As I planned my trip to Australia, I learned that flights longer than 12 hours are considered ultra long-haul. I also learned that they do not come with a complimentary massage upon arrival. I would much rather have a massage than the awful two meals (and a snack!) they serve on board. I can bring my own food but, try as I may, I can’t twist into a position to knead my own shoulders. Unfortunately, the airlines don’t seem to care about my preferences, so after I arrived in Sydney, stiff and with back pain, I had no choice but to book a massage.
I decided to treat myself at the Park Hyatt’s renowned spa, The Spa. It’s considered one of Sydney’s best, offering views of Sydney Harbor and treatments featuring organic local ingredients. It was expensive (outrageously so when compared to the Qi Gong massage I get at my local Chinese place) but I was feeling particularly irresponsible now that I was Down Under. That’s the thing about traveling—away from home, you get to be whomever you want. You can reinvent yourself, and in Sydney I was living the life. After all, I’d spent a small fortune to get there and I wasn’t going to pinch pennies.
The Park Hyatt Hotel sits right under the Harbor Bridge and across from the Sydney Opera House. You can’t beat the location and views (even if the name of the spa could be improved upon). Why call a spa “The Spa?” A lack of imagination? A sign of hubris? Either way, it was not a good sign and, in retrospect, I was foolish not to consider it.
I’d read on the Internet that the concierge escorts you to the elevator and presses the button for you, but I must have looked athletic enough to accomplish the task myself because the concierge didn’t bother leaving his desk. Upstairs, I was welcomed with a cup of local blend herbal tea. Plagued by jet lag, I would have done better with the standard fare Green tea that spas usually serve, but the adventurer in me was excited to try it.
As I sipped it, I scanned the booklet with treatments and spa packages. I wanted something exotic that I couldn’t get in New York and the Native Clay and Hot Oil Treatment sounded perfect. It was described as a full body massage using anti-inflammatory herb extracts combined with heat. I have Ankylosing Spondylitis and my back was particularly inflamed, compliments of the long flight and the stress of travel. A massage alone would have been great; adding to it an anti-inflammatory treatment seemed a dream come true. Surely, it was worth the splurge.
My excitement went down the toilet within the first two minutes. Literally.
As expected, the room the massage therapist led me to was luxuriously decorated and furnished with two tables, a large, modern-looking sink and the best feature of all—a close up view of the Harbor Bridge. It was of course wasted in a room in which you lie facedown for the duration of your stay. But just in case I was tempted to sneak peaks, the therapist pulled down the shades. She then showed me the shower and restroom in the back (another feature of the spa that had been praised in reviews on the Internet) and after dimming the lights, she left me to get ready.
I lifted the lid of the toilet and to my horror it was unflushed! I dropped the lid and looked for the lever, desperate to flush not just the contents of the toilet but also the image in my head. The only thing that looked remotely like a flushing device were two circles etched on the wall above the toilet. I madly began pressing on them but there was no sound to indicate that any water was coming to my rescue. And yet, above the circles, someone had written in small black letters “Push to flush.” I kept pushing, trying first one then the other circle before pressing both of them at the same time. Nothing.
Exasperated, I ran out and fetched the receptionist. The first thing she did upon walking in was turn the light on in the room. She couldn’t explain why but, apparently, it was necessary to flush the toilet. She then pressed one of the circles on the wall and the toilet flushed. I looked at her in disbelief. Was she wonder woman? To test it, I pressed on one of the circles and again got nothing. “Oh,” she said. “You have to hover over it first and then press slowly.” But of course! Why had I not thought of it?
Since when did flushing the toilet become so complicated as to require training? What was wrong with the good old lever? Or just a normal button that protrudes from the wall or sits on the toilet tank and needs a simple press? (Check out my post, Toilet Training: The Japanese Wander Toilet, for other ultra-fancy and ultra-frustrating toilet experiences.)
Nothing spoils the mood for a massage more than an unflushed toilet. But even without that, the experience wasn’t worth the money. I would have been better off with a plain old Swedish massage. The oil that the therapist poured on my lower back didn’t do a thing beside burn my skin for a few intolerable seconds before cooling down to comfortable warmth. My hotel shower could have accomplished the same for free. As for the massage itself, it was one of the worst I’ve had in years. And I get a lot of them.