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I always feel a little strange when I recognize it’s time to mark milestones and I have several to announce.

This is my 99th blog post.

I’ve posted in these virtual pages twice a month since I began way back in September of 2012. It all started with my husband’s suggestion that I establish an Internet presence….

My published books are fiction, and this blog serves as a good place to present excerpts. Potential readers of my books might want a sample of my writing and a glimpse of the human being behind the words. It’s also a place for non-fiction essays. I get to explore ideas and topics that don’t need to be transformed for novels. Posting every other week is great writerly discipline. I’ve never missed a bi-monthly posting date!

My topics bounce all over the place like gleeful ping pong balls. I’ve written about current events like The Death of Robin Williams, Helping Refugees: Part 1 and Tunisia Without Terrorism, to the World Cup in The Year the World Came to Party.

I occasionally write about historic events, too. Several are 8:15 A.M.Amsterdam, and Stolpersteine 1: Tsunami Cowboy’s Stumbling Stones.

I riff on artists in Meet the One-Tracks and art, like the sacred sublime in Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Chartres or sacred sexual in The Erotic Architecture of Khajuraho. I profile art made by human hands Wine and Sculpture, Wildly Creative in Upstate NY: The Ferros of Little York, Egypt 1: We had the entire Valley of the Kings to Ourselves or found in Nature: The Music of the Heavenly Spheres, Steamy Rotorua! and It Was a Bitterly Cold -22°.

Art can serve as reminders to bring us together, as in Stolpersteine 1: Tsunami Cowboy’s Stumbling Stones and The United Buddy Bears.

Of course, I write about writers: My Sister & Maurice Sendak and Baum, Bats, and Monkeys. I quote my beloved Shakespeare with Egypt 2: Along the Nile. Even Colleen McCullough gets a mention in The Outback!

And I write about writing itself: The Gift of Gab, Someone Burned My Book.

Food has been a topic: My Mother-In-Law’s Cookies, Despair Is An Exotic Ingredient, Adventures in China’s New Territories 3: The 100-Pound Fish, Deep Fried and Served with Sweet & Sour Sauce, The Fork is Mightier than the Sword. A Blog Post in Which I eat Paris, The Salt Pits and A Visit to the Food Bank, Part 1 &  2.

Holidays have been fun, from You Rang? (the worst/best Valentine’s Day in history) to Happy Halloween!

My day job is as massage therapist, and sometimes I write about healing and medicine. Helping Refugees: Part 1,  Massage in Indonesia: Lombok, Adventures in China’s New Territories 4: The Gods of Medicine, A Massage at Wat Pho are a few of the posts.

…. and this all began simply as a way to introduce my two novels Tsunami Cowboys and Broken In: A Novel in Stories. Both are available at amazon.com in book and eBook form.

It’s been a fun journey these last three years! Thanks to all of you for visiting these pages. I wish everyone the happiest of holidays. I’ll be back in the new year with an announcement. Milestone #2 is on the way!!!

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Adventures in China's New Territories 4: The Gods of Medicine

IMG_6945I spent a few weeks north of Hong Kong in the New Territories. The transportation system is easy and each day I went exploring. I’d read up, select yet another fascinating place to discover, and off I’d go.

Entering the temple at Wong Tai Sin
Entering the temple at Wong Tai Sin

As a massage therapist I went to pay my respects to Sun Si-miao Zhen Ren, Perfected Master and god of Chinese Medicine.

He was a doctor and herbalist who lived from 581 – 682. (Yes. 101 years.) Perfected Master Sun authored some of the most important Traditional Chinese Medicine treatises. Along with medical recipes and information on everything from acupuncture and massage to herbs and diet, he wrote the following: “A Great Physician should not pay attention to status, wealth or age. Neither should he question whether the particular person is attractive or unattractive, whether he is an enemy or a friend, whether he is a Chinese or a foreigner, and finally, whether he is uneducated or educated. He should meet everyone on equal grounds. He should always act as if he were thinking of his close relatives.” [1]

He tried to heal whoever needed his help, regardless of whether his patients were rich or poor. He turned down offers for jobs as physician at the Sui and Tang courts, working instead with ordinary people.

His books are still required reading for all TCM practitioners. Taoists honor him as a god of healing. Even today, the ill and infirm (or people wishing to stay healthy) visit his temple to make offerings.

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IMG_6922 So I headed to Wong Tai Sin Temple.

