Sunday, March 5, 2017


We have a particular idea about massages in Western countries. It goes something like this. You go to the neighborhood salon - Massage Envy, for instance. You are given a cup of warm green tea and ushered into your private room, where a cleanly made massage bed awaits. Soft, New Age music is playing and a faint aroma of perfumed oil is in the air. The masseuse, gender of choice, enters and begins to gently knead and rub your muscles, shoulders, back, legs, and so on. You close your eyes and sort of float with the music, aware of the muted swishing of pant legs and arm sleeves, and maybe you drift in and out of sleep.

Not so with the traditional Javanese massage, which is anything other than a relaxing experience. A person of unimportant gender, and shaped rather like a TV antenna, assaults you from the outset with uncommon ferocity, goring muscle and bone with iron-like digits, separating joints from sockets, searching out nerves with sinister expertise and exquisite effect, in the form of excruciating pain. In short, you know you have had a massage. Oh, have you. This is no game. This is dead serious business. And something is bound to result for better or worse, barring death (which, of course, would be catastrophic). 

And in the end, you are happy. It's a happy ending, so to speak. For you have survived, you have seen the thing through; and, moreover, you feel good, like something definite, something helpful has been accomplished. I must say that I was for one night quite without pain, and slept like a baby, or a log, or the dead - whichever can be considered the most restful among these.

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