Sunday morning I wandered around George Town in Penang by myself. I had a coffee and got talking to a couple of English girls; in Little India I met a monk in saffron robes, an affable Aussie now very much at home in Penang; I had an excellent pakora, had my foot run over by an errant driver, and got rained on.
It was hot and steamy. We were scheduled to leave just on 2 and so I figured I had just enough time for a massage.
I selected a place we had popped our heads in the night before. I had spied on the menu a Balinese massage that seemed just right. I negotiated a rate and was led down a passageway to a dimly lit room screened by curtains. It was a pleasant room, a spicy aroma in the air and on the floor thick mattresses in purple fabric. I sat and waited for the masseuse.
She arrived about a minute later, a slender Chinese woman, tall for her race, with long hair. She confirmed my massage and then standing there asked me to take off my clothes. Unsure of the etiquette I stripped down to my undies. With my shirt off she exclaimed at the size of me and said she needed two hours to massage me properly. I told her I didn’t have 2 hours to spare.
She directed me to lay on the mattress face down, and then with fragrant oil she began to massage the back of my legs with long, sweeping strokes. Her fingers were strong and pliant. They soothed the tight muscles of my legs and up into my groin in a way that had my complete attention. Gripping at the elastic of my undies she asked if she could remove them. At my assent she casually peeled them off of me as I lifted my body to assist.
Now her hands reached all the way to my buttocks, kneading them into happy submission. As her hands moved her fingers curled and brushed against my scrotum between my parted legs. I have to be honest here and admit I lived for those fleeting touches. Even as I felt the soothing effects of her work that subtle sensuality was enough to lift the sensation into another realm. There was the physical - something I was to further understand as the massage proceeded – in that middle part of us men is sensitive, and is at the centre from which filaments of sensation tease and trembles throughout the rest of the body like errant charges of electricity. There was the psychological also. We are such sexual animals that even the hint of excitement inflames us. As a man I spend a lot of time thinking about sex in any case, and identify a large part of who I am in my sexual persona. Hell, there are times I am my cock, and perfectly happy with that I am. Lying there in the dimly lit room in a foreign city and an attractive and unknown woman touching me sensually all of that suddenly became a whole lot more. I waited, feeling her fingers probe and caress, traced them in my mind as oil slicked they slid from calf to thigh to buttock and down…
It was all so matter of fact, something else I’ll return to later. I don’t doubt she knew the effect she had upon me, but it was not contrived, it was not sexualised. This is what she did and did properly, this was the job she was paid to do and as she told me later had been doing it for 8 years since leaving China. Because it was not sexualised it was so much more sensual.
She moved to my back, my arms, commenting as she did so upon the size of my muscles, asking how old I was and telling me I was a strong man. By now she was astride me as I lay on my front. She was perhaps half my weight, but sitting there on the back of my thighs she would lean forward and put all her weight into the long strokes that went from the small of my back to the tips of my shoulders. As she did stray bits of her long dark hair would brush against the sensitised skin of my back and her fingers would lightly play along the curved balls of muscle of my shoulders. I would feel to a patch of her skin press against mine as her top rode up her midriff as she leaned into me.
She turned me. She massaged my face, my head, then my chest. We spoke, she asked my name and told me hers – Shenzen? – which I heard at first like Ginger. She was 29, had lived in Hong Kong and KL and now George Town. Her English was halting and uncertain, but she smiled with it wanting to be understood, and to know more of me, which I shared.
By now I have had an erection for about 30 minutes. I don’t care. How many times would I have been paranoid about such a thing? But not now. It seems irrelevant, besides the point, so bloody western. So what if I have an erection? That’s good isn’t it? That’s how I feel, and she cares not one whit though it’s plain to see. It matters not a bit because it seems – and is – so natural.
Her fingers now are caressing my stomach, my groin, my upper thighs. A small towel covers my cock, but her fingers travel all around it, touching everything but it. Then she presses down on me, once, twice, three times, her hands to either side of my groin with all her weight. I feel the pressure quiver in me, feel my erection jerk like it is a living thing keen to get free.
