Set in a lush valley, Pai is a small, rambling hippie town, 135 kilometres north west of Chang Mai. On arriving, I immediately got a massage and almost decided not to learn the legendary manipulations. It was excruciating! But after some humming and hawing, I chose to stay the course – this old dog is going to learn some new tricks.
Mr. Bann, the good-natured 76 year old owner of the “professional school” said that staying healthy was simple and that he knew everything to keep the peacock feathers of his 40 year old wife open and his own snake strong as he waved a packet of mysterious elixir. No doubt, he had a lot to teach me but I wasn’t ready to dish out 30,000 baht ($1200.00) for 10 days. Not to mention, I was already emotionally exhausted by his all-knowing chatter. Off I trundled, leaving Mr Bann and his ‘strong snake’ oil behind. When I got to the other school that I had researched, it had shut down. I asked a rheumy-eyed old Aussie man (who looked like a permanent bench fixture) if he knew of anywhere else that I could learn massage. He pointed next door to where I was standing; she teaches massage, he said.
Dao is a tough, scary, shrewd business woman with a good heart. I arranged for private lessons with her (rather, she told me what I needed and I meekly agreed). I have a week of full-time instruction and accomodation in a little bamboo hut sitting on stilts behind the kitchen of her open air restaurant/cooking school/massage school/home. Bizarrely, she is registered as a massage school and I will get a certificate. I am enjoying learning Thai massage with its pulling and stretching and contorting but there is a lot to remember and all new to me. It’s a good challenge for my aging brain. Dao, who knows her stuff, doesn’t spare the verbal rod and after 37 years as an RMT, I need to keep reminding myself, that in my life at home, I am proficient and capable. But now that I know her better, I can see through the verbal lashings to her generous spirit. An added bonus of being here is the food and learning to cook.
I was invited to join Dao, and her boyfriend Ning, at the temple for his birthday ‘feast offering’ to the monks, where he received a special blessing from them. At the end, we were each given a cup of water to pour on a tree outside. I figure that the symbolic gesture of sustaining and respecting all life invites good karma. That night for his birthday dinner, Dao served an array of fruit, baked fish, roasted pork pieces with a spicy chili/garlic/lime sauce, and a traditional birthday dish of raw water buffalo salad. I didn’t partake of that particular delicacy on account of the fear of intestinal worms. But I’m pretty sure I ate my weight in mango and papaya.
The last couple of nights, I have been assimilated into Dao’s cooking class and am learning the delicate balance of blending sweet, spicy and sour. We made curry paste with a mortar and pestle, khao soy (a northern Thailand coconut milk and curry dish), pad thai, papaya salad, thai noodle soup, spring rolls, and deep fried banana. And then we ate it all. My ‘mindful eating’ resolution has taken a crushing blow the last couple of days. I also fell off the rails with a sugar cane, coconut milk, roasted peanut fudge that, once I had a small taste, progressed into a train wreck of astounding proportion. I am now fighting my way back to sugar sobriety. And for this mut, that’s the toughest trick of all.