“Massej?” It’s a constant soft cry as you walk the sleepy streets of Luang Prabang, storefront massage places, some with waxing and pedi-cures.
I have a complicated relationship with hair removal (I hate shaving, resent paying so much for waxing and haven’t mastered self-waxing), and my underarms haven’t been attended to for weeks. I look like a 1970s Eastern European when I stretch up my arms.
As I walk by my hotel for the second time this afternoon in my wanderings, I give in to the luring call. Eye browns. Body scrab. Underarms, 58,000 kip. About $8.50. I point to the sign.
“Upstair” says one of the girls. I follow her up polished red, rickety stairs to a room with soft futons, curtains. A man is lounging on one, and young woman lies curled up in a small bed in the corner behind a half-drawn curtain. I lie down where indicated.
She kneels down beside me. I expose my damp armpits, my not-femmey white tank top, ask her name. “Tuk” she says and smiles, dipping a chopstick-like wooden stick into what looks like honey and blows on it. She applies it to my skin, then a linen strip, then pulls. A man comes out from behind another curtain, and I realize this is where everyone must sleep at night.
The waxing is fine — not painful, but inexpert in that she has to do a fair bit of tweezing when she’s done with the strips. She wipes my skin with a damp cloth. Khob chai I say. Thank you. She nods and smiles. Khob chai.
I make my way down the stairs and the boy at the bottom tells me 70,000 kip. I point to the sign for 58,000. “Okay he says, “discount for you. Happy new year!”
I pay and wander off. When I come back two hours later, Tuk is squatting around a small table with 4 or 5 teenagers drinking beer in the lane beside the hotel. There is a speaker with loud dance music right under my window. This is what woke me up and prompted ear plugs last night. The only noise in all of Luang Prabang.