Then, soon after, it ends. We smile, she hands me my jocks, I dress as she parts, everything going through my head.
I feel strung tight, beautifully so, alive, vibrant, urgently present. Had she offered me a happy ending I’d have said yes without hesitation. I needed it in the way every man knows, but it would have felt almost normal. I’d always thought of it as sleazy and cheap, and it probably is often – but perhaps it needn’t be. I’ve had sex with less sensuality than that massage – most sex really is short of what I felt there in that massage room. In a way it was like the best foreplay you could imagine, close, intimate, sensitive, teasing, for nearly two hours. I left feeling like I needed a cold shower; and feeling half in love with the unaffected and generous woman who had provided so much unexpected pleasure to me.
I expect many will read this as evidence of a deprived sensibility. Not surprisingly I feel it differently. You may not understand but I feel as if I have had my eyes opened again to something I once knew instinctively and with simple pleasure: sex is good, clean, natural. We may make it otherwise at times, but that is the flaw in our make-up. What I felt on Sunday was simple, uncomplicated and good, because that was how it was presented to me. It was the best massage I have ever had by a country mile, and reminded me of how civilisation inhibits us. Life is simpler, and better I think, when we accept things for what they are and not for what we choose them to become.
Today it’s KL. I’m sitting in a funky café in one of the more salubrious areas of the city. I’m waiting for breakfast to be served me while the fans whirr above me once again. I’m well rested after a hectic few days and looking towards doing the rounds of the city proper: first stop the Petronas Towers.
I should have been sitting here 24 hours ago but for sort of unexpected occurrence that somehow becomes normal on holiday. We had packed up and checked out and where driving around to the other side of the island for a look-see when a grinding noise coming from the left rear wheel made us stop. It had made troubling noises all the way to Penang, a sort of crunching sound, but it had become clearly worse since, and added to it was a squeaky, whiny sound. We stopped at a mechanic, where told it couldn’t be fixed before morning, and that was that.
Whisky and I continued up the road by taxi and checked into one of the mid-range resort hotels overlooking the beach. We had a complimentary drink by the pool and then a beer. Later we had a swim in the pool and played a round of table-tennis. Around us largely Asian couples mixed in with portly Brits enjoyed the facilities. As two clearly single men of relatively robust health we were out of place – family friendly is not really our go.
That evening we went in search of a massage further up the road in Feringhee, which in itself was a mix of luxury accommodation – including a 6 star hotel – a night market, and a bunch of restaurants and shops lit up like Vegas. Here there was a good proportion of Arabs. Most, if not all, of the women were covered up, including many wearing the full hijab. In these conditions it must be suffocatingly uncomfortable to be covered head to toe while your husband swans around in shorts and t-shirt.
I had my third massage in as many days, and the second for the day (the first deserves a post all of its own). Massage is big business like I say, and there are all sorts of variations on it, right down to cupping and ear candling (two I’m happy to avoid). On this occasion my masseuse was an acrobatic girl called Janet, who swung from poles embedded near the ceiling and walked up and down my back – not the first woman to have done that.
I left contemplating whether I was any better off for the experience. I certainly felt a kind of invigoration, but it was the kind that had me hobbling slightly. Given my experience with remedial massage in the year that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing and besides, what the fuck, all part of the experience.
The rest of it all is pretty sedate. We had a lovely dinner that night eating delectable Malaysian curries served by an equally spicy hostess who – pun intended – clearly hoped to curry favour with us. She had her hair tied back tightly in a bun, large expressive eyes and wore a long, billowing, print dress which she would lift daintily past her ankles as she took the stairs. She played up to us, flashing those expressive eyes and indulging a verbal byplay that few men can resist and few women can approve of. We're no different and so we generally fell over each other trying to flirt with her while she lapped it up.