IMG_6913I was delighted to discover that at the temple you can worship gods. Goddesses. Protectors and saints. Local deities. Buddha.

IMG_6948The entrance is protected.

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I was met by wonderful bronze statues of the twelve animals of the Chinese zodiac.

IMG_6907IMG_6908IMG_6994IMG_6993I managed to photograph all but the ox and dog.

Horse
Horse
Rat
Rat
Rabbit
Rabbit
Snake
Snake
Goat
Goat
Monkey
Monkey
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Tiger
Rooster
Rooster
Pig
Pig
Dragon
Dragon

Then I ascended the stairs and entered the compound.

IMG_6903IMG_6905IMG_6924IMG_6917 IMG_6941IMG_6963IMG_6923IMG_6939The temple is just outside a metro stop, smack dab in an urban area. The serenity of the shrines and their religious activity is set against a backdrop of tall buildings.

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Click on the photograph and check out all the turtles

IMG_6934IMG_6935Wong Tai Sin Temple includes a meditative garden, and I wandered around to take photographs.IMG_6983IMG_6970IMG_6972IMG_6985

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Even more turtles on this side!

As I walked I thought about the gods of medicine. When Uwe and I were in Egypt in 2013 we visited the ruins at Edfu. They contain a room known as the Laboratory. The high walls are covered in hieroglyphics that are some of the world’s oldest formulas for incense and unguents. Our local guide Khairy spoke German and was finishing a degree in Egyptology. Khairy believes that the Egyptian gods were real men and women. He thought they’d once lived and had made discoveries or created things so extraordinary that over time they came to be considered gods. He said, surely whoever wrote the recipes inscribed on these walls must have seemed like a god.

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Chamber of medical recipes at Edfu, Temple to Horus

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I recalled Khairy’s words as I explored the temple.

When I left Wong Tai Sin I don’t know if I came away a better massage therapist, but I love the idea of a temple to a person who dedicated his life to healing others.

NOTES: [1] On the Absolute Sincerity of Great Physicians (大醫精誠 Dayi Jingcheng). This has been called the Chinese Hippocratic Oath.

http://jadeturtlerecords.blogspot.hk/2011/02/sun-simiao.html

http://www.sqg.com.sg/?page_id=22&lang=en

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/chinese-phil-medicine/#SunSim
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Photos Copyright © 2015 Jadi Campbell or Uwe Hartmann. All photogaphs can be enlarged by simply clicking on the image. More of Uwe’s images from Egypt and our earlier trips to China and Hong Kong and his photography may be viewed at viewpics.de.

In the Heat of the Spa

I wrote as free lance European Correspondent about massage and healing techniques around the world for about a decade. I interviewed therapists. I got (and still get) lots of massages. I drank stinky healing waters and sat in hot mineral waters, cold mineral waters, and peat bog mud (really!). [1]

I was transformed into a human pretzel in Thailand and had my back walked on by a barefoot Hanoi therapist as she held onto ceiling railings.

I wrote the following article not long after I came to Germany…

Spa Mud Mask

My first spa massage: I had exotic visions of a sea algae wrap first, steaming fluffy hot towels wrapped deliciously around my entire body, perhaps a dip in a pool filled with aromatic, green mud. Sea Spa Salt and Mud MaskDon’t ask me where these visions came from. All I know is that when I made my appointment at Das Leuze Spa in Bad Cannstatt, Germany, this was what I hoped to experience.Spa cucumber mud mask

The reality was… well, more realistic. I had to wait a week for a time slot. There wasn’t any possibility of an hour-long or longer massage; half an hour was the time limit. Patients come with a doctor’s prescription and German insurance covers the therapy sessions. But private patients aren’t so unusual, and I had no trouble getting an appointment.

I showed up twenty minutes early as requested. I paid roughly $18 at the appointments window and, taking my receipt, wandered towards the spa massage rooms. I had some time before my massage, so I decided to look around a little bit.

It was the 4th of July in southern Germany and we were having the hottest summer in recorded weather history – which meant the hottest summer in over two hundred years. I looked longingly over the grounds towards a spa pool. The water looked so cool and inviting. But I was here to research European massage methods. Plus my shoulders had been killing me for weeks; I really needed this massage.

I turned back and saw a woman dressed in white with a name tag on her shirt. I showed her my appointment slip and receipt, and asked if I was in the right area. She smiled and answered yes, got a half-sheet from a hallway closet and led me into a treatment room.

