It had been a tiring day in Phuket for Jo and I. We went snorkelling, did our nails, and ate like the gluttons we are. The sun blazed throughout, tanning our skin till one degree short of crispy-burnt.

Then the sun set, so we walked around the Kuta area devouring street food of every shape and size instead. As the night creeped over us, we contented with sitting at the beach, banana roti in one hand and a bottle of Chang in the other.

Our legs, lats, and pretty much every other muscle group in our body were aching from the taxing day.

So we thought, hey, why not a massage?

We took a walk through the crowds of tourists, some partying, mostly white people enjoying the exotic South East Asian culture. We shopped around for massage parlours — there were many; it was, after all, touristy Phuket.

At the end of a quiet street, we found a secluded massage parlour. It looked slight run down, but the charges were cheaper, and we (kiamsiap) Chinese.

After some deliberation, we decided to give this place a try.


We pushed the squeaky door open

The girl at the reception looked surprised to see us. Why these two girls so blur? her expression seemed to say. Nonetheless, she was polite. It was commendable customer service.

As we were conversing with the receptionist, a young Thai girl passed by behind us, escorting an elderly white man out of the shop. At the door, she bent down and helped him with his shoes as he remained standing.

After his feet were snugly fitted into his footwear, she stood up, and I saw him grab her hand. He had a satisfied grin on his face.

Through the thin glass door, I heard him say, “Thank you. Thank you so much! I had such a great time!”

We ordered a massage each

Totally not catching that anything was amiss, I decide on a foot massage, and Jo asked for a full body massage.

The friendly receptionist invited us to follow her deeper into the parlour. Along the way, we walked past private rooms that were empty, saved for a single bed in the middle; the rooms weren’t much bigger than the single bed.

Two masseurs approached. One was a shy Thai woman dressed in a long sarong skirt that swept her ankles as she walked. Her long hair was knotted to one side.

Next to her was another masseur, a trans woman. Her sharp Thai features were covered with professionally applied make up. She was obviously the more outgoing of the two. Noting our Chinese looks, she threw at us all the Chinese phrases she could think of.

The massages were good

As the girl in the sarong skirt massaged my sore feet in an open area, Jo and the other woman moved into a cordoned space.

Through the silence I shared with my masseur, I could hear voices coming from where Jo was.

Crack!

“Ke yi ma? Ke yi ma?” (Mandarin for “is it okay”.) Poor woman didn’t know Jo is a bona fide banana.

“Ok ka?” (“Ka” is used as a sign of respect in the Thai language. Women say “ka” whereas men say “krap”.)

Later on, Jo mentioned that as a woman, nothing beats a massage by a trans woman. She has more strength than her cisgender counterparts, but does not make you feel exposed the way a man might.

I finished ahead of Jo

So I made my way to the foyer of the parlour to wait.

As I lepaked there, I noticed the masseur in the sarong skirt grab a handbag. With the handbag slung over her shoulder, she joined another girl outside the shop, who also had a bag slung over her shoulder.

They just stood there, each girl with her handbag over her shoulder.

For awhile, I saw her arrange and rearrange some plastic chairs. Next, she went back to just standing there with her handbag, then repeated the routine with the plastic chairs. She redid this exact same sequence a few times.

Later, Jo and I learned that the handbag was a signal. Like the empty light on the roof of a taxi.

I wonder if the chairs meant anything.

I got thirsty waiting for Jo

Outside the massage parlour was a juice stall.

I walked over and bought myself a juice from the old uncle.

As I sipped the cool liquid, I noticed my masseur again, still standing there with a handbag over her shoulder.

I asked her if I could buy her a juice too.

She accepted.

After telling the vendor her order, she stepped away.

We waited silently for her juice. After a short while, the uncle passed her a cheap plastic cup and a straw, and I paid him 40 baht.

Then, she nodded her thanks and disappeared into the shadows.

***

This happened in 2018. I wonder how she’s doing now in 2021.

With the pandemic, and Thailand being heavily reliant on tourism as an economic sector, I wonder how she’s doing.

********************

Our Phuket adventure in pictures

Phuket was so much fun. We…

Went snorkelling:

Did our nails:

Whose wan nicer? (Mine, duh)

Ate everything we could find:

The first thing we ate in Phuket was shashuka, a Jewish dish. So sue us.
Mango sticky rice. Sweet, juicy mango. I still remember how it tasted. And now I’m hungry.
Pad thai, because Thailand.
Banana roti. It’s a crispy pancake with banana slices on top, drizzled with condense milk. Hello, diabetes.

Whipped around on ziplines at Flying Hanuman:

Grew fat:

Had a massage:

Grew fatter:

Wondered about the complex nature of commercial sex work: