Nothing compares to the heavenly sensation of getting a massage after a long day of sight-seeing, trekking, walking, etc. One of the many pleasures of travelling in South East Asia – the affordable massages. For example, a 1-hour full body massage in Siem Reap will only set you back between $5-$10, and a relaxing foot massage in Bangkok can cost as low as $3. There are all kinds of massages to choose from. One of the best massages I’ve gotten was a massage done by the blind in the outskirts of Hanoi city centre. I think the blind has a more developed sense of touch so they know by touching which part of our bodies we have problems in.
So, while I was in Kuala Lumpur working on a project to bring awareness to the people who don’t feature prominently in our conscious mind, I chose to do a piece on the blind masseur. I walked around Brickfield area next to Kuala Lumpur Sentral Station and found this humble massage centre above an Indian restaurant. The moment I walked in, I felt a sense of calm, as there was the almost inaudible Buddhist chant playing continuously on a small radio behind the counter. So I sat and chatted with the easy-going and personable owner.
Q: What’s your name and how old are you?
F: My name is Fong Ah Kan and I’m 68 years old.
Q: Are you originally from Kuala Lumpur?
F: No, I’m originally from Jerantut, Pahang.
Q: At what age did you start to go blind?
F: I was 17 years old when I went blind.
Q: How did it happen?
F: At that time, I was digging a well in my home town. Maybe there was some marsh gases and my eyes got affected. So my family brought me to all the doctors in Kuala Lumpur and Singapore but none of them could do anything. I remember that we would go to every medical appointment full of hope but each time we would come back disappointed and depressed. After a while, the doctors advised me to go to The Association of the Blind in Kuala Lumpur.
Q: Was it difficult to come to terms with your blindness?
F: It was very hard to accept in the beginning. But my family was there to support me, some friends gave me moral support and encouragement. But I also lost some friends too.
Q: How old were you when you came to Kuala Lumpur?
F: I was about 18 years old when I came to live at The Association of the Blind. I learnt how to look after myself, how to walk, how to wash my clothes, learnt to read Braille, and also how to interact with normal people, meaning people who aren’t blind.
Q: What are people’s reactions to the blind?
F: I think the government is making it easier for us, eg. with the blind man’s path. But the general public isn’t very conscious of us. Sometimes we’ll find motorbikes and restaurant tables blocking our paths. It can be quite frustrating. Sometimes people scold us for slowing them down or for bumping into them. But generally we are treated nicely; people who call out warning if there are obstacles in our path, or help us cross the road. We appreciate every little help we could get.
Q: How did you become a masseur?
F: My grandmother who was from China told me that in China, the blinds work as a masseur. So I started going around looking for people to teach me how to massage. It was really tough in the beginning. I wasn’t used to touching people and tt that time only women did massages, so it was very awkward for me to touch their body.
Q: Was it a difficult skill to learn?
F: Massage is a very profound form of art. You’ll never finish learning it. Even now, at the age of 68 I’m still learning. When I was younger, I would seek out different teachers to learn from them. Each time I got any unsatisfied customers, I would go learn more and improve my skill. A masseur is like a chiropractor, we need to know every minute detail of the human body in order to be an effective masseur.
Q: Do blind people have a more sensitive touch?
F: I think so, since we can’t see, we use our hands to feel and in a way, that’s how we ‘see’ things and people. And we can feel people’s tendons and tell whether it’s harder than normal or there might be a growth there or there are some discomfort in certain parts of the body. These also comes from years of experience.
Q: When did you start your own massage centre and why?
F: I started this centre in 1996. The reason is because I wanted to stay put in one place. When I was younger I moved around a lot, going from massage centres to massage centres. I used to move around with taxi, in the past the taxis used diesel fuel so when they stopped in front of me, I could hear the engine and knew that they were there. But now the taxi’s engines are more quiet and I couldn’t hear them even if they stop right in front of me. Moreover the are more people and cars in the city now so it’s harder for me to move around. I’m not as brave as when I was younger.
Q: Tell me about your customers.
F: We get between 10 to 20 customers a day, both male and female, young and old. We get them all. In the past, most people who came were doctors, engineers and lawyers. Now most of the customers who come are people who work with computer. We do get some foreigners who have problems with their backs. I think that’s from carrying big and heavy backpacks.
Q: What’s your opening hours and how much do you charge?
F: We open from 9am to 12am. And we charge RM 40 ($13) per hour. There’s no hidden charges.
Q: Are you married? Do you have any children?
F: Yes I am married and I have 2 sons. They help me run the centre. We live a simple but happy life.
If you are in Kuala Lumpur and need a massage, please drop by and visit Mr Fong at Sunlight Traditional Blind Massage (Rumah Urut Cahaya Suria) 7A, Jalan Thambapillai, Brickfields, Kuala Lumpur (opposite Kuala Lumpur Sentral Station), Tel : 2272 3386, 2272 3016 Mobile : 019-317 0259.