This person is the only one on this planet that is allowed to ask me, ‘Do you want a facial today?’ and goes unpunished. When my workload gets too heavy, my back tightens up and I desperately need a massage, I to go see this muscle magician! I love her massage so much, I even made a voodoo doll of myself and give it a back-rub every night. Please meet Phuangphayom Saengarun – or Ta for short – Thailand’s best masseuse export to the UAE.
At only 150 cm in height and 45 kilos in weight, no one would ever think that this petite woman had such a back-breaking job. But if she wanted to, she could easily push you off the bench just using her thumb, that’s how strong her fingers are. Yet, this spa magnolia is only devoted to making aching bodies feel better, and I’m sure there is not a single bad thought on her mind.
I used to go to Ta every Saturday evening to get my Ying and Yang back in tune. Once on her bench – or shall I say once at her mercy? – she has no idea how much I enjoy her treatment, for it is only she who knows how to play the whole symphony of emotions on my back. It’s a good thing that, with my head in the loop of the massage bench’s headpiece, she can’t see my face. For if she could, she’d witness what only she can make one feel in a time span of 30 mins: overwhelming joy, trembling fear, total relaxation, solid gratitude, torturing pain and total indulgence, alternating in a matter of seconds! She doesn’t hear my silent screams, she doesn’t hear my cries of pain, she doesn’t see the spit dripping from my mouth when I forget to close my mouth. I want her sweet torture (after all, I am paying for it), because I know that after all the pain, there will be only joy and relief! (Btw, I feel so good on Ta’s bench, I tend to think that I must look good really good on it, too, and I contemplate a career as a model for massage therapy. But looking at the pictures that we took at one session, I have to find out that instead I look like a fat piglet on the roast. Hilarious!)
Just like the sensual massage oil she uses to tease the costumers’ senses, many different experiences make up her own aromatic biography. Hers is her very inspiring story, because she really has come a long way.
Born and raised in Thailand as the first of three children – Ta has a younger sister and a younger brother. She goes to school for 12 years and gets her BA in politics after four years at Ramkhamhaeng university in Bangkok. Because only with the right connections is it possible for 10 out of all politics students in that year to find a job with the government – unfortunately, she doesn’t. Without further ado, Ta simply redirects her goals, what else can she do? She soon finds a job in a call center and, for the next three years, she pages doctors on their beepers, the most common device in healthcare business at that time. After those three years, she has to reorganize her life another time. She moves to the capital of Thailand and starts to sell magazines on a sky train.
One day, while on duty, she meets a friend from high school who has just opened a spa in the capital’s business area. That same friend invites her to come in for massage training. Ta starts the training and receives a 40 Baht tip from her first customer. This is the equivalent of 1 Euro and a lot of money for the young therapy novice at that time! This special tip symbolizes the start for her career as a masseuse. At her friend’s place and at the Wat Po Thai and Traditional Massage School, she learns everything about body wellness and how to make people head over to her, hurt a little and heal after the session.
A little later, her career takes the young woman to the Maldives, which she considers the nicest workplace she has ever worked at.
‘Everything was free there: food, drink, the room, very nice! The staff was like a big family.’
However, the situation tightens during the global recession and soon, accommodation is no longer free on the hotel’s premises, the costumers stay away. So Ta sets herself up in Abu Dhabi. ‘The job at Rotana is also very good’, she beams. And I know why: she recently got promoted to Head Therapist for the wellness and massage area at Khalidiya Palace Hotel, a great reward for her solid commitment. This job does come with more responsibilities. However, it does bring benefits as well: Phuangphayom, after many years of sharing one with others, now enjoys living in a single room. Furthermore, her schedule at work lists two customers less per day, which gains her valuable time for office work.
What was your motivation/ Why did you come to Abu Dhabi?
‘We always need more money.’
