We finally arrive by taxi to the place I’ve been waiting to try all weekend. A sign for blind massage points up to a narrow staircase; the building’s exterior has seen years of heat and rain in this Little India neighborhood called Brickfields. The exterior is fooling, but what’s inside is more than worth the trip. Behind the dilapidated shroud of shops and apartments, I had the second best massage of my life.
Upon entering the small place we’re swiftly greeted by a tiny Chinese women who doesn’t waste any time with introductions and points us straight to our room. I see four blind men sitting on old-fashioned couches, following the sound of our footsteps, turning their heads as we walk through. We reach the room and my first impression is that it’s clean, neat, and a bit outdated with minimal decor and pink wallpaper faded by time. In come two older blind Chinese men, feeling around for the massage table and then for their special lotions on the side table. I step aside in the small space to let him through. My masseur, Wong, stands tall, smiles and exposes his few teeth, asking my name and where my pain is. I motion to my shoulder forgetting he can’t see me. I ask for pressure point since stubborn stress knots sit between my shoulder blades and need hard, focused attention to relieve them.
The two men step out of the room quickly, allowing us to undress, but return while we’re still getting situated. I remind myself they can’t see and just relax. Laurens and I look at each other and laugh. Once on the table, the beginning of his massage feels like an assessment, as he feels around, testing certain points for pain and releasing others. As in many massage places in Asia, the masseur doesn’t rush to slather on the lotion first, but spends a good fifteen minutes feeling and priming the muscles, often times with a towel in-between. He stretches me every which way to warm my muscles up, squeezing my neck to relieve the tension I’d been holding all day by carrying my heavy purse. It’s as if my neck needs unraveling before the rest of me can relax…And just like that, goosebumps flow over me with each squeeze. Ahhh. He breaks the ice and quips about everything in his thick Chinese-Malay accent, joking about the World Cup, Obama, Michael Jackson and everything in between. Being an American, I’ve found, makes for a pretty large range of small talk topics. In a dizzy state of happiness and joy, most of his comments I can’t make out, but follow suit and laugh when he laughs or respond if he asks twice. His phone periodically speaks the time out loud to him in a robotic tone, and he continues on with questions. Wong and the other masseur are genuinely curious about us as foreigners, why and how we found their place. Usually, I prefer complete silence while in a massage, but this time I didn’t mind at all.
He clicks his teeth in disapproval with each hardened area that doesn’t want to give way to his touch. Used to very hard massage, I hold back any sounds, breathing in and out to manage the discomfort silently, knowing it’ll subside soon.
“Tell me if it’s painful, I can’t see your face you know!” he says.
I continue to flinch silently as he presses down on the bunch of tension stubbornly perched on my shoulder-blade. It feels heavenly as the knot finally releases and gives way to his warm hands. Finally a masseur who spends time and doesn’t just rub over the area, avoiding the arduous part. I look over at Laurens just to make sure I’m not dreaming, and smile at him in complete relaxation.
“Ahh you experienced, you love massage don’t you?” He can’t see my smile but knows I’m in heaven.
By my blissful tolerance, he knew that I live for massages like this and am no newbie to the pain that turns to sweet relief. With all his methodical touch, my stress surrendered to his amazing ability to pin point the muscle and its connection to every other point in my body. For 45 ringgit, this might not only be the cheapest massage in KL, but the best. People with issues like frozen shoulder, rheumatism, or the common backache benefit the most from this session, since it’s like physical therapy if you request it to be. Walking out of that room, I felt tall, alleviated and truly fixed. My pesky shoulders, tame again and not bunched up in knots, sat evenly for the first time in weeks.
So what made this massage so amazing? Wong understood my aches and pain in a way that’s alluded all other masseurs before him. Without saying a word, he knew exactly my tension and how to relieve it with a mixture of prodding, pushing and rubbing. A glorious mix of physical therapy and five-star treatment, he was truly a gifted, kind man with amazing intuition and an acute sense of touch. The most amazing thing is that had a real sympathy for me and the toll my stress hiding in my muscles was taking on me. He didn’t move on until the area was relieved and made sure to communicate with me every step of the way. Like I said, second best massage of my life.
After our massage, I spoke with a good friend of the owner, Kenny, to gain insight to this interesting concept and this center in particular.
Kenny used to own his own spa before increasing rental prices in the neighborhood made it impossible to stay. He shared the story of Brickfields blind massage centers and what he hopes people can understand about the blind and their special massage skills. It all started in 1986 when a blind man from Taiwan came back to KL and imparted his skill to the Brickfields blind. Since then, instructors from different countries like Japan and Thailand have come and shared their training to students willing to learn and wanting to work given their limited circumstances. With the Gurney Training Centre imparting life skills necessary for a successful life, the masseurs offer a beautiful gift in the form of other-worldly massage to locals and tourists alike. Backpacking travelers to professionals walk out feeling revitalized and that much more reawakened with this unique and healing experience.
He boasts that even five-star hotels aspire to recruit the unique masseurs known for their perceptive touch, but can’t bring them on board for one simple reason: the blind have no desire to leave their community and commute where the city and people are less familiar and less friendly. The blind live their day to day lives in a comfortable locale with people and shop owners who understand their needs in what can be an overwhelming city for them. He explains this community has a routine and prefers to stay where life is easier and predictable. In Brickfields, everyone knows about the blind. He also goes on to detail that years ago, the owner avoided hiring female masseuses to avoid the confusion about the reputation of the center. Afraid of being confused for a seedy spa, Kenny says, “no hanky panky here!”, clarifying that no happy endings go on at this center, just strictly massage. As some female customers prefer female masseuses, they’ve hired women, but reserve them only when female customers request. His voice turns to concern and he shares that not enough people know about the centers yet. He urges me to spread the word about my satisfying experience, simply because the livelihood of the visually-impaired community depends on marketing and word of mouth in order to thrive. He regrets that Malaysia doesn’t have more support in place for the visually impaired, and admits that a career in massage is one of the few and best options for them in KL. Above all, he thinks that the blind masseurs have an edge over others able to see because they truly focus on the body with the most important tool, the hands.
The affordable price is a huge lure to this center, with prices starting at 45 ringgit (14 USD) per hour. Offering oil massage, reflexology and everything in between, Kenny says he knows the space is simple, yet hopes people won’t judge solely on the decor, instead focusing on the power of these healing hands. Try it for yourself, and help keep a community thriving that is so gifted and so kind. Feeling achy? Stressed? Or just want to relax? Stop by, and be sure to ask for Wong if you like a good, hard massage. By supporting the blind in Brickfields, you’ll discover how doing good and feeling good are undoubtedly linked in the heart of Malaysia’s capital.
AA Blind Massage Centre
5A, Jalan Thambapillay, Brickfields, 50470
Phone: 03 2273 1148