“What do I do with the sheet?” I asked. “Climb under it?” It seemed pretty hot for a cover, but what the hey. How was I supposed to know?

“Lay the sheet down on the table and lie on top of it.” She smiled encouragingly as she closed the door behind her.

I looked around the room to see where I could set my clothing. The room had an open window that looked out on a pool, the Mineralbad Berg. I peeked through the doorway: the next room contained a huge tub. I must be in one of the two Quiet Rooms attached to every hydrotherapy room. I knew these Quiet Rooms are sometimes used to give massages, or the patients rest on the massage tables after hydro treatments.

There were hooks on the wall and a handy string bag in which to place clothes and jewelry. I looked over and noticed a wool blanket hanging from a rung. Just looking at it made me itchy. Why didn’t the rest of the world catch on to air conditioning or fans? Germans consider AC umweltunfreundlich (bad for the environment and energy drains to boot) but I longed for a waft of breeze. Anything to make the day less sticky.

There was a knock on the door and in walked my massage therapist. He said hello and began without ceremony on the bottom of my legs with effleurage [2].

“I like deep tissue work,” I said. “And my back and shoulders need special attention.” If he was surprised that I had a special request, he didn’t show it. My calves began to melt. He noticed they were tight. He worked his way along my hamstrings and used an inverted J stroke from my sacrum to my neck. There he somehow screwed his knuckles into my shoulder. It felt wonderful! How was he doing that? I hated to interrupt the massage by asking. I also didn’t want to distract myself from the way my shoulders were finally loosening up, so I gave myself mental requests to shut up and stop analysing the massage. Relax! He worked the right side of my back and then the left, and raked my ribs as I lay there prone.

I could feel my stress slip away. Then I felt something drip. Was he applying more oil? I didn’t feel a break in his massage rhythm. A few more drops came. Then I realized: my massage therapist was dripping sweat on me.

Water Drop Stock Image

Yes, it was hot as hell, he was working hard, there wasn’t any air conditioning… but still. Uggh. I suddenly felt squeamish. This had never happened to me before. Before I could decide what to say, he stopped and asked me to turn over.

He used too much pressure on my quadriceps. I had to tell him it hurt, and he eased up. The massage strokes were mostly a flowing effleurage that was quite penetrating and a deep petrissage [3], plus that same interesting J stroke.

Afterwards I sat up and slowly stretched my limbs. Everything felt good. The crepitus in my shoulders had disappeared.

I left feeling looser, definitely sweatier (and it wasn’t even my sweat), and thoughtful about the difference between massage as a professional medical service versus the tentative situation that still exists in some parts of America.

The things I liked about the spa massage? The massage was extremely competent, did me much physical and emotional good and was everything I could ask from a session with a skilled therapist. The facility is absolutely top-notch even without air conditioning. It has everything you could dream of: Hydrotherapy. Fango mud treatments. Wet and dry saunas. Therapies of a wide range and variety. The spa grounds are in a beautiful natural setting. At no time did I feel awkward, either as a foreigner or wandering around as I found my way to my therapy room.

All in all, my spa massage was a positive experience and one I wouldn’t mind repeating… maybe sometime when the weather’s not so hot.

Water Drop Stock Image

NOTES: [1] The spas of Baden-Baden, Germany; Pammukale, Turkey; Karlovy Vary and Marianske Lazne, Czech Republic, and Bad Kohlgrub, Germany.

[2] Effleurage is a series of long smooth strokes used in Swedish massage to warm up the connective tissues and underlying muscles.

[3] Petrissage may be squeezing, kneading, wringing or skin rolling, and massages more deeply into the muscles.

This article first appeared in slightly different form: Campbell JB. In the Heat of the Spa. Massage Jul/Aug 1995; 56:114, 117-9.

Go to my earlier posts A Massage at Wat Pho, Massage in Indonesia: Java, and Massage in Indonesia: Lombok for more on healing techniques around the world.

Photos courtesy of Dreamstime.com. Drips are © Kirsty Pargeter | Dreamstime Stock Photos.

The Salt Pits

When we talk about salt, we talk most often of sodium chloride. This is NaCl, consisting of the elements sodium and chlorine.

