Authentic Thai

Master Pen Si Nawichian

Photo By Larry Dalton

The musky smell of incense aromatized the Body Mind Center on 26th and I streets. Soothing music could be heard playing faintly in the background. A beautiful Thai woman in her mid-40s emerged from the kitchen after preparing hot tea. She smiled bashfully, placed her hands in a praying position and bowed her head to greet her customers.

Meet Master Pen Si Nawichian. Born and raised in Thailand, Master Pen Si has been performing Thai massage for over 20 years. She shares a practice with Belinda Pate, RN (who aided in some of the translation for the interview) at their center, advertised as being the only one in Sacramento that performs Thai massage. Pen Si compares the intensity of Thai Massage to the caliber of spicy food: Strong and intense but strangely enjoyable. And those who enjoy the zest of the Thai massage know just who to turn to when they need a little twisting, turning and relaxing: Master Pen Si.

What is Thai massage?

Thai massage combines point pressure and stretching movements. Thai massage opens joints and balances the muscle groups of the body. The gentle rocking and massage puts you in a trance-like state and helps with flexibility. It is known in Thailand as the “lazy person’s yoga” because it combines massage and yoga into one practice. We are the only place in Sacramento that does Thai massage. It’s been done in Thailand for 2,500 years, and is really big in L.A. and San Francisco right now.

What are the benefits of a Thai massage?

It is good for the mind, body and soul. It makes you flexible and helps you relax.

How did you get started?

A long time ago I went to school in Thailand. I got my certificate in 1979, then I did massage in Malaysia for about four years. I learned massage from a blind man. He massaged me for one hour, two hours, three hours … he was really good. I paid him to massage me and I learned from him. I worked at this place that was like a factory. There was a big room and 40 people at a time getting a session in the open. They didn’t close the door! Thai massage is so sought after, people that learn Thai massage end up going all over the world. My sister is in Italy right now at a Thai massage place.

What brought you to Sacramento?

I did not know if I wanted to go to America, and went to a lady who wore robes and was praying [fortune teller]. I asked the lady what I should do. She told me to marry and to come to America. I worked in L.A., in a salon and met a Thai woman from Sacramento. She asked me to work for the Thai people in Sacramento. I was only working for Thai people. I met Belinda Pate and she asked me to work for her.

How much is a massage in Thailand?

Three American dollars for a one-hour massage. Cheap.

Do you get massages in Sacramento?

No, I do yoga. I’m tired, I do yoga. I don’t like the massage here. I like massages in Thailand.

How do people react after their first Thai massage?

It is very intense. People who have never had a Thai massage are very surprised—you throw the body all over the place in different positions. Surprised, I’d say, surprised after their massage.

Do you ever get tired?

I never mind. It doesn’t matter.

Do you like the Thai food in Sacramento?

The Thai food here is O.K. My friends work at Thai Palace—I like that food. I cook my own food most of the time. Sometimes I even cook for customers. I always seem to have food around.

What do you miss the most about your homeland?

I miss my father. I want to buy him a house. I can buy a house in Bangkok for $8,000. I want to make money, not stay here too long, and go to Bangkok. It’s so cheap there. When I get enough money for a house, I will go back and retire. I also miss the retreats at the temple in the mountains. I like to go and talk to no one in the temples and meditate for 10 days. I get power when I do that. I used to go to the forest to feed monkeys. I support the monkeys. I give money and food to charities. I’m an animal lover. I love the monkeys! I used to live near a forest that had 2,000 monkeys. I’d buy them bananas. They are very cheap there.

What do you suggest for people who are stressed?

I tell people to eat and sleep and lie down. I tell them it is important to relax.

What is most important to you in life?

Peace, yoga and meditation. I am a Buddhist. I live the Buddhist path. The fixture on the wall, it’s Doctor Buddha. He is the founder of Thai massage. I do a prayer before I start the session—you don’t see it. I do it to benefit you. The goal of Thai massage is to help humanity. I put Thai tea on the altar, food and drink for the Buddha. Sometimes I put oranges up there. Thai massage is a prayer to the Buddha.