spending Christmas holidays in Thailand is a must have indeed.

The idea of relaxing rather than being under family pressure is a must have everyone should enjoy. Leslie imagined that, once back to England, all her friends would be mumbling about having spent their Christmas holidays with their families, their hearts parted between the love for the ones who have always been there and the difficulty to spend a few days without insulting them. Leslie knew that emotions towards the ones we love best are not always easy. 

Who were her friends during this celebration? Erupting volcanos? Younger people who don’t manage to be considered according to the real age? Fake Buddhists trying to remain calm and enjoy the moment at any cost? Forced smiling faces? Distorted egos trying to show the family what they wished they could be, but failing desperately…

So why not go to Buddha land and learn how Buddhist really manage to find peace and remain calm? Leslie hoped this trip would improve her relationship within her own family circle. She cared about them so much, she just wanted they did not show that kind of face when they were going back from her place to their home after Christmas. She really hoped she would learn a lot during her first trip to Asia. 

Learn to be herself and enjoy the ones she loved best.

Foot massages would not have been her first choice. Her old back ached and her neck wasn’t moving as painlessly as she wished. So, she first had a traditional oil massage followed by a head massage. She had been in a rather chic place recommended by one of her friends.

Her mind had wandered during the whole session. What will her children think of this escapade? Were they cooking the turkey? Did they know how to cook it now that she wasn’t in the kitchen to help? Oh! Come on. Of course, they knew! How was the reclining Buddha? She was really looking forward to visit wat pho temple. Oh! Funny! She realized she was lying too… A spiritual experience? Not really, these massages were quite … cracking… Not really slouchy. Comfort will come afterwards… Probably… Let’s think about something merry… Oh yes! She will soon be a grand-mother. Alev and his wife were doing their best to have a baby… It will come soon. A grand-mother… Leslie could not believe she would be one. Of course, she didn’t, she wasn’t one yet. Once she’ll see the baby, she will surely fall in love and nature will make it work. 

A few days later, these massages felt like her body had turned into a superhero’s and she went excitedly to visit to the biggest Buddha statue in the world! Leslie felt reinvigorated. She felt young again because of the massages. And of the idea of a spiritual experience in this temple.

How could they have put such a big statue in this temple? Wat pho temple looked tiny —  the aura of the statue was taller than the whole place. She then noticed some paintings on the wall. What were they about? She wished she had a guided tour with some guy explaining the whole thing. And those paper money, flying on strings, that was so cute. They looked like flags supporting the effort of this enormous lying Buddha. It was so big she did not manage to take a picture in which it would all fit. She took two or three and wished there was a trick on a computer to make it one; her son-in-law had explained something about panoramic pictures on Photoshop. Oh yes! Let’s try a panoramic picture. Yes, but she wouldn’t have the back and the feet… Let’s forget about photography and focus on the spiritual experience. 

Well! The weather was hot. She had been given a small bottle of water but felt it would be more appropriate to drink outside. She stood in a corner and stopped moving. She just stared at the statue. It was so imposing. She imagined Jesus Christ comfortably lying down rather than suffering on his cross. The worst joke she knew crossed her mind: it was about a painter advertising for an ironmonger’s nails and choosing to represent Jesus stating: “With Dede’s nails, I’m safely hanging on!” Dede, the ironmonger, thought that Jesus could not be hung with his nails. The painter redesigned Jesus fallen from the cross and changed the text to: “With Dede’s nails, it would not have happened!” In comparison, Buddhism seemed comfier.

She had overheard a couple’s conversation at the hotel, while she was trying not to fall into her coffee (she was jet lagged). They stated that in Thailand, the feet were considered badly and the worst thing to do was to stop a bank note from flying away with your shoe as you would then have one of your feet on the greenback’s represented face of the King. 

The Buddha’s feet were a work of art in themselves. There were so many signs on them. What did they mean? She really felt like the tourist she was. Only grabbing the surface of things. Not understanding the codes.