There is a charming tradition in Germany of bringing a loaf of bread and salt to friends when they move into a new home. The saying is that if you have those two items in your house you’ll always survive. Bread and salt are still ceremoniously served to guests in parts of northern and eastern Europe.

Mark Kurlansky writes, “Loyalty and friendship are sealed with salt because its essence does not change. In both Islam and Judaism, salt seals a bargain because it is immutable… In Christianity, salt is associated not only with longevity and permanence but, by extension, wth truth and wisdom. The Catholic Church dispenses not only holy water but holy salt, Sal Sapientia, the salt of wisdom.” [1]

Seeing the hard way salt is won from pits changed forever the way I think about this simple condiment.

We were staying for only a few days in Vientiane, the capitol of Laos, and spent a day with a guide and a driver to see a bit of the area. One of the spots we toured was a traditional salt harvesting town. A little settlement lives at and from the pits (and has burned down numerous times). Each time, they rebuild right next to the pits.WR_05_03_176

WR_05_03_164Salty waters are brought up from deep underground

WR_05_03_180and then boiled in open metal pans. Their burning fires glowed and sent off intense heat. The briny steam that rose felt like being in some strange circle of Dante’s Purgatory.

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WR_05_03_161Once the water has boiled away the salt is gathered in baskets, weighed, and stored in a barn. WR_05_03_175

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Workers then bag and tag the salt, preparing it for market.

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Salt is a serious business. The salt from this mine is sent to the north where people still suffer endemic goiters.

I thought of the pits of hell, of work so demanding and hot that it left scars. Just being tied to a spot like this must bake you and make you hard. Or so I thought. Instead, I met workers doing their jobs in neatly ironed clothing. The women all had on jewelry. A group of little children trailed us everywhere, laughing and mugging as children do.

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Since that day salt has tasted both sweeter and bitterer, or herber as the Germans say. And in that small word I hear the echo of the coming season, Herbst, Autumn. The summer is burning away and fall is coming. May your harvest tables everywhere include bread and salt.

NOTES: [1] Mark Kurlansky, Salt: A World History (Vintage Books, 2002), p. 7.

(All photographs can be enlarged by simply clicking on the image.)

Uwe’s photos of our trips to Laos and his photography may be viewed at viewpics.de. Go to my earlier posts Despair Is An Exotic Ingredient or A Visit to the Food Bank, Part 1 &  2 for more about food.

 

Speed Dating – Part 2

“Jesus, cancer!” Rick shuddered in his chair at the mental image of watching a loved one waste away, or bearing witness to a beloved person’s features distort with pain. “Maybe my life style as a Good time Charlie was actually good protection. It always worked pretty well, as long as I wanted it to. Well.” He looked away to the back wall of the bar, refocused on the present and the woman listening carefully at the other side of the small table. “And you? How did you survive those years in the jungle?”

Maricela took a deliberate slow swallow from her non-alcoholic beer. “I would go out dancing on weekends, with my friends.” She looked away, her gaze on somewhere in the past. “I drank,” she answered quietly. “I went on short term binges. I didn’t really have relationships, or if I did, they sure were fluid ones. All high-percentage based.”

She gave him a wry smile and raised the near beer in a toast. “I had one black out too many. Finally I figured out I could get the smallest of buzzes from a near beer and it tastes just close enough to the real thing. Most people thing women drink these because they’re trying to avoid the calories.”

Maricela laughed softly; Rick thought she sounded sad. “I don’t judge you,” he was prepared to say, wanting to comfort her. He was shocked when she turned her face to him and he saw she was grinning.

“Holy shit! I was such a wild thing. I had fun, that’s for sure! I only regret I can’t remember more of it.”

Maricela’s utter candor and what sounded like a total lack of shame were attractive. She had no idea how sexy it was, the unfolding mystery of her past – her honesty about it – and the acceptance of both who she was now and what she had been like. She had no idea of the affect this had.

They sat in a bar and grill, perhaps an odd place given Maricela’s most recent story. But when he looked across the table at her she seemed at peace, happy to be with him eating lunch. Maricela talked on, unconcerned. “My friends, the women anyway, sit around and do the ‘Woulda coulda shoulda’ game. Where it went wrong, why it might have gone wrong, how they should have been stronger, or more assertive in their careers, or better mommies, or more giving to their ex-husband. Or rather most of the time, how they should have been less giving to the s.o.b.! In the end it’s all the same.

