Monday, February 22, 2010

Massage magic

Possibly my favourite weekend activity in Hanoi is toddling down to the Aesthetic Institute for a massage. Not the happy-ending kind (unfortunately very prevalant in Vietnam) but the tough as guts, wincing in pain, then feeling-like-jelly massage. I have been coming here almost weekly for the past 18 months and for $10/hour, it’s excellent value.

Despite our long association and complete lack of command over the language, I am perceived to be Vietnamese and therefore we go through the pantomine of what I want every time, “mot tieng” (1 hour), “khong mat” (no face), “strong… argh! Too strong!” etc. We get by. (You could ask me why after 18 months I don’t speak better tieng Viet but the tones flummox and defeat me; my hat off to foreigners who have persisted and won this battle).

But then the AI doesn’t cater to foreigners though you see a few from time to time. Apart from massage they do acupuncture, herbal medicine and other body treatments, popular with the Vietnamese clientele. If you are after scented candles and fluted music piped over running water ambience, this is not your venue. This is a no fuss, no frills kind of place. What you do get is clean, quality massages in an old semi detached French villa with wooden floors and banisters. Curtains separate massage tables into narrow cubicles and the air is thick with lavender oil. The all-female masseurs are deceptively small but with hands that could crush a buffalo. Instrumental soft rock and Kenny G waft through the speakers. In typical Vietnamese style, a karaoke bar opened up next door about a year ago, so from time to time Vietnamese songs sung by drunken men intermingle with “Over the rainbow” and “Take me home, country road”.

Afterwards, drink some sweetened herbal tea downstairs, manhandle your bike off the footpath and head home. The parking attendant sits with his parking attendant cronies from the karaoke bar and they all watch you. I have never actually seen any of them engage in physical labour but I imagine they do. It’s another weekend in Hanoi.

AI is at 23 Le Van Huu, Ha Bai Trung. Best to book for weekends but otherwise just drop in.

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