A mother and a young boy passed in front of her at full speed. The mother was trying to see as much as she could while the young boy was running asking again and again: 

“Is the hotel this way?”

“Yes, darling”, she kept on repeating. 

It reminded her of her son. Alev hated museums or religious places. He always wanted to go home while her daughter was the opposite; always venturing to new places and so exciting about learning new things. She was a journalist now, and her brother was working from home for investors. They had not changed so much after all… But she had definitely grown older… Is this supposed to be a religious experience? Let’s get out of this place and have some fresh water. 

The garden was peaceful and magnificent. She found tranquillity there. She just listened to the sounds surrounding her and forgot about everything she had in mind previously.

Once in Kanchanaburi, Leslie missed the sense of having a Wonder Woman body and finally opted for the foot massage, as she had not tried it yet and as it was supposed to be something special here. The atmosphere was completely different than what she had seen in Bangkok.

After a cooking lesson at On’s Thai Issan, where she had the best tofu Pad Tai of her life and enjoyed mango with brown rice, Leslie posted a few pics on Facebook and asked the super friendly cook where she could have a good foot massage. The cook recommended one — repeating it was clean. It was one just at the other side of the street and she decided to go for an appointment. After she had managed her way to the other side of the street, the cook was waving to help Leslie find her way.

It was a tiny shop. Nothing special about it, at first sight. She went to the door and realized she was on a bridge and some fishes were swimming peacefully below her. Oh! Gosh! Leslie had heard about feet being cleaned by little fishes. Was the pond for that purpose? No, it could not be. Oh! No! She didn’t want to experience that. The spa ones were smaller and black. These were exotic colourful fishes. They were many but did not seem to bother each other. Most of them ignored the others. 

When her son was 6, he loved fishes. Alev would have stood there staring at them for hours, commenting on their moves as if he had been commenting a water polo game. The family had tried to have a fish tank once but the whole thing looked more like a fish genocide rather than a hobby; so, they had to give up after a few tries.

The door swung open and a woman, about her age, showed her the way in, with a nice gesture, a luminous smile and a warm “Sawat_dee – kha.” Leslie felt so good just by mimicking her “Sawat_dee – kha.” There was something in the attitude, in the tone of the voice and in the overall benevolence that made her experience something new. She really had the sensation that she was utterly welcome.

“In… You… in”, the woman managed to say, showing the way in with her forefinger.

Leslie executed this benevolent order.

“You, sit … here”, she instructed. 

There was no other seat to wait anyway. Obviously, the woman knew what she wanted but Leslie felt she had to specify: 

“Foot massage, Kop khun kha.” 

“Yes, foot massage”, the shop keeper replicated.

The woman had a phone call. She then explicated “Ten minutes” showing all her fingers to be sure Leslie had understood. “OK?”

“OK”, echoed Leslie.

“Tea?”

“Tea. Kop khun kha.”

Leslie hoped the foot massage didn’t involve explanation about her health condition. The therapist would probably figure that out just by touching her feet, at least she hoped so…

The therapist went on taking care of a man who was obviously enjoying a foot massage session without explaining anything. Leslie concluded that she was the next customer and that she had an appointment in ten minutes. She just had to follow the instructions she had been given and drink her tea. The weather was hot and the tea was surprisingly comforting her. She was so English. A cup of tea and all her problems vanished away. 

She was really startled by one thing. The place was clean, indeed, very simple but very restful — and with an impeccable Wi-Fi-connection. The male customer was relaxing, using his phone at the same time. His place might not have Wi-Fi; so, he might get a foot massage at a place that does! Leslie wondered what he could be doing for such a long time, on his phone. It made him look like he was on his couch, at home. He was, indeed, TOTALLY relaxed. Had it mess up the ambiance for the other people? What did other people think about that behaviour? Was this usual? It seemed Leslie was the only to look at him funny, so she stopped and looked at her tea instead. 

A few minutes later, another therapist arrived. 

“Hello! Foot massage?”, she inquired. 

Leslie understood that the owner of the place had called another therapist who spoke English just for her. How caring! 