“Not me.” Maricela pierced Rick with a look. “Regretting the past doesn’t make it go away, or erase the mistakes. As nice as that would be… It’s mental masturbation. You root around in old dirt and feel guilty or bad about yourself over, and over, and over again.

“At first there was no way I was going to do a 12 steps program. Who needs to go into critical self-analysis when you can grow up Catholic? The gift that goes on giving: guilt. When I finally decided to stop drinking, I got a year of therapy to help me figure out why I liked drinking so much.”

“And?”

She laughed out loud again and the sound was truly joyous. “Well, it’s the reason I still drink non-alcoholic beer. I like the taste! I like beer! When I drank, I drank too much. There were no big revelations, which might have been the biggest revelation of all. We go hunting for deep answers, if my father had been more affectionate, if my mother only praised me more. I drank because I worked so hard. And since I weigh 130 pounds, it didn’t take much to help me unwind. I don’t have any buried family trauma, and I don’t have tendencies to be drug dependent. I never even smoked cigarettes, so I didn’t like smoking pot. When I tried smoking a joint it just tore out my lungs.

“But now I am sorry, I’m blathering on suddenly about all this! It’s old history, it’s really ancient. I haven’t gotten drunk in over a decade! It’s no big deal, Rick, I’m not a heroine or anything; I just got a little smarter about how I was living my life and what I want from it. One of the major things though, is I decided, if I met someone I wanted to see again, I have to be up front about who I am and who I’m not. And I am definitely not a drinker any more.”

“Yo, I’ve done some drinking in my time too. Not to worry. I think it goes with the territory of being young and getting older and wiser.” Inside he exulted.

They sat silent for a few minutes and Maricela resumed eating her cooling food. The silence wasn’t awkward; she really did seem at peace with herself and with the long speech she’d just given him. Rick waited until she finished eating and her hands were back in her lap before he reached over and, taking her left hand in his, silently raised it to his cheek. It was dated, the gesture: but Rick meant it.

Much later, Rick woke to feel Maricela’s presence in his bed beside him. She lay curled on her left side, the hand he’d held to his cheek earlier at lunch brushing against him.

– from my short story “Speed Dating” in Broken In: A Novel in Stories. Available in paperback or eBook at amazon.com, amazon.de, and amazon in countries everywhere.

 

Speed Dating – Part 1

Slowly Rick garnered the pertinent facts about Maricela. She came from a large family where education was a priority. All five of the Howard siblings had at least some graduate school time or professional training under their belts. Maricela was an intellectual prodigy and had gone to college entirely on grants and scholarships. She’d been a natural scholar, the acknowledged golden child of any seminar class. Ironically, his parents moved briefly to Brookville when Maricela had finished up her undergraduate work there; they’d just missed one another.

She worked as a financial advisor with an ethical investments firm, a job she loved since she began there eight years ago. She had been promoted twice and refused the next offer for further advancement, preferring to keep close to her individual clients. Her field of expertise was alternative energies and fair trade. Maricela firmly believed the phrase sustainable and responsible investing was not an oxymoron.

She’d had one, failed, live-in relationship. When she discovered his coke habit she ended the relationship. “It wasn’t just that he lied to me about how much he used,” Maricela explained. “And it wasn’t the way I found out: catching him in the kitchen over the butcher block, for God’s sake. He promised he’d ease up on what he was using, but I know too much about how much fun partying is.

“Speedy drugs weren’t ever my thing. They just made me nauseous and I preferred alcohol anyway, so it wasn’t like I felt holier than thou. It was the way he wasn’t willing to stay clean, and how cagey he was being about the realities of that fact. He kept pretending he was in control of his habit and lied about how much he did. Typical user behavior. It was the set up for more hiding and bullshit stories that eventually made me end it.”

The tone might have made Rick suspicious, because in the voice of the wrong woman it sounded phony. Worse, it sounded like what someone with a martyr complex might say. But Maricela was simply stating the facts. Her ex hadn’t wanted to be honest about needing to snort coke; and Maricela was unwilling to settle for a relationship based on prevarications.

Maricela’s friends held her in affection and quite often in awe. Despite her formidable brainpower her personality was easy and accessible; there was nothing of the intellectual snob about her. She’d cohabitated for the last 3 years with a long time friend named Sarah. Together the two of them had rented the converted loft space.