She simply summarizes a mutual if not universal obligation we all only know too well. The financial support for her mother and sister is the main reason she is in Abu Dhabi, where she works so hard. And, as you would expect a BA graduate to have, this sister too has clear aspirations in life. She knows exactly what she wants: Upon returning to Thailand she plans to open a baqala grocery shop in her home town. Most important factor here: to be with her mother and to be at home. This is how she sees her personal stress relief therapy from the strains of being on the global job market for more than a decade. Chasing her baqala dream, she already saves every penny/fils/baht she can.
Please describe a normal workday.
Working in a hotel’s spa doesn’t require getting out of bed in the middle of the night. Therefore, a normal weekday for Ta begins at 6:30 am, when she wakes up. Her morning shift begins at 8:45 am which she gets picked up for by the hotel’s bus at 8:20. However, she works six days a week in a rotating cycle of 1-2-1-2 off-days and she sees around six or seven customers per day. Usually, the weekends are busy days as people then find some time to do something for themselves and book massages.
How many times a year and on what occasions do go back to your country and to see your family?
‘My mom is waiting for my massage every year!’
Ta’s face lightens up when she says that and I so relate to her mom’s anticipation! The dutiful daughter goes back for a few weeks every 12 months, even if it means to travel at her own expense. The hotel pays for her airfare only every other year, as it is common in the UAE for most companies and corporations. But she definitely has to see her relatives more often than that.
‘I miss my mom!’ she exhales, looking a little sad. ‘In return, she cooks my favorite food every day!’
Now that is a deal I could live with, too! Why haven’t I told my kids to get into the wellness or cosmetic business? After all, being over forty, I do need treatments, urgently! But just as I contemplate this, I discard the idea again. Seriously – I’d have to cook every day? No, thanks!
What do you do when you feel homesick?
Like her fellow working colleagues, Ta’s homesickness-release therapy is a decently long distant call back home. Listening to her mom’s voice and advice simply rub out all the knots in her heart. With her sister she communicates on facebook on a daily basis and is updated about everyone’s afflictions and joys, duly. She also talks to her brother on the phone frequently. Generally, Ta’s homesickness is not so big that it would depress her or make her very sad, Thai music or a traditional dish that she learned to cook long ago cures nostalgic pain as well. Another cure stems from her religion: As a Buddhist, she has learned how to cope with daring times in many mediation lessons. She has experienced that even the hardest pain is surrendered by patience and relief. I can only confirm that: When Ta rubs her elbows up and down the sides of my spine (hardest pain ever!!!), I try to stay patient, too.
‘Religion makes you very powerful in general’, she continues. Like so many other expatriates, she calls back upon her religious beliefs to be resilient and reaffirmed.
What has your work-experience here in Abu Dhabi taught you about life in general? What have you gained from being in the UAE personally?
‘People are the same everywhere’, Ta is very sure. She sees positivity in all people, sometimes also some negativity. But she wouldn’t be a good therapist if she didn’t believe in the power of a self-inflicted health session.
‘People cannot be bad all the time’, she resumes and explains that it is her job to find out what makes people feel better, if – mentally as well as physically – their condition is suboptimal.
‘Stressed people should come to massage more – it can really wind you down” she promotes her therapy’s results. And to wind someone down is her calling, even If it means stretching customers until the bench breaks.
‘This has really happened to me once, when a customer wasn’t flexible enough!’ she laughs. ‘He was a German’. By putting a hand over her mouth tries to conceal her hearty laughter. Huh – what? I am not in the least surprised.
A wonderful wellness-warrior who once set out to be a politician – now, who can say that about their masseuse? When I see Phuangphayom it feels like all good things from Thailand are right at my fingertips. I instantly think of everything beautiful Thailand has to offer: gorgeous beaches and flowers, delicious food and super friendly people, to name just a few. My frontal lobe screams for her service regularly and I learn a lot from her: a passion for work and that unexpected life-turns don’t mean the end of things but wonderful beginnings. To me, she personifies the power of letting go.
And boy, does she embrace change! While this article is written she decides to re-organize once more and to go back to Thailand. I am very sad to see her go, but of course I wish her all the luck in the world!