Yesterday we finally started back with the car all mended. We circled Penang before taking the long road towards KL. Our car is a Proton, the people’s car if you like, an ordinary, under-powered lemonish sort of vehicle locally made and promoted. We managed to tool along at about 130 kmh on a freeway limit of 110 – an arbitrary number seemingly as no-one heeds it and no-one seems to police it. Every so often a European car – a BMW or Mercedes – would whiz by at about 150 kmh, as if with the car they had been given dispensation to drive as quick as you like. Mixed in with them were Hondas and Toyotas, prestige cars in relative terms to the Proton. Often they would rush by tail to nose, not so much tail-gating as drafting, sometimes three or four cars in line.
Along the way the sun shone and the rain plunged down. Then the sun would come again, and then the rain. The freeway cut through the sides of hills surrounded with lush vegetation. Often we would pass by these huge outcroppings of rock that emerged from the surrounding countryside like a pimple. They too were covered in a thick grown jungle, with sheer sides of rock that looked as if it might have been near liquid once with stalactite like croppings. Throughout all this I saw one monkey – roadkill, dead at the side of the road.
I sit here in the dining area of my hotel in Penang. The hotel is a converted mansion, sprawling, elegant, finely detailed and just a little bit quirky. Peter Carey called it the finest hotel in the world. In the centre of the building is a courtyard open to the sky. Over breakfast this morning we watched as the rain fell. Now I look over it, the fans whirring furiously overhead and a pot of tea on the table in front of me. It is late in the day, quiet time after walking through the hot and humid streets of Penang in search of food.
Food's not hard to find, and most of it is pretty good. It's a challenge for me to remain sensible. Tempting as it may be to try everything it's not completely healthy. Still, the local cuisine is one of the great attractions of the city.
We went from one place to another this morning, walking mainly but sometimes employing the services of an undersized rickshaw driver to pedal our oversized bodies around town. With the early rain it was even stickier than normal. The heat feels clammy, and in the open sun you feel yourself steaming. I've experienced much worse than this, but it serves as a reminder of how it can be.
The highlight this morning for me was when I separated myself from the group and went off in search of the next cafe on our list. It was a place typical of the town, and in other ways typical of a thousand other places around the globe. At the round tables men drank coffee and smoked and shared their stories. A cook whipped up the odd noodle dish. People came and went, laughter rolled around the place and excited voices of men gathered together minus their other half.
It felt very familiar to me. There are not many cafes like this back home in Melbourne, but standing there it recalled to mind a multitude of other such places from all over the world. The cuisine may change, but much else remains the same.
I sat and managed to convince the uncomprehending waitress that I wanted one of the coffees the cafe was famous for. The men at the next table watched with interest. One leaned over to assist with the order. That done he asked the usual questions, where I was from (to which he responded "oi, oi, oi", and another "downunder"). They asked how I liked Penang, then how I liked the coffee. They were especially impressed when I ordered another, this time iced. They razzed me gently, glad to have someone different to rub up against.
I too enjoyed it. It's what I like best about travelling. I watched and listened, I nodded my head and joined in and I thought there is a difference in enjoying the pleasures of a place as if they are laid on for you and in going a little further and actually interacting with the place. To intereact is to engage with the people; my greatest memories are not of the Eiffel Tower or a great beach. They are of the occasions I have fallen in with the locals and experienced something otherwise invisible to me. This was on the smaller scale of things, but reminded me of the great possibilities of travelling, particularly when you're solo. People open to you when they think you are alone.
For the rest of the day we have had small bites here and there, a few beers on a thirsty day, and some refloxology - massage is a big industry over here, and who am I to sniff at that? I'm happy to support the local industry.
Now my tea is drunk. I should shower and freshen up, more food tonight, and a festival of the 9 gods my friends at the cafe told me about.
