Tense, tired, and cold, I sought escape to someplace exotic, warm, and relaxing. I replaced my world of concrete and dust and ice and dry wind with a realm of warmth and wet air, redolent of lemongrass and myriad mysterious fragrances, a place where my tension could be wrung out of me and dripped off me. Bowls of fruit lay open for the taking; cups of citrus water refreshed; nearby, a table could be had and served with coconut soups and red and green curries. I had ventured somewhere – where? Chiang Mai? Yangon (erstwhile Rangoon)? Angkor? Was the moist air the onset of a monsoon? Quietly, wafting over the air, I could hear singing, or was it the chants of meditation?
My portal, my access point to this world of wet warmth and relaxation, bore a sign: Changeroom. Ah! Another long, complex word with a mixture of foreign flavours. Changeroom meant “welcome”. Changeroom meant “come in”. Changeroom meant “leave behind your daily burdens”. Changeroom meant “take on new light, soft vestments”. This was a liminal place, a border, a Narnian wardrobe. Everything became something different, underwent a sea-change into something rich and strange.
Even the word itself. Ten letters, but of those, two different sets of two each stand for a single sound, while two other letters stand for altered sounds, and one stands for no sound at all but merely works a small magic on another letter. The word has two parts: the first is affricate-to-affricate with a nasal in between, all on the tip of the tongue; the second pulls the tongue back and at the same time rounds the lips, and a liquid moves through a vowel tunnel to a nasal. The first part comes from warm southern climates, the second from cold northern ones, but the first word is crisper and more biting, the second warmer and softer. The word is rich and strange and mixed, a magic trick, a linguistic shapeshifter. How you see it depends on… how you see it.
These simple letters could stand for singing – Mandarin chang ger – or meditation, the long tone of om, but instead they present a space for transformation: change, from French, ultimately from Latin cambire “change”, and room, an old and widespread Germanic root referring to space and interior places. An interior of transformation: here is where you go within, lock away your quotidian raiments, and come forth clad in soft white. The silence will change you just as the silent e signals a change in the way you say the a.
Yes, I spent another evening at the spa, steaming, soaking, swimming, and getting a massage. I left my keys and cards and money and phone and clothing in my wardrobe locker in the changeroom, put on a bathrobe, and my world was become a softer, quieter place for three hours.
But of course all my stuff was waiting for me when I was done. As was the bill. Ah, spa, and your magic gate changeroom, I will return. I would go back there tomorrow but for the work that I have taken on… On the other hand, that work pays for me to go in the first place.