I 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.
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.” 
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.
So I headed to Wong Tai Sin Temple.
I was delighted to discover that at the temple you can worship gods. Goddesses. Protectors and saints. Local deities. Buddha.
The entrance is protected.
I was met by wonderful bronze statues of the twelve animals of the Chinese zodiac.
I managed to photograph all but the ox and dog.
Then I ascended the stairs and entered the compound.
The 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.
Wong Tai Sin Temple includes a meditative garden, and I wandered around to take photographs.
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.
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:  On the Absolute Sincerity of Great Physicians (大醫精誠 Dayi Jingcheng). This has been called the Chinese Hippocratic Oath.
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!). 
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…
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. Don’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.
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 .
“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.
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 , 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.
NOTES:  The spas of Baden-Baden, Germany; Pammukale, Turkey; Karlovy Vary and Marianske Lazne, Czech Republic, and Bad Kohlgrub, Germany.
 Effleurage is a series of long smooth strokes used in Swedish massage to warm up the connective tissues and underlying muscles.
 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.
On the island of Lombok we’re literally at the end of the road. We look at a map and decide that where the one road going inland up in the mountains stops, we’ll stop too. We end up in a small village called Tetebatu.
We walk through Tetebatu along the one street and everywhere people stand or crouch. They sit in the open thatched huts built on stilts to keep people off the ground when it rains. It rains every afternoon, non-stop torrents for 3 hours, and the shelters are full then.
Clean water for homes is provided by fountains and wells. The locals wash themselves, their clothes, and their animals in them. But I see an ancient looking woman in a sarong carrying a flat woven basket full of rice. She kneels in front of her house and washes the kernels in the open stream that runs in a gully down the side of the street. Tropical medicine experts estimate that 80% of the Indonesian population have guts full of parasites, and it is evident to me why this should be so.
She looks up and gives me a smile so open, so beautiful, that I am temporarily blinded.
That afternoon a Danish couple accompanied by an Indonesian man and boy check in. The couple take the room next to us, while the Indonesians stay in the next bungalow. We exchange smiles and hellos, but nothing more. We’re at the end of the road on the other side of the world, and I savor the sense of isolation from the familiar and known.
The air is significantly cooler up here in the mountains. For the first time in our trip to Indonesia we both wear jeans. Uwe puts on a jacket and I pull out a sweater. That night the Indonesian in the next bungalow comes out on his porch. He has wrapped himself in the blanket from his bed against the chilly air.
“Good evening!” he says, and comes and stands by the little low gate that leads up to our bungalow.
Uwe and I sit under the porch lights reading and chewing on bags of nuts we’d bought at the coastal market a few days earlier. We pull up another chair and ask him to join us. His name is Udin. He lives on Gili Meno, a little island northwest of Lombok. He’s in Tetebatu as guide and translator for the Danish couple we’d exchanged nods with earlier.
The Danes are medical researchers investigating the local plant life. They are asking the native Sasaks which plants they use for healing and in what capacity. That afternoon we’d seen the three of them, Udin’s son trailing a few feet behind, walk around the grounds and stand by various shrubs and trees and bushes on the property. Since everything is unbelievably lush, and either flowering or bearing fruit, I had not thought twice about their activity. The fecundity of the landscape is a wonder. I keep stopping too, to crow over some gaudy flower or vivid tree.
“From here we will go to visit my mother,” Udin says. She lives in a village further south on Lombok. Although on a map the two locations are within spitting distance of one another, it’s too expensive for him to make the trip more often. He hasn’t seen her in over a year.
This is the first time in his life that he’s been in a hotel room. Udin feels very fortunate to have hooked up with the Danish couple. He switches from talk about himself and asks us about ourselves with the innate charm and politeness of the Indonesians. What are we doing here? Where are we from?
Udin looks alert when I say I’m a massage therapist.
“I have great pain here and here,” he says, and points to his calves and the small of his back. “I worked since I was 8 years old carrying sacks of rice weighing 60 kilos from the rice fields. Then I worked on a fishing boat. I was wet and cold all the time. Now that I am older I ache always in these places.”
He tells us about the hard life on Lombok. “Bali is rich. Here, you might earn 2,500 rupiahs for a day’s labor. But then the economy collapsed. A kilo of rice has gone up in price in the last 2 years from 500 rupiahs to 3,000.” He mentions again that his body aches from the hard labor he’s done all his life.
“Would you allow me to give you a massage?” I feel sure that this is what he wants to request, without being so forward as to actually ask.
Udin promptly says yes and moves over to stand in front of me. I am a little concerned. It is now night and I am about to do massage on someone standing on a porch in the middle of nowhere. Also, if Udin is from Lombok he must be Muslim. I recall the occasional male patients I can’t treat in the medical clinic back in Stuttgart.