Image via Wikipedia
Yep, that's me, about to jump in a plane and toodle-oo over the seas and somewhat far away. Catch a plane some ungodly hourly early tomorrow morning (well, tonight), sit an air-bed with the hope minus expectation that I might sleep and touch down in KL 8 hours later just about. Weekend in Penang, a sidetrip to Cambodia, a day in Singapore and the rest of it. Is good, just annoying waiting.
Don't know if you'll hear much of H over the next couple of weeks.
Late yesterday afternoon all the permanent employees of IT were called into a room. They came out soon after. I joked to one, all been given the flick? In response I was addressed by an ashen faced colleague, Jack's dead he said.
Jack was a young member of the service desk team. He was about 22 0r 23 I guess, pleasant, affable and unremarkable. My exposure to him was limited. I'd received a few emails from him regarding IT issues, and had once shared a lift with him. I hadn't thought about him much, hadn't needed to. Remembering him yesterday I realised that I had assumed him to be a regular Joe, out with his mates on a Friday night, into the footy and girls and the rest of it. Now that was all over: he was dead.
We fell silent, shocked by the news. What happened we asked in unison. We learned that he had died of some kind of meningitus. It had been so so swift and sudden. Until a few weeks ago he had been in the office. Then he tyook time off sick, as others did. Now, abruptly, he was dead.
After the initial shock people got on with the job at hand. I was meeting with someone to discuss options, and we continued on. I felt affected though. The news had lodged with me like a fishbone in my throat.
It was tragic and strange. How could someone so young die like that? It felt random, as if the moving finger that had stopped at him might just as easily have stopped with me as I stood beside him in the lift. On that basis it seemed so ridiculously unfair. I found myself reaching out emotionally to his parents and family. How terrible it must be for them. What comfort can one give to parents who lose their child so young, so suddenly, so unexpectedly? None.
More than anything it reminded me of the capricious nature of fate. Though we forget except when directly touched things like this happen all the time. For all our rich civilisation and advances in technology we remain powerless to prevent these sudden strikes. A young man dies here while someone like me goes on.
Right now his seems a life denied. He would have been perfectly justified in looking ahead to a long and happy life. He would have had plans and ambitions. Perhaps he had a girl he hoped to marry; perhaps he looked further to the children he would share with her. All the things he might have done and everything he might have contributed are now all come nought: dust.
Is there anythiong more tragic than that?
Sunshiney days have arrived, at least temporarily. For the last few days the sun has beamed down and the temperature has hovered in the low to mid twenties. After a long, cold, wet winter it is a blessing for all. Like a flower that turns and opens its face to the glowing sun so to have many Melburnians. It's too good to waste.
It started for me Friday night. I wandered down the river and met with some friends at Riverland. We sat drinking beer and eating fresh cooked bratwurst in a roll. Down the river before us the rowers went one way and the other, a little ferry chugged by with the inhabitants waving to us, and cyclists whizzed by on the bike path below. There's no better place to be in Melbourne on a sunny day but Riverland with a cold beer in your hand. As such it was full on Friday of corporate types chilling out after a busy week and supporters of the two Melbourne soccer teams pausing on their way to the ground to watch the first local derby.
As it happens that was our destination also. At 7 we upped from our seats and walked the short distance from bar to AAMI stadium. There was a solid stream of people heading that way, mostly in the blue and white of Victory, but also a surprising number in the red and white of Heart. Inside the ground the mood was festive. It was near to a full house and the mood expectant, excited almost at the prospect of the first ever derby between the two teams. There was the buzz of conversation and the odd supporter crying out. At one end the mass of Victory supporters chanted their familiar slogans, their voices raising and falling in a pleasing cadence. At the other end the Heart supporters responded, though in a smaller way. Their chants are still new and yet to be refined, and less in number they are more willing than impressive. Still they waved their over-sized flags, as did the others. Overhead the blue sky darkened, the players took the field and the game began.
