Confessions of a male spa virgin
Real men don’t go to spas. Real men go to the pub. They chop wood. They work on cars with heavy tools, making loud metallic noises while stinking of oil and sweat.
That, at least, was what I thought before I read up for this "man walks into a spa" story.
Men now make up a third of all spa goers, according to the International Spa Association. Spas the world over now have menus dedicated to men. And at the Four Seasons Hotel Hong Kong men make up nearly half the spa's customers.
I wanted to find out exactly what the appeal was, so I guinea-pigged myself out to the Four Seasons Spa for a man's eye view of the world of mud facials, lavender aromas and cucumber eye masks.
"We do recommend that all our customers are in a state of undress when they use our Vitality Lounge," I am told as I sit for a pre-treatment chat with the spa director.
The Vitality Lounge is where you’re meant to spend an hour chilling out before you surrender your body to the ladies in white coats.
"You mean naked?"
"Yes, naked. But don’t worry it’s a male-only environment."
She seems to think being naked in a room full of other naked men is preferable to being naked in a room full of naked women.
I let it pass. I have other questions.
One is a lingering concern about being oiled up by an exotic beauty in a warm, scent-filled room while I wear nothing but a towel. "So what about, you know, the potential arousal issue," I stammer out.
"Oh of course it can happen," the director says frankly. "But if it does just ignore it, and realize that the therapists have been doing this for years. Besides, you spend the first half hour on your front so by the time you turn over you’re very relaxed."
Not exactly comforted, I'm escorted by a softly spoken Nepalese man into a den of soft lighting and immaculately laid out toiletries.
This is the Four Seasons Spa's Vitality Lounge, a watery temple to the god of stress reduction.
There's a sauna (hot, choking, I last 25 seconds), a steam room (minty and humid) and a vitality pool (bubbly and ticklish).
But before I can say "Ooh that's good," I am led to my treatment.
The body scrub
My first therapist is not quite the exotic beauty I had been fearing but a happy, chatty, matronly Filipina, who, judging by the size of her forearms, has been wringing the hell out of knotted muscles for many years.
She gets stuck into the Jatamansi Scrub, designed specifically for men, it says in the brochure, to “melt away stress, restoring vitality and positive energy.”
Immediately it feels like the Sandman is giving me a rubdown. Coarse grains of what I am later told is Himalayan salt appear to be ridding me of my first six layers of skin.
“Oh you have very sensitive skin,” my therapist croons. “You go red straight away.”
You think? I just hoped I wouldn't start bleeding.
But after the initial shock, it becomes quite enjoyable. In the end I feel like a puppy in her hands, getting scratched where I didn't even know I itched.
After a quick steam to absorb the products it's on to the massage.
The deep pressure massage
Now this I am looking forward to. My muscles are tense and my posture bad. I need this.
A lip-smacking citrus scent fills the room as she prepares the oils. She slides her thumbs firmly down my spine and I feel the tension being squeezed away.
Then she discovers a spot of pure pain near my shoulder. And she's poking it. Many times.
The pain is intense. This is not relaxing. I regretted ticking the box for "firm" under "massage strength."
But being a real man I muffled any squeals (OK one or two may have slipped out) and resolve not to say anything.
Then she finds another pain spot in exactly the same place on the opposite side. More silent squeals. She moves to the legs, and I don’t know what she's doing, or why she's doing it, but the pain here is even worse.
If I didn't hurt so much I would laugh, as the hilarity of this predicament hits home.
Finally, after nearly an hour, the Man Destroyer eases up and she puts in some long strokes up and down my legs. Compared to the agony of before, this simplest of moves is bliss.
Her fingertips stray pretty close to the family essentials, but there's not so much as a quiver, and if there was it would have been out of sheer terror rather than anything sexual.
She tells me afterwards that the massage was painful because my muscles are very tight. No, I think it was painful because you were pummeling the crap out of me. I want to say.
The masseuse is replaced by another, a serene, gentle, spiritual breeze of a woman, and the final part of this trilogy of treats begins.
Despite being the longest of the treatments, the Rainforest Rejuvenating Facial passes the quickest.
I drift in and out of consciousness, the relief from excruciating body massage having left me in as deep a state of calm as I've been in for many months.
I'm put through at least half a dozen different applications of creams, lotions, moisturizers and a face mask.
She massages my face and presses bags of heated Himalayan salt (yes, that stuff again, this time much more agreeably applied) into the soles of my feet.
Then with a quick wipe down and a "thank you sir" it's all over.
How did I feel? Pretty damn amazing, actually. Best of all I was still a real man. I just happened to have incredibly silky skin.
Treatments mentioned in the article may not be available. Alternatives include: Complete Organic Cleanse, two hours, weekday price HK$3,000, weekend price HK$3,400 plus service charge; City Peel Facial, one hour and 30 minutes, weekday price HK$1,800, weekend price HK$1,950 plus service charge; Body Polish, one hour, weekday price HK$1,000, weekend price HK$1,100 plus service charge.
Four Seasons Spa, Hong Kong, 8 Finance Street, Central, tel +852 3196 8888 www.fourseasons.com/hongkong
First published May 2010, updated March 2013