It seemed like a good idea. It was cold, rainy and Têt, the Vietnamese New Year celebration when everyone heads home to spend time with family and EVERYTHING shuts down. We planned to escape the bone chilling wet by going south to the island of Con Dao, so I wanted to get waxed in preparation for beaches, warm water and sunshine. The owner of our home stay made a phone call and sent us across Hoi An to his friend Mai’s spa. My husband Ken accompanied me in the hopes that he would be able to get a massage while waiting.
Like so many businesses in Vietnam, the spa blurred the definitions of home and work. Several massage tables were lined up at the front, followed by a kitchen with stairs leading to the second floor and more massage tables behind a curtain leading to the back. We were greeted warmly and asked what we would like. Ken requested an hour massage and I asked for leg and underarm waxing. Ken was whisked into the back while Mai told me that it would be a few minutes. Mai then had a very animated and intense phone conversation punctuated with occasional reassuring nods towards me and tentative pokes into a hot bowl of wax.
Finally, she had me lie down on a table near the front of the spa as she blew on a stick coated in wax. She smiled reassuringly at me and began to apply the wax to my legs. I gasped and waved her off as I felt the first layer of my skin burn off. Mai patted me on the shoulder, smiled and began blowing on the wax some more. I watched her nervously, looking for any sign of movement that might indicate intentions to scorch more of my flesh. Suddenly she looked up and gave a sigh of relief as another smiling woman came in and stood on the other side of the table. The two began a serious conversation over me with lots of gesturing, nodding and serious expressions at the end of which they again began appling wax to my legs. I took a deep breathe, told myself that it probably wasn’t burning me as badly as I thought it was, and focused on its imminent removal. But instead of applying a cloth and quickly ripping out my hair and the burning wax in one brief moment of anguish, they continued applying more of the scorching wax while conferring animatedly and picking at the edges of the area that had cooled enough that they could touch it. WTF? I lay there contemplating jumping off the table and running, or hurling the bowl of hot wax across the room, but a lifetime of trying to respect and learn about other cultures kept me glued to the table, imagining what my legs looked like under the wax. Eventually a consensus was reached by the ladies and the now hardened wax was slowly and painfully peeled away from my legs along with the unwelcome hair as I mentally cursed the culture that brainwashed me into believing that hair was only supposed to be in very specific places NOT dependent on where it naturally occurs. Finally the torture ended and I tried to get up from the table but unfortunately Mai remembered that I had also requested underarm waxing. I shoved my hands under my arm pits and firmly nodded NO which only elicited more pats on the shoulder, smiles and attempts to remove my shirt. As I’m trying to fend off my overly zealous estheticians, a young man comes down the stairs to peruse the refrigerator before greeting my tormentors and walking out. Lamentably I was so taken aback as I lay on the table in my panties with my shirt around my neck, that Mai and her friend were able to get my shirt the rest of the way off. I knew I was beaten. The only consolation was that the wax had cooled down to extremely hot from searing. Finally I was allowed to put my clothes back on and slink like a wounded animal from the table. I moved to a chair at the front and forlornly examined my legs only to find that the traitorous appendages had not even managed one blister – no badge of honor, nothing I could point to to elicit the sympathy I so deserved. As I sat there feeling sorry for myself, my husband Ken emerged from behind the curtain smiling and relaxed, “Great massage! You all done?”