As it turns out the game matched the occasion. Somewhat against the odds it was the Heart who took the initiative and held it for most of the match. They scored first and silenced the chanting Victory fans. It was different to anything I had ever experienced before. AFL is too quick for anything beyond the playing arena to develop. The action races from one end of the ground to the other, the crowd roars spontaneously as a big mark is taken, or the big hit, and as the great goals kicked. I remember when I was a kid watching Dennis Lillee bowl and the crowd slowly chanting his name. That was a great experience, but sitting amongst the crowd on Friday night was the nearest I'd ever experienced to that. So this is what it's like in Europe I thought.
The Victory equalised before half time, and the Heart scored again after the break to take the lead. With 20 minutes to go they had a man sent off. Flares went off as the Heart desperately defended a man down. They managed, and end of the game saw the two groups of supporters mingle as they poured out of the ground and onto the road. There were a few comments here and there, but most was light-hearted, no sheep stations at risk here.
I had a couple more pints with Cheeseboy at the London before heading home. On the tram a Heart supporter spotting my membership came over and high fived me. It made me smile.
Saturday I went to the vet with Rigby, did my shopping, did a bunch of cooking. Saturday night I had guests over for dinner. Everyone applauded the food, though I was indifferent to all but the dessert. More importantly we all had a good time, the wine flowed, laughter ensued, and all went home happy.
Yesterday was a beautiful day. I felt tired and sore, but managed to make it to mums for a barbecue. We sat for most of the afternoon in the sun, eating and talking, drinking crisp white wine and French champagne. By the time I got home last night I felt washed out. I curled up on the couch as the sun set, and watched from distant Delhi the compelling events of the road race - yep, another gold to Oz.
It was a strange day Saturday. Someone said to me that it didn't feel like Melbourne, and I understood what they meant. It was slightly different for me. It was Grand Final day again and it felt as if everyone went through the motions associated with the day, perfectly natural and normal last week, but somehow hollow and contrived this week. It was sunny, warm., all over town people toddled off to some festivity, but the edge was off it. Snags were cooked, beers drunk, people gathered around the TV to watch the big game.
It might have been a different vibe if the game had have been a good one. Instead it was a fizzer, over early, St Kilda having run it's race last week. So all over Melbourne people shifted their attention from the TV to other things. It was October, in India a test match was being played, in Geelong the cycling world championships, next week something new, the footy blessedly forgotten.
I took it easy. I had a few beers, but not too many. I had too much to eat at lunch, but nothing after. I felt tired and sore and I climbed on a train heading towards the city not long after the game finished.
I had visions of delirious, rabid Collingwood fans jamming into the train at Richmond. A few got on, but so too did a few Saints supporters. The train went through the loop while I listened to my iPod. The Saints supporters sung the song. The Collingwood supporters responded. Someone waved a flag. At Flinders street someone had a go at a kid wearing a St Kilda guernsey. Moments later he responded, throwing the words over his shoulder, unheard.
I hurried towards the Metropol, running late. Southbank was littered with Collingwood fans, leering with black and white scarves not tightly enough around their neck, like shambling zombies (and in truth Collingword supporters are probably the closest thing we have to the undead).
I shouldered my way between them, wishing I was going home instead. I had a drink at the bar with the publisher before sitting down for a meal I didn't have the stomach for. We ate, talked. The food was good without being great, the service patchy. I felt so tired and sore, as if something was wrong with me. We left and I walked slowly, like an old man, searching for somewhere comfortable and quiet to sit with a drink.
As we walked a black car pulled over at the side of the road. A head leaned out. "Hey mate" someone said, "can you tell us where the casino is?" He was dressed in a dark suit with a dark tie, as were his companions. I looked at him without answering. I wondered if he were taking the piss. Eventually I pointed, there, over your shoulder. The casino takes up a whole block. It's so large it just about has it's own postcode. What made it more curious was the car was full of Collingwood footballers, the questioner Josh Fraser, and the casino a place they had attended many functions at. They drove off.
