It does make a blind bit of difference (an N-Co production) - One of my not-so-hidden agendas for The Great Escape is to have as many massages as I can. Partly for the thrill of having a massage at 11am on a Wednesday morning whilst listening to the waves crashing on the shore. Partly to experience many different styles of massage. Partly to have an hour to myself away from Lonely Planets, mountain treks and The Beard. And partly cos I just love them.
For mere pennies, I've had Balinese, Javanese, generic Indonesian, Vietnamese, Swedish, Aromatherapy, Sports (yes, that's right, Sports) and Thai. As wonderful as they were, nothing can beat the Tibetan Blind Massage I've just had in its capital city, Lhasa. Yep, that's a Tibetan-style massage performed by completely blind people. Back in Blighty, I've accidentally had a massage done by a woman who massages disabled people for a living (James didn't quite read the Yellow Pages right when he booked me an in-home massage as a surprise last Christmas), but a blind therapist was a first.
Tenzin Blind Massage Centre was set up by Braille Without Borders and half of their physiotherapists come from a Special Education School whilst the other half are saved from the streets. My masseuse caught an eye infection when she was five which, when untreated, led to permanent blindness in both eyes and her being abandoned by her family. The clinic gives them a roof over their head (they all live and eat together in the massage house), fantastic English lessons (to a standard that many local businessmen would favour), financial management training, specially-tailored equipment (for example the massage table is actually a box to ensure they don't trip on the table legs), and a three-year course at the Braille Without Borders training centre for the blind. It provides this otherwise vulnerable group with a future and a community where they truly belong.
Having said that, it was certainly memorable for not really the right reasons:
- On arrival into the massage room with three beds, the girl asked me to take my clothes off and lie down. I stood waiting for her to leave, as is the tradition. Only after a few moments of stand-off did I remember. She's completely frickin' stone-blind.
- She asked me to put my clothes in the locker under the bed. Given that the bed next to me was free, I just put them on there for ease. Little did I know that her colleague was about to walk in, feel her way to the corner of the pillow and towel on that bed and shake them off to re-make the bed. Cue money belts, watches and shoes flying across the room and much embarrassment for all.
- Once face down, I waited for her to begin. I then heard her by the newly remade bed by the side of me asking somone else to take their clothes off and lie down. Surprised that I hadn't heard anyone else to come in, I looked around. No-one there. Whilst frantically thinking how I could help, I suddenly realised what had happened. She was talking to James. Who had left ten minutes ago. She'd sensed that there were two of us in reception when we arrived and thought James had entered the room with us. He had not.
- She mistook my ponytail for the bottle of lotion. Twice.
- Just as any other massage place in the world, they started with a Pan Pipe version of Aswad's I Swear. Cleverly, she used the tracks to time how long to spend on each section. For Elton John's Sacrifice, my back was pinched. For Whitney Houston's One Moment In Time, my legs were held in the air and shaken by my toes. When we reached Celine Dion's My Heart Does Go On, it was her sign (and to be honest mine) that it was time to stop.
- After she'd finished, she told me to put my clothes on. After the slightly stalling start, I jumped straight up with no hesitation. Even when a chap walked in, who I presumed was a colleague coming to collect the towels before the next client, I wouldn't let it perturb me. Only once I turned around and clocked the look on his face did I realise it was the next paying client.
All-in-all, not a successful massage. But even though the Tibetan massage, where you're pummelled, pinched and shaken as if your skin is the pastry about to make their famous yak dumplings, is not going to be my favourite style, it was the most educational and worthy hour of massage I've ever had. And the queue outside the door as I left (fully clothed) was testament to their future success in business and, hopefully, life.