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Thursday, November 23, 2006

Chiang Mai: Open-air Maintenance

Even back in the States, where it is considerably more expensive, I get a manicure and a pedicure every other month or so. To me they are still treats, not the necessary part of grooming that they are for many. Yet even I notice that after a while my feet start to look exceptionally ugly, and I get the needed maintenance. Jellybean says I have some sort of condition that makes callouses and cuticles grow like mad. That's as good an excuse as any for spending money. I have a 'condition'.

I love manicures and pedicures. They feel good. There is something about having someone fuss over you, massage your feet a little, that makes me feel pampered. I am always delighted when I get to a place where I can afford them more often. One place was Miraflores, a suburb of Lima, Peru. I stayed there for six weeks, and had a manicure every week. Even I can afford a two dollar treat once a week.

It is a little more expensive and certainly less plush at Mai's. No big comfortable chairs designed especially for giving pedicures, no manicure table. There I sit on a wooden bench, and prop my foot on a pillow in Mai's lap. I have another pillow in my lap, with a dishpan balanced on top. My hands are in the dishpan, soaking. My choice of polish is limited to ten shades or so, but I found a couple I like, so that's OK.

The salon isn't air-conditioned. That would be difficult, as there are only three walls. The open side looks out on a garden, and there's a fountain bubbling away.

The whole process takes three hours, and during this time I learn a lot about Mai. For someone who speaks minimal English, and has only been studying for two months, she manages to tell me a lot about herself. We agree that we did well in choosing young-looking mothers, because we look (in my case, used to) look younger than we are. We also agree that our hands always give us away.

I teach her to say 'skin' as a one-syllable word, not "suh-kin". She teaches me 'jam', which is Thai for 'Great!'. If you really like something, it is jam.

I'm sure there are more elegant places around. But I like this little hole in the wall, with its missing side and its fountain, and the woman who taught me jam.

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