“Is it permissible for me as a woman to touch you?” I ask.
“Of course, it is no problem,” he answers.
Compressions and cross fiber friction, I finally decide. I start to work. Udin’s muscles are ropy. He has no extraneous fatty tissue anywhere after a lifetime of hard work and rice. Udin grimaces once or twice, but remains standing. I work on him for perhaps 20 minutes and stop. We talk a while longer. Then Udin excuses himself and heads to bed.
The next morning Uwe and I have coffee on the outdoor patio of the hotel. The Danish couple and Udin come up for breakfast before leaving. To my surprise the Danish couple head straight over to our table and shake our hands.
“I hear you’re medical researchers,” I say, intensely curious about them.
“Yes, and we hear that Udin got a massage last night. He’s always working,” they answer, and begin to ask us questions. The acknowledgement from them is rewarding and sweet.
Udin sits with us for a few minutes. “How are you feeling?” I ask.
“I feel well. I am well for the first time in many years. I am without pain!”
I’m inexplicably moved, and glad I took the time the night before to help this man. Maybe, I think, maybe I earned us some good travel karma.
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.
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.
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.
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.
NOTES:  “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.
Pieter was right: the temple massages at Wat Pho really were awesome. Lisa wasn’t surprised by how crowded the site was, because it was dazzlingly, exotically beautiful. All of the palace buildings had golden roofs that gracefully swooped down and curled back up towards the heavens. Guardian demons held up columns or stood with watchful eyes. All of the surfaces were covered with encrusted diamond shapes of colored glass, or tiny mirrors. Throngs of tourists wandered with cameras and guidebooks, admiring the buildings that glittered in the bright Thai sun. “It’s almost as if this entire site is winking at us!” Lisa exclaimed.
Lisa and Babs wandered with their own cameras until they found the traditional massage school. An attendant asked them what kind of session they wanted (how long? what style massage? rather from a male or female therapist, or no preference?) and assigned them numbers. Babs’s number was called first and she looked nervous as she vanished out of sight with a therapist. A few minutes later Lisa heard 32 announced. She stood up and a young Thai woman led her to a different building.
The slats of the rattan walls in the low open structure let in both light and air. Lisa was led to the back of the long room, filled with low mats to the left and right. All around her fully clothed people lay on backs or stomachs as Thai therapists pulled at their limbs. Her therapist pointed for Lisa to lie down, and Lisa watched intently as the Thai girl put her palms together in front of her chest and whispered a prayer. She took one of Lisa’s legs in her hands, and Lisa forgot everything around her as the therapist smoothed away the knots of travel.
In the tropical climate Babs’s own long blond hair had gone completely limp. Babs was miserable. She was pretending she wasn’t shocked and frightened of the foreign megalopolis. Thailand’s capitol city might be a short plane ride away from Singapore. In reality, Bangkok was light years distant from any sanitized, orderly place. Babs knew Lisa admired her for what she perceived to be Babs’s sophistication and worldliness, her previous international travel experience. But just a few days in Bangkok quickly forced Babs to admit how terribly narrow the contours of her worldly knowledge were.
She was terrified of the jostling throngs and afraid of the foreign faces hurrying down the streets. The Bay Area consisted of lots of ethnic groups, of Americans. The jumble of nationalities here was far too authentic. If one more sticky brown body brushed against hers, she would have to scream.
At the temple Babs had been unable to relax despite the massage therapist’s coaxing, dexterous fingers. She had lain fearful and stiff, horribly awkward as a stranger touched her. Babs left the temple with an uncomfortable awareness of how uptight she was and no idea of how to release it.
Her sinuses were clogged with humidity and the aromas of overripe fruits and other odors she couldn’t identify. The stench from open food grills just made her want to gag, while the sly, half closed eyes of the Buddhas in their strange rich temples frightened her. They watched Babs, and on all accounts they found her wanting. The glittering Thai world was simultaneously far too blinding, and contained far too much clarity.
Lisa noticed nothing of how scared Babs was. Instead, Lisa charged head first into the contradictory experience of the crowded streets and serene, glittering temples. Babs was dismayed first by her friend Lisa’s surprising lack of fear, and next by her startling physical transformation. For the first time in their friendship she was discerning a little stab of jealousy against plain Lisa.
– from my short story “Banged Cock” in Broken In: A Novel in Stories. Available online at amazon.com,amazon.de, and amazon in countries everywhere.
(All photogaphs can be enlarged by simply clicking on the image.)
More pictures from our trips to Thailand, and of Uwe’s photography, may be viewed at viewpics.de.