When Sarah was diagnosed with cancer the prior spring, Maricela put her own social life on hold in order to be there for her friend. That was the reason why she’d been out of the dating pool. It had nothing to do with an unwillingness to engage with other people. On the contrary: a deep commitment to the people she cared about led Maricela to prioritize how she used her time.

Almost every bit of information Chris and Sybil had offered to describe Maricela turned out to be accurate. The only piece of information they’d gotten wrong was her choice of alcohol. Instead of wine, most of the time Maricela drank near beer.

Rick noted all of these things and thought, This woman is someone worth getting to know, no matter where it leads. Surprised, Rick actually asked himself if he’d be willing to just be friends with her if the physical chemistry didn’t pan out. He was even more surprised when the answer to that question was, yes.

“I’m not being coy about bringing you home with me, you know,” she informed him one day; the two were having lunch. “Trust me on this one. In my earlier days we’d already be there! But Sarah’s really sick. She’s going through chemo, and the procedure is quite simply hell. It’s really important right now that we keep the apartment as germ-free and sterile as possible. You understand, right?”

“Sure,” Rick said, and hesitated. “No, actually, I don’t. I doubt if I can even begin to understand. I don’t think I’d know how to handle it if someone I was close to got cancer,” he admitted. “Or if I could be as supportive.”

Maricela turned what he’d said over in her mind and shrugged. “She’s my best friend. I sit with her when she’s awake half the night throwing up because the poisons in the chemotherapy mean she won’t keep anything down for long. The other half the night she can’t stop crying because she knows she’s getting weaker and weaker, and feels sicker and sicker. She’s really terrified that this is it, she’s going to die, and in the end all the chemo and medical attention in the world aren’t going to make a bit of difference. She’s scared maybe she’s putting herself through hell for nothing. And me along with her.

“Next,” continued Maricela relentlessly, “Sarah lost her hair. It was coming out in patches so Sarah had it all shaved off. Then she went through this awful period where her face puffed up. Her skin was reacting to a combination of the drugs, and she couldn’t go out in bright sunlight because of allergic reactions to some of the other meds. And when you’re a friend, all you can really do is just, be there. It’s not your sickness or your pain.

“Trust me. When you see it, you wouldn’t wish it on your worst enemy.

“The only thing you can do is fetch the bucket, get a cup of herb tea, and offer to do the shopping. Just being there for your friend and not being afraid to do that little extra helps more than anyone imagines. A person with cancer needs you to be normal, because nothing else in their life is any more. Nothing else around them will ever be the same again. I won’t go into the gruesome details about the bouts of depression Sarah endures, but picture your blackest, darkest thoughts. Magnify those by about a thousand and maybe you have some idea of how deep the depression of a person with cancer and on meds is. A cancer patient doesn’t know if it’s her or the heavy-duty medications doing the talking, or thinking, or feeling all those awful things.

“Every day becomes a big surprise, and not one you want to wake up to. Are you going to manifest new symptoms? How’s the old mood going to be, will you feel incapacitated or can you function again? What fun tests, and diagnostics, and medical procedures do you have scheduled this time? What will the news be, and how are you going to be able to bear to hear it? There was a phase where all the test results were bad; every one of them was really horribly grim. Sarah started going in and out of depressions where she couldn’t stand to be around anybody at all. What she was feeling, the agony, the fear, and exhaustion finally overwhelmed her.

“It’s not a question of staying supportive,” Maricela repeated. “Cancer survivors travel to hell and back. All I do is let her know I’ll be waiting there each time she returns.”

Rick listened to Maricela with both admiration and dismay. “I’m not so sure. I’d be scared I’d react the wrong way and make things worse,” he persisted. “Or that I wouldn’t be able to face someone else’s illness. I don’t know if I’d be up to being supportive.”

He looked at Maricela’s face as he admitted that, afraid to see her light brown eyes darken. But he didn’t want to present himself in a false light, especially when compared with the relentless clean light of her frankness. Only honesty was admissible.

He was silent, thinking about all of the relationship games he’d so willingly played over the years. One set of games to get close enough to climb into bed; another set to extricate himself from the mussed up sheets afterwards. When he realized she was waiting patiently for him to talk, or to remain silent, just as he wished, Rick surprised himself for the third time in an hour. He opened his mouth and as if in the third person, Rick heard himself really talk.