People had been so nice since she had arrived. Leslie remembered this family at the car rental who wanted a car seat for their daughter. The staff had understood they wanted a baby car seat but obviously, the seat was too small for the girl. The woman had explained:

“In my country, it is compulsory to have a booster, I don’t know here.”

The staff had replied it wasn’t required in Thailand, she had replied it was fine then without car boosters; but the staff had finally managed to find something looking like a car booster. Once Leslie was driving, and had then seen all these trucks full of people and passengers who slept at the edge of the boots; she realized how well Thai people had managed this cultural gap.

Leslie had to put her feet in water — with no fish in it — and then lied on a reclining chair.

Obviously, the massage included the use of pressure points. The therapist had folded a towel into a syringe origami. Leslie had never seen that! She then gently cleaned her feet into warm water. It smelt so good. The man was then offered some tea. What a nice atmosphere! All her worries were gone, her mind was free of thoughts.

“Mrs? Mrs?” The therapist was trying to attract Leslie’s attention.

“Sorry, what is it?”

“Begin? Go there.”

Leslie lied back and enjoyed the oil being spread on her feet. Focusing on her old body made her realize she was lucky to have such a healthy body at her age. She could do anything she wanted. No health issue.

“Big babies?”, asked the English-speaking therapist.

“Oh, yes, very big babies! Giants! Like their father! I should have been more careful when choosing my husband. My husband too big. My son, 11 pounds at birth.”

The therapist weighed this information and then translated it to the owner of the place. 

“Huge babies!”

“Baby big big!” The two women replied with interest and surprise. 

“And 20 inches! … My daughter, 9.5 pounds!”

Again, the therapist translated the valuable info!

“What! Your babies, big, big! My son, 6.4 pounds!”

And the other one explained how much her babies weighed:

“And hers, 4.6 and 5.7 pounds. A daughter and then a son.”

It’s incredible how this type of conversation is universal… At least for women who have children… At least for those who enjoy having kids; which is the case, most of the time… It is as if the world would stop revolving if they didn’t exchange these paramount, lifesaving pieces of information. After all, babies make mothers and becoming a mother changes life? Well, it often saves it, doesn’t it. That’s why we here for; reproduction. What could be more vital?

“Me, Anong. She, Boonsri.”

“Nice to meet you.” 

“You?”

“Leslie.”

“Your babies, Big, good!”

“Yes, Big! Very big! My son was a star at the hospital. Everybody wanted to see him, nurses, friends, everybody!”

Anong laughed and the other woman, Boonsri asked for a translation. They both laughed. Leslie enjoyed hearing the language. How could a language sound so nice, so devoid of malice? She was obviously falling in love with this country.

“You, funny”

“You, very nice.”

Leslie was learning their English at lightning speed, but doubted she would learn Tai that fast. She tried to explain in a very slow and articulate English what had happened with the great-grand-mother of the baby:

My husband’s grand-mother had 10-and-11-pound-babies but nobody believed her. We thought she too old, loose her mind. But when I had giant babies too, my husband and I had to apologize…So I can indeed blame my husband for babies big big!”

After Anong laughed explaining the story, Leslie added:

“You, baby?”

“No … fat!” Anong laughed. “My son is 15.”

“Oh! Sorry”, Leslie felt so sorry and apologized. She then realized she still had baby fat too.
“Me, no fat, baby!” She added with a huge smile.

The three women laughed. 

“Me, grand-mother, soon.”

“Oh! Luck for you! Your baby will have a baby!”, Anong joked.

“That’s literally it!” 

“Will you go and help your daughter?” inquired Anong.

“No, not my daughter. My son and daughter-in-law. And yes, I will go and help them.”

“Good.”

Boonsri wanted some translation here and once it was done she had a huge smile everywhere on her face.

“In my time, no help.” Leslie commented.

“No help?”

“No, no help.”

Anong and Boonsri discussed, obviously considering Leslie’s parents and my in-laws were not worth anything.