We sat and had a few quiet beers in a near empty bar. All of Collingwood are coming here later the bartender told me. I thanked him for the warning and drank my vodka and Irish whisky why Michael Buble sang through the sound system, interspersed with classics from the seventies. Outside there was whooping and hollering. Inside it felt like a cruise ship.
We went our separate ways. In the street a young woman chugged at a half empty bottle of white wine. Tattooed men with rat tails and Collingwood guernseys prowled the streets, erupting into spontaneous celebration whenever they came across another from their numerous tribe - Cro Magnon I believe. As I said to the taxi driver, lucky I'm not a Collingwood supporter, you'll get your fare. He smiled, it's alright, I charge them double he said. Good luck I told him and we both laughed.
And the day was done.
It's a sunny saturday morning, the first day of October, and here we are again expectantly waiting to find who the 2010 AFL premiers will be.
It's been a week in footy. Somehow the grand final re-match has been overshadowed by the big news events off the field. It's added another layer on what would have been an unusual week in any case. Now it's saturday there's only one story in town: who's going to win?
As I did last week I'm tipping St Kilda, for much the same reasons plus an added few. They have the momentum and the belief I think, and quite likely history on their side. I tipped Goddard last week for the Norm Smith, and though acclaimed by most as BOG he lost out to Lenny Hayes, a great warrior. This week I'm picking someone else. I figure the game is all set-up for Nick Riewoldt. He was good last week without being great. His opponent Brown did everything he could to contain him, and did a reasonable job. The thing is though I can't see him doing it two weeks running against arguably the best player in the comp. Riewoldt is a player of steely resolve and he'll have set himself for a big game.
History has been a recurring topic all week, but with only two previous grand final draws I doubt anything conclusive can be drawn from them. The consensus is that will be a more open game. It may well be. In the two previous re-matches one team has drawn away from the other earlier and won easily. I expect there will be more space in the result this time - well there has to be, hasn't it? - and in my mind see St Kilda winning by about 22 points without being seriously challenged after the half.
The last draw and re-match was in 1977, and I remember it well. It was the first grand final to be broadcast live. We had one of the few colour TV's in the street so my mate and I sat down in front of it two weeks running. We were just kids. I remember the players well, the key moments, my determination even then that Collingwood shouldn't win it (in a time when the supporters were less feral I think). My mate, Peter Woody, was by contrast a Collingwood supporter, and was gutted by the ultimate result. Like kids everywhere, I danced all over his disappointment, gleeful that the dreaded Maggies had lost once more.
As I did last week I'll be at the Cheeses for lunch: this week it's hamburgers I believe. I'm taking over some cheese and some party pies to chew on at half time for traditions sake. I have to dash off afterwards. This was to be a dirty weekend for me, but I cancelled because of the grand final. The only part of the original deal was the dinner booking at Maze, and I'm going with a different woman now. It will be different today and, for the inportance, lower key I think. I may be wrong, but I don't expect the tension and drama of last week. (Famous last words?) Regardless I'm looking forward to it, as i always do.
One last note. For years the AFL has been concocting pre-game entertainment that verges on the embarassing sometimes. The NRL, a much inferior sport and poorly administered never fail however to put on a much better spectacle than their rich cousins the AFL. The problem is that the AFL have had a cool bypass. They are stuck in another era that seems pretty well irrelevant now,
Last week it INXS. Twenty years ago it would have been pretty groovy, but someone ought to tell Andrew Demetriou that Michael Hutchence is no longer with us. For the re-match they hastily engaged - wait for it - Lionel Ritchie. Now nothing against Lionel, but even in his heyday he wasn't really happening. His heyday is 20 odd years ago. He was probably sipping on a Long Island Iced tea enjoying a fruitfuil retirement when the AFL gave him a call. Dance on the ceiling? Yeah right.
Good luck to him, he might be great, but next year let's avoid the bland, innoffensive option and go for some excitement, let's go for someone who is current and happening. Let's get a vibe going. If this is not the premier sporting event in the country it's close to it - it deserves much better.