“I don’t know what I’d do if someone I loved was ill, much less going to die. I’ve never been in that situation! My mom was always great. She’d make home made chicken soup with egg noodles, nothing fancy, but it was like the great home remedy for anything that ever made a little kid feel bad. I would pretend to have a really, really bad cough, just to get her to make it.

“It’s the only dish I ever make for someone on a regular basis.” Rick was thinking out loud; silent, Maricela listened without judgment as he began to peel away protective layers.

“My mother made soup, but it was about emotional support. When I make it for anyone it’s, soup. The emotional support’s what I get, by recreating the atmosphere of my mom. It’s never about doing something for another person at all.

“Jesus! Why didn’t I ever notice this before? For me,” his voice was almost at a crawl. Maricela actually leaned across the table so she could hear him without having to interrupt to ask him to speak more loudly. “For me, relationships were, are, something to have fun with. It’s all speed dating. I never put much energy into the mutual support aspect of it, beyond being honest and not cheating on a girlfriend as long as we’re together.

“Jesus, cancer!” Rick shuddered in his chair at the mental image of watching a loved one waste away, or bearing witness to a beloved person’s features distort with pain. “Maybe my life style as a Good time Charlie was actually good protection. It always worked pretty well, as long as I wanted it to. Well.” He looked away to the back wall of the bar, refocused on the present and the woman listening carefully at the other side of the small table. “And you? How did you survive those years in the jungle?”

– from my short story “Speed Dating” in Broken In: A Novel in Stories. Available in paperback or eBook at amazon.com, amazon.de, and amazon in countries everywhere.

Massage in Indonesia: Java

Borobodur, Java, Indonesia
Borobodur, Java, Indonesia

The scent of floating roses is the first thing I notice. The smell comes from the pots of flowers set in front of a deep tub. Eventually I smell a burning stick of incense. The bamboo walls don’t reach the ceiling, and smoke simply wafts up and out to the palm trees outdoors. Only later when the sun goes down do I detect a burning mosquito coil.

My therapist here on Java is named Bu Tami Juguk. Bu Tami asks me to remove all of my clothes and lie on the low bamboo bed covered with batik sheets. Since the temperature is about 30 degrees Centigrade (86 degrees Fahrenheit) I don’t mind lying naked without a drape. She goes to the tub and turns on the taps. The sound of running water is in the background during the entire massage.

Bu Tami is 41 years old, and the Bu title is the shortened version of Ibu,  a term of respect used to address an older woman. Bu Tami doesn’t speak much English, but has wise hands. Indonesian massage knowledge passes down through the family, and Bu Tami learned massage from her mother.

She starts at my feet and massages me with a press – push – squeeze routine. She doesn’t forget to massage my abdomen. Her strokes go deep and radiate, always leading inwards to my navel. She finishes by massaging my head with sweeping strokes. She grasps at the roots of my hair and her hands draw out to the ends with an unusually firm grip.

She uses sandalwood oil, flowers cooked into it for their essence. This oil is only for the initial part of the massage, though. As I lie there, Bu Tami takes a clay jar down from a shelf. She scoops out a greeny-yellow substance and slathers it onto my body.

I am being covered with lulur, an exfoliating scrub derived from a Javanese plant combined with rice meal. Lulur may include ginger extract, tumeric, sandalwood, jasmine oil and water. This lulur treatment is utilized as a beauty peeling for everyone except babies. Jogjakarta city still has the special status of a sultanate, and lulur was first used by the women at the Kraton, the sultan’s palace.

Javanese men and women use lulur before marrying. Lulur is traditionally applied at home on each of the 3 days preceding a wedding ceremony. The lulur sloughs off old skin and makes both bride and groom more radiant and beautiful. I learn that a Javanese plant called kunir is also used, and on the island of Sumatra people use a plant called param.

The lulur is slightly gravelly, and cool on my skin. I turn over and Bu Tami lulur-s my back, buttocks, legs and feet. Then we head towards the tub. She has me sit at the small recessed foot bath. Bu Tami fills a bowl with water dipped from the tub and rinses me off. Another bowl is dumped on my head and water runs off me in streams.

Bu Tami reaches for another pot. She lathers my head with the shampoo and washes my hair. Her strong, sure hands massage my scalp at the same time – heaven! She squeezes my skull with more strength than I am used to for head massages, but it does not feel too hard.

She rinses away the shampoo with more bowls of water. Bu Tami has me stand up. She takes a bar of soap and lathers my entire body front and back.