“Family was working far away. Could not help.” Leslie defended her family the best she could.

“Oh!” They concluded unconvinced.

“I breastfed my kids but at the time almost nobody did… Bottle… Nurses did not know how to do it with breast. Nobody knew how to do it! Knowledge lost. I had to read books.”

The two women looked at Leslie wondering if she was joking again. Breastfeeding is after all the most basic knowledge a mother should have.

“True story.”

“True story?”

“Yes, true story.”

The two women laughed and laughed again. Were there any other reactions other than smile and laughter in this country? Leslie realized she had not met one single person who was grumpy since she had landed in Thailand. What a fantastic country! She understood why it was called « the land of smiles ». Leslie was becoming jealous of these two women who spent their time laughing and smiling and being smiled at. 

“Why you in กาญจนบุรี?”

Leslie understood the last word meant Kanchanaburi. She did not know what to say. 

“Nature. Beautiful nature. Jungle, elephants, waterfalls.” 

And of course, human nature, but it did not seem neither polite nor proper to state they were an object of study. Oh! he had forgotten the bridge on the River Kwai. Not her favourite anyway…

Since her husband died, three years ago, Leslie’s world had fallen apart. She had realized how few her friends were. She barely dared mention her husband as the spirits would go down instantly. She became depressed and isolated as she couldn’t stand people’s condensing smiles. Even her psychiatrist was treating her that way… Even her children…She wasn’t a mother anymore, she wasn’t a housewife, she was a widow and everybody treated her like that. She hadn’t laughed like that for too long. She was even forgetting her husband. 

She paid her dues and left.

“You, funny,” the therapist concluded before leaving her.

“You, fantastic”, Leslie replied.

And guess what? The therapist laughed, leaving, probably going home or to her own shop; ten minutes away from there.

Leslie went back to her hotel room and checked her phone. She had received a text from her children. “The Turkey is burnt. We miss you.”

What are these new forms of communication. How long has she spent teaching them to say « Hello! » and something meaning « How are you? » 

And what is this message? They miss her cooking, not her. She was just a nourishing mother after all. She shouldn’t have breastfed them in the end. Ingrate children. Not caring about how she is doing during her first trip in Asia. 

Leslie’s husband was the one who enjoyed travelling. Leslie always wanted to stay at home. She had made the plans for the house, they had had it built and she was spending her days cleaning it, decorating it, trying to make it cosy not just for herself but also for her family. Her happiness was there, in this house, with all her memories. But this time she had wanted to travel. Like her husband. She wanted to communicated with him, having fun — not mourning. For the first time in her life, she felt her house was a tomb. She had wanted to escape it. It’s here, at the other side of the world that she felt she was meeting him again; being able to talk about him, laughing, as when he was alive. She wanted to smile again and this would be the place.

She wondered whether she would use her return ticket. Oh yes, she had to. At least she would be needed soon as a grand-mother and also to talk to her children. Unlike her children, she was polite. She wouldn’t leave without explaining.

Once at the airport, she was hungry. Leslie decided she should have a sandwich. She sat down and the waiter told her in a very unpleasant voice that the restaurant was closed. “Heyman!” She thought, “if your restaurant is closed why don’t you put a sign «closed» in front of it.” Never mind, she’ll have a sandwich on the plane. She went away and remembered she hadn’t bought any present for her daughter-in-law. One of those beautiful silk scarf would be perfect. She touched one and it felt so soft. 

“Don’t you know you shouldn’t touch what isn’t yours. It’s going to be dirty”, the shopkeeper said.

Leslie looked at her clean hands dazzled. She would certainly not buy anything from this unpleasant shop. Further away, she had a look at a shop window and made up her mind for a pair of earrings. The shop assistant did not even look at her while cashing her in. What had happened to all these Thai people she had met this last fortnight? She looked up and realized all the shops at the airport were European or American franchises. 

Maybe, the head of these firms should come here for a management training. Thai people are just the same. Under pressure and when following absurd orders, they react just as western people. 

The head should sometimes learn from its base.