A few years ago, looking for an excuse to talk to a pretty young lady at the American Chamber of Commerce in Moscow, I commented that writing too many faxes gave me back pain. That is one way to strike up a conversation — isn’t it? Unfortunately she offered no personal solution but recommended me to a Japanese Shiatsu place in the Mezhdunarodnaya Hotel. So one Saturday when I was "in the area," as real estate ladies say, I stopped into the shiatsu place because they never answered the phone number I was given.
Well, it was really not a "place" but a hotel room, room 725 in fact, as I found out only after asking several hotel clerks who claimed to know nothing about it and finally spotting a sign on a bulletin board. Inside, the small room was divided in two by a hospital green curtain unevenly hanging by a wire. Behind that were three narrow massage tables. It smelled of sweat, which reminded me I was in Russia and not Japan, where it would have smelled of lotus blossoms. I was asked if I wanted the "Russian doctor" or the "Japanese doctor" and I said since I drive a Toyota I should have the Japanese doctor. I was told to come back tomorrow - no Japanese doctors on Saturday - which I did.
I first had to fill out a form, the questions being in Japanese, and mark on a chart of the front and back of the skeleton diagram what my problem was. I told the Russian office girl, who spoke Japanese but little English, that I had a "fax" problem but she thought I said something else, giggled and turned red. I couldn't figure out what the problem was so I spoke directly to the Japanese doctor in my "Taxi Japanese" left over from my R&Rs in Tokyo when I was stationed in Korea. I knew how to command a right or left turn and to slow down. None of it worked. After I explained to him about my Toyota in California, he completely understood and told the Russian doctor to “warm me up.” She was a smiling tank of a woman who plopped me on my stomach like a slab of bacon and started pounding on the back of my legs.
I have to tell you here that this was no exotic massage parlor - as you may have guessed already. Of course I was not looking for one. Because it was "co-ed" you left your clothes on and they had to find the knots in your muscles under the Levi's or whatever you’re wearing. So the big Russian doctor was having a hard time on one side of my buttocks, but I couldn't feel a thing until we realized the problem was I hadn't removed my wallet. But, otherwise, she was pretty good and when it was time for me to turn over I found she had morphed into a short Japanese man who had taken up the beat as smoothly as one band replaces another in an all-night Philippine ball room.
He was good and very scientific about his job. If he was really a doctor, I figured he must have earned a diploma and have an approved method. His method was like that of a golfer squatting down to line up a putt. He would figure it out, run up, and jab his thumb into my armpit, or groin, which was no doubt in his opinion, the right place. A little more energy to the game and he could get a job at Benihana's, I thought.
When we were through, we had a post-operative consultation (together with the form analysis it cost $10) where he showed me, on the skeleton chart, that I had a crooked spine to which I said, "Yeah? Well it wasn't crooked when I came in!" to which he gave me a coupon worth $10 off my next corrective operation after their move the next week to the Intourist Hotel (which I relayed to the pretty girl at the American Chamber of Commerce). The massage cost $50 for one hour and I felt great. It showed up on my expense account as "computer related maintenance, miscellaneous.” Anyway, it was cheaper than an hour at the Toyota dealer.
I never found them again. The Intourist thought I was looking for something else and wouldn’t give me a room number.
The column is about the ideas and stories generated from the 20 years the author spent living and doing business in Russia. Often about conflict and resolution, these tales at times reveal the “third side of the Russian coin.” Based on direct involvement and from observations at a safe distance, the author relates his experiences with respect, satire and humor.
Frederick Andresen is an international businessman and writer with a lifetime of intercultural experience in Asia and for the last twenty years in Russia. He now lives in California and is President of the Los Angeles/St. Petersburg Sister City. While still involved in Russian business, he also devotes time to the arts and his writing, being author of “Walking on Ice, An American Businessman in Russia” and historical novellas.