“I feel like a baby being washed by her mother!,” I say.

“Yes, baby and mama,” smiles Bu Tami. She doesn’t speak much English, but she definitely understands.

The soap is washed away; another bowl from the shelf is selected; and now the first real surprise comes. Bu Tami smears me with yogurt. The yogurt calms and softens the skin after the purifying effects of lulur. She slathers me completely from head to foot in the yogurt, then rinses me off one final time.

She turns off the taps of the full tub and points for me to climb in. I happily comply. Bu Tami gathers handfuls of the roses from the big bowls. She crumbles them and strews the petals over the warm bath waters and me.

Bu Tami returns with a glass of fresh-pressed orange, banana, and papaya juice. She leaves me to soak. I lay in the tub swishing flower petals around my body.

A male voice begins to wail. His voice rises and falls. It must be time for sundown prayers. This, in turn, must mean that I have been in this sumptuous massage treatment for 90 minutes. Sunset is abrupt in the equatorial tropics, and occurs punctually at 6:00 every evening we’ve been in Indonesia. My massage session began at 4:30, so I can time the treatment with certainty by the calls to the faithful sounding outdoors.

As most buildings have roofs of bamboo and rattan – or walls that don’t reach the ceiling, like the walls in this massage room – it is impossible not to hear the muezzin’s voice. I lie floating in my heavenly bath and listen to rhythmic wailing calls in Arabic. I am certainly in another country, and I would call it Paradise.

Some time later (5 minutes? 10 minutes?) Bu Tami returns. I climb out of the tub and she towels me dry. The session is not over, though. I lie back down on the low bed, and Bu Tami rubs a rose and hibiscus lotion into my skin. This ends my two-hour session, and I slowly get dressed and leave.

Lotus Garden Restaurant
Lotus Garden Restaurant

At the attached restaurant a young man stands with a menu in his hand. He is asking the receptionist about the massage advertisement on the second page. “Could I get a massage tonight?” he asks.

“I just got one of these massages!” I tell him. “Go for the 2-hour session. You’ll literally come out smelling like a rose. I’m a massage therapist myself and the only thing I regret is that we’re leaving Jogja tomorrow, or I’d come back for another!”

“Really?!,” the young man answers. “A bath would be perfect! I don’t have a hotel room here and I’m taking the all-night train to Jakarta tonight. I won’t be able to clean up before I leave.”

“You’ve come to the right place. The massage will set you back 100,000 rupiahs, about $13. It’s worth every penny.” As Uwe and I leave he’s booking his appointment with Bu Tami. I just know he was in for a special treat.

That's me, in the far right corner
I’m  in the far right corner. We got up at the crack of dawn to reach Borobodur and had this sacred site virtually to ourselves.

Like most tourists, we stayed in Jogjakarta in order to visit Borobodur. Jogjakarta bustles with a marvelous mix of becaks (rickshaws), taxis, bicycles, cars, pony carts, and motorcycles. We either ride in becaks like the natives do or walk in the quieter side streets with their surprising gardens and yards.

Occasionally I spot women walking along with buckets or plastic bowls balanced on their heads. In the buckets are bottles and jars containing different colored herbs or fluids. These are jamu women, the native herbalists who go from door to door carrying their apothecaries with them. A jamu woman will mix up an elixir for her patient on the spot. Jamu products are produced commercially as well, and over 100 million Indonesians take jamu daily.[1]

We discovered the massage center on a side street lined with restaurants and smaller hotels. The boss at the Lotus Garden Restaurant and Hotel had noticed how many visitors carried in their luggage with one hand, while the other hand held onto sore backs or legs. He decided to offer massage. We visited Indonesia in 1999, but a look on the Internet indicates the restaurant still exists. I whole heartedly recommend the massage services.

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NOTES: [1] “Jamu is the Javanese word for any of a great number of traditional Indonesian herbal medicines and health concoctions…There are about 100 jamu recipes in use, but only a dozen or so are really popular.”  Fred B. Eiseman, Jr., Bali: Sekala and Niskala. Volume II: Essays on Society, Tradition, and Craft (Periplus Editions Ltd. CV Java Books, Indonesia, 1990), p. 299.

Go to my post Baum, Bats, and Monkeys for more on our trip to Indonesia.

(All photographs can be enlarged by simply clicking on the image.)

More of Uwe’s photography may be viewed at viewpics.de.