Manila Vanilla

What it's like to be a U.S. Fulbright scholar, basketball player, journalist, and the whitest man in Metro Manila.

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Location: Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines

New Yorker by birth, shipped across the globe to the world of malls, shanty-towns, patronage, corruption, basketball and a curious burnt-toast smell that wafts around at dusk

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The Bronx Hard Massage

When the Big Apple Spa put up a cardboard cut-out of one of its employees inside the LRT Line 3 station at Araneta Center/Cubao to advertise its menu of beauty treatments and massages, it caught my attention.

I'm a New Yorker, and I always get a kick out of the ways businesses in Manila try to capitalize on New York's glamorous reputation. From a new condominium development in Cubao called "Manhattan Garden City" to Yellow Cab Pizza's roster of decidedly un-New York pies (shrimp and garlic?) to more subtle efforts like Gateway mall's lifting of a melody extremely similar to the Sex and the City theme song for their commercials, I notice these things. The marketing is so blatant, yet if capturing the essence of New York is the goal, these attempts almost always miss the target by miles. It brings to mind all sorts of snide, patronizing adjectives : quaint, naive, jejeune.

The city that always sells.

And no place exemplifies this trend in as grand and absurd a manner as Gateway's Big Apple Spa, which proudly offers little slices of heaven like the "Manhattan Express," the "Wall Street Express," and the undisputed champion of the bunch, the "Bronx Hard Massage." I'm not a big massage guy. I make my dad rub my feet, but paying for massage therapy was always in a league with tanning salons, eyebrow threading, mani/pedicures and other services way too Metrosexual for me.

But, for the sake of cultural exploration, I could make an exception. Someone needs to find out what Filipinos think an experience called the "Bronx Hard Massage" or "Wall Street Express" would include and write about it. The names certainly conjured up vivid images in my head. Would the Wall Street massage consist of seven bankers snorting coke off my bare back? Maybe being slapped and tenderized with thick wads of cash and feeling the divine contrast between the worn grain of the greenbacks and the the cool sting of the metal money clips? And what on Earth could the Bronx Hard Massage be?

We're here to massage you.

My father warned me about a variant of the BHM when I was six years old. An elementary school classmate was taking me to my first Yankees game, and before I left, pops told me to avoid the public bathrooms at Yankee Stadium at all costs. Gangs of Puerto Ricans in there would gang rape me, cut my throat and leave me for dead, he said. When I saw the sign advertising the massage, my first thought was laying down on a table, only to have Fat Joe and the Terror Squad swarm the room and pummel me with 2-foot MagLites and padock-laced fists.

I wasn't totally surprised to find out that the Bronx Hard Massage was neither of these. In fact, I'm hard pressed to identify anything Bronx-like about the experience. The amount of time the masseuse spent kneading my buttocks surprised me, and perhaps led credence to my dad's mildly prejudiced paranoia 18 years ago. Since it was my first massage of any kind, it's difficult for me to compare this hard massage to a soft one, or this Bronx rubdown to a DuPage County, Illinois one.

If you read the line about Albanian thugs and thought I was joking, check out this picture perfect bad boy.

Here's what happened. I asked for a Bronx Hard Massage, and was a little disappointed that I had to ask a cute, fashionable Filipina instead of a guy wearing a 6XL white tee and a Yankee hat at least twice as big as his actual head. At least give me an Albanian hard rock with a chin-strap beard. So the Big Apple lost authenticity points from the start. The girl led me into a potpurri-smelling room with dark lighting and told me to change into the boxer shorts laying on the massage table. Their shorts were more like shiny polyester hot pants than boxers, so I elected to rock my own boxers and stave off another case of crabs. A tiny woman came into the room, asked what kind of pressure I wanted (It's called the "hard" massage, right?) and then got to working on my ass. It was nice. She stretched me out, leaned all 93 pounds of herself on various pressure points, and rubbed some kind of oil all over me. I don't know what any of those things have to do with the Bronx. The only women there who weigh 93 pounds are 9 years old.

OK. I'm starting to feel guilty about all these Bronx stereotypes I'm tossing around. Of course, they never would have entered my mind in the first place, if some ad-wizard at the Big Apple Spa didn't try to cash in on some similarly inaccurate stereotype in his or her head.


Blogger Jules said...

great entries as usual... i'll keep tab on your blog...

seriously tho, you should think of publishing your entries soon just like the way ted lerner did with his.


12:53 AM  
Anonymous Ray the Pizza Guy said...

Hey, man, we got different kinds of hard massages up here. Not that West Village rub you guys do down there. We got the Morris Thrust Rub, which is deep and hard. We got the Bronx Science Pseudo Rub, which is for the smart kids who whine. And we got the Al Smith Dumber Than Dumb Rub, which is for those from Manhattan who pay first, and don't get any rub at all. There's a dozen others, but the emphasis on the female ass is definitely a Bronx proclivity.
Can't believe our little brown bros are stealing our action. Can you sue in the Philippines?

7:14 AM  
Blogger John-D Borra said...

Cool entry. I'd love to say that I'll look into these massages, but my wife'll kill me. :-)

11:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

are you from UP?

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