Massage in Jakarta: A Guest Blog by Paola Sorrentino

A guest blog by Paola Sorrentino

It’s horribly hot in Indonesia, the concrete reflects the heat like an oven in urban Jakarta. At best you will feel drained and sluggish all day, at worst you will faint (sadly, talking by experience). The locals take it graciously but the bule, the whites, need some pick-up.
So during my stay in Indonesia we often went to a minor, shabby, smelly shopping mall with a massage parlour hidden upstairs. Not a tourist trap – you can find those in the fancy hotels and they’re always really beautiful girls; this was a no-English-spoken, modest place for locals only, with only male massagers. How do you communicate with your local massage practitioner then? Well, you don’t (or you do by pulling faces and sometimes giving little OW!s).

The place is one big, long and narrow hall, with low lights, dark wood and high white curtains dividing the massage cubicles. Each person gets two young male massagers. You think this looks interesting and very like an old Emmanuelle movie, but you’ll stop grinning when the two devils start silently working on you, starting from each toe.
Eek! Gentle it is not. They pull, push, poke, snap (they won’t leave any single toe or finger alone until it pops with a sound they deem acceptable), then they prod into the flesh of your sole, then vigorously knead your legs, in lovely synchrony (the elegance of their movements distracts you from the discomfort they’re causing by prodding deep with their fingers). After the legs they make you sit up, lift your arms up and start the whole process again from each phalanx of your fingers, to the palm, to the arms (which they stretch behind you until you signal you’re a bit in pain), then they meticulously prod down the length of your spine, fingers digging in quite a bit. Last thing is the head, which they stretch on both sides, down and back, then you get a nice nasty scalp rub. The whole process takes one hour, which you spend in fear the first time (“where are they going to hurt me now?” “gosh, I’ll have bruises tomorrow”), and more and more relaxed the following times, when you know the procedure and your body doesn’t pull a resistance. Still, it isn’t delicate, pretty or feathery – although there were always locals loudly snoring throughout, I guess a lifetime of having fingers poking you makes it really relaxing.

After tea and some relaxation time on chaise longues, you step out in the smelly, sticky heat of Jakarta and you’re BUZZING. You want to go to the swimming pool, run a marathon, learn boxing or flamenco, and you’re OK with walking home instead of taking the usual air-conditioned taxi because you don’t care about the heat (this is quite a big deal and you surprise yourself). The natural high lasts for a couple of hours. Best thing about Jakarta.


Paola Sorrentino is a freelance translator.