Healing Hands

The average massage in Bali costs about $8.00 for one hour. When I learned this, I was thrilled and immediately made it my mission to find the best spa in Ubud. In the beginning, I thought this would be fun. I naively thought there was no such thing as a bad massage. I am here to tell you, I no longer believe this to be true. It has been a long process in which I have kissed many toads to find my prince, (Rama at Spa Shangri-La), and now that this intense research project is behind me, I feel compelled to share what I have learned. Of the bad massages I have had, and sadly, there have been many, they generally fall into three categories:

The One-Trick-Pony

The One-Trick-Pony is not the worst of the worst but, generally falls under the uninspired category. As her title implies, the One-Trick-Pony has one weapon in her arsenal and that is to find one spot, and one spot only, and rub, and rub and rub some more. What the One-Trick-Pony lacks in variety she makes up in persistence. It is likely the One-Trick-Pony learned this tool on the first day of massage school, and was so blown away by it, she decided to make it her entire repertoire. Much like the cute guy in college who knew one chord on the guitar – it afforded him female attention and just seemed like a good idea – he wasn’t at all bothered by the fact that his subjects might experience nausea and bleeding from the ears after repeated performances. Treatment by the One-Trick-Pony may also result in undesirable outcomes such as 3rd degree friction burns or the appearance of someone who applied sunscreen with a serving fork.

The Crouching Monkey

The Crouching Monkey is next on the list of the worst massage techniques for several reasons. The Crouching Monkey combines extreme strength with elite gymnastic agility which is the key to this truly unpleasant massage. The secret to the Crouching Monkey lies with the therapist discreetly mounting the table and crouching on top of the unsuspecting victim client. From this position she is able to exert super-human, ape-like strength and thus, the healing may begin. An important detail that adds to the Crouching Monkey is the fact that, rather than proper massage tables, most Balinese spas use tables made from one long piece of wood with a hole cut out for the client’s face. These holes are generally too big for most human-sized heads so, the client has to balance on their forehead using their neck muscles to keep their heads from falling through the hole. This adds to the excitement of the Crouching Monkey and is an important element in the technique. As the client is being therapeutically smothered into the table, it is virtually impossible to audibly request less pressure as all their muscles are fiercely tensed to keep their heads from being pushed through the hole like a Pez dispenser. The Crouching Monkey is all about intensity, never getting distracted by bothersome details like human anatomy or musculature. Sometimes the pressure is applied to areas lacking in significant muscle tissue at all, like the scalp, fingers and toes. If it feels like your skull is being crushed during your scalp massage, or your fingers or toes are being dislocated, you’re probably experiencing the Crouching Monkey. In addition, after the treatment, you may experience any or all of the following symptoms: headache, ringing in the ears, charlie horse, memory loss, muscle spasms, blurred vision, erectile dysfunction, palpitations, incontinence or loss of appetite. Don’t worry it will pass – you’ve just survived the Crouching Monkey!

The Slap-Happy (aka the Pugilist)

Another signature move that I have only encountered in Bali is the massage slap. In their quest to distinguish themselves as world leaders in the healing arts, many Balinese massage schools are incorporating this technique. I assume the objective is to increase circulation and improve blood flow to certain areas of the body. When done correctly, it is rather benign however, when wielded by an overachieving practitioner it can result in serious discomfort. There are several variations to the technique that range from the gentle karate chop down the back to the closed fist punch to the feet. The mildest forms of the Slap-Happy usually include a light smacking which is more startling than overtly painful but, invariably results in an abrupt call to attention, instantly bringing the client out of any relaxed state they may have been experiencing. This may be unpleasant but pales in comparison to the experience when the Slap-Happy is applied with gusto. In these instances, the shocking, overly enthusiastic administering of the slaps feels rather personal – as if the client is evoking memories of a rigid grade school teacher or overly critical mother in-law. What better way to work out hostilities than under the guise of healing people?! While the hematomas may heal, it will be the blow to your psyche that is most debilitating. I couldn’t high five for a month. Applause gave me the shakes. And, worst of all, when my husband playfully slapped my rear as I was standing in the kitchen, I instantly reeled around, took him down to the floor and choked him out. Rather than continue like this, I’ve decided to bravely face my fears and have formed a support group for others with spa trust issues. I’ll keep you posted on our progress.

