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Traditional masseuse offers healing, therapeutic ‘spas’

Posted on: Agustus 30, 2007

The Jakarta Post Features – August 30, 2007

Luh De Suriyani, Contributor, Denpasar

For the past 30 years, Men Tunjung has been faithful to her profession as a traditional masseuse.

Every morning at 10 a.m., Men starts working from her home at Batubulan, Gianyar, some 25 kilometers east of Denpasar. Clad in a Balinese kebaya (blouse) teamed with a long batik sarong, the 70-year-old grandmother still appears to be healthy and energetic.

She is always equipped with two glass pots of fragrant herbs, a bottle of olive oil, a clean towel and several other items needed in her massage therapy.

“I have to visit my old clients in downtown Denpasar. There are four women who need my services,” said Men, who usually has two to four “appointments” every day. She usually finishes work about 5 p.m.

“It is enough to support my life. For me, this is a job that has been provided by God. I really feel very grateful,” said Men, who was born to a poor farming family in a poor village in Karangasem.

Work is no stranger to Men, who experienced great hardships during her childhood. In her teens, she worked at the house of a Karangasem royal family.

On one morning, Men walked about 25 kilometers to the home of Nengah Wati on Jl. Banteng. Nengah, a trader at Badung Market, requests Men’s service every week.

“I will be very tired during weekend, so I need Men Tunjung to massage my tired body. I rarely go to a doctor — her strokes are miracles,” said Nengah.

Men began to work on Nengah’s body like a professional therapist, pouring olive oil on her legs, hands and back while giving a light massage.

“This olive oil functions as a moisturizer to soften the body and to relax the stiff muscles,” said Men, who gained her skills and expertise from her parents, and developed them through her experience in the royal household.

The second step is to smear lulur, a scrub made of mixed spices, over the body to exfoliate dead skin cells and remove dirt. Men’s signature product has a base of turmeric and ginger, and is mixed with a cornucopia of flowers.

“I love the smell of the lulur,” said Nengah. “It is so indulging.”

The lulur has a variety of functions, Men said.

“It can have extraordinary healing powers. The Balinese always use lulur — or boreh in the local language — to treat skin and bone problems,” she said. The term lulur is originally from the Javanese.

It takes Men more than two hours to provide a complete massage, starting from the toes and working up to the head.

“I should touch every part of the body to improve the skin’s surface and to ease the muscles,” she said.

Men provides her services for love of her job, and has no set fees: “We receive everything from God, so I should accept whatever that is given to me.”

On this particular visit, Nengah paid Men Rp 20,000 (US$2.50) for the 2.5-hour massage treatment.

“You can go to any spa in Bali and feel the touch of any therapist. Men Tunjung’s cannot be compared to anyone else’s. She is the perfect masseuse,” said Nengah, who is clearly one of Men’s loyal customers.

These days, Men’s customer base has been increasing in number.

“I can take only four to five customers a day. It is enough,” she said. “My physical condition does not allow me to take more, otherwise I cannot give them my best services.”

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