I hope this information is helpful. I have spent the last several months as a guinea pig purely in the service of others. I say, if I can save one person from a terrible spa treatment at the hands of an inept masseuse, then it was all worth it. You are welcome.



Cambodia (Spring Break – 2014)

This year for spring break we traveled to Kuala Lumpur (KL) and Siem Reap, Cambodia. Due to the fact that there are no direct flights to Siem Reap from Bali we had to fly through KL. And, despite the fact that we were flying Malaysian Air on a 777, I felt perfectly safe (what are the chances of the airline losing two of their 777s in two weeks – pretty slim, I would think, right?!) It’s pretty obvious the airline is focused on safety these days. In my experience, I haven’t found most Asian pilots to be particularly chatty but, this guy was coming on through the whole flight with pretty lame announcements. I think the airline  knows everyone is feeling a bit insecure about the fact that they lost an entire plane full of people. Not sure the weather reports and folksy chatter were enough to assuage everyone’s nerves but, he was trying. I think the passengers on our plane would have preferred a little more honesty, something like: – “Hi folks it’s your Captain, real shame about that incident last week — wanted to let everyone know we are still on course. If you look out the window, right down there, that is exactly what we are supposed to be flying over.  We promise not to make any unexpected turns, and I repeat, we are still on course.” I’ll be back in ten to let you know we are still on course.”

We spent the weekend in KL which was nice. It’s a little farther than Singapore but, has many of the same attractions – lots of shopping, eating and movies. We saw a movie, did some shopping and ate a lot! Although Singapore was once part of Malaysia, it feels much more Western than KL. We ran across many more women in traditional Muslim dress including many in Burqas. By now, Fletcher has seen many women in Burqas but the first time he asked: “Mom, what are those ninjas doing here?” Now, instead of my initial reaction which is often sadness, I try to imagine the women are secret ninjas working undercover on some fantastic, exciting mission. At times, I’ve also thought how liberating it would be to never have a waist band or belt on anything you wear! Bring on the all you can eat buffet!


KL cab rule

Posted rules inside the Kuala Lumpur  taxi from airport. The kids especially loved the “no kissing!”

Next we flew on to Siem Reap to visit Angkor Wat and the other temples in the area. Surprisingly, the kids really enjoyed it. I think their favorite part was riding in the Tuk Tuk all around the city. We also had delicious meals everywhere we went. Not sure if it’s the French influence in Siem Reap but, the food is fantastic! Except for one truly disturbing restaurant we ran across called Pyongyang, which is a North Korean chain (Yes! North Korean!). I was blown away that these actually exist!  We heard that the waitresses sing and play musical instruments to entertain everyone, while patrons enjoy delights from the menu such as dog casserole and viscous pine nut gruel (seriously, could I make this up?!) paired with specialty liquors from No. Korea in tantalizing flavors like mushroom or sea cucumber. Even though it piqued our curiosity, we obviously weren’t going to support anything related to the No. Korea regime thus, we had to forgo our dinner with Dear Leader.


After three days visiting temples, we were ready for something different so, we took a tour of a traditional “floating” fishing village and a bird sanctuary on the Tonle Sap river. The combined river and lake system is of major importance to Cambodians. The Tonle Sap is the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia and is unique for two reasons: it’s flow changes direction twice a year and it rises and falls dramatically over the wet and dry season. The lake may shrink to 2500 sq meters during the dry season and increase to 15,000 sq meters in the wet season. We visited during the dry season which is from November to May. After seeing everything at close to the lowest point of the year, it would be interesting to go back and see the lake and river during the rainy season when it looks so dramatically different.