Before I started my trip around Asia last January I knew I wanted to include a massage course upgrade to my itinerary, it was on my way to Panglao Island in the Philippines which was notoriously difficult to get to (we took a flight, a tricycle taxi, a ferry and a v-hire van to get there from Singapore) that I get in contact for the first time with blind masseurs.
Upon my arrival to Tagbilaran Port in Bohol after a sweaty day of bumpy, dirty travel, I saw those people all dressed in white clothes giving massage to people on a corner of the port. I was instantly attracted to that space so was when I realise those people were all blinds. As we had to catch another Van I had no time to speak with them but it was when I start looking online to do my massage course with them. I found an organisation of blind masseurs in Puerto Princesa, a city in the Philippines I would be spending some time in the following week.
After wrapping up a luxuriously lazy 1 week on the pristine and remotes beaches of Bohol and Panglao my next plan was to head on to the rugged and (if pictures aren’t lying) stunning island of Palawan. Well, it was PURE PARADISE. Elected the most beautiful island in the world, Palawan is definitely the island to go to in the Philippines (more precise at the city of El Nido, the most beautiful part of this big island).
After 1 more week of untouched islands, empty little beach paradises (all for ourselves), stunning sea life, self guided meditation and yoga by the sea, was time to get in contact with the organisation of blind masseurs in Puerto Princesa.
First I took advantage of the massage to myself: a massage by Caloy, a blind kid who was born with a degenerative condition (whereby he could see perfectly as a child but last year – as he puts it – “all went dark”). It was the best massage I have ever had.
I learnt that there are blind massage places all over Asia, notably in Malaysia and China, but from what I can tell, no other country has as many as the Philippines. This is because the Philippine government actually subsidies massage school for blind people so that they can have a trade/profession within a society that doesn’t leave much room for adults who are not fully capable physically. As a result, you can find blind massage parlours set up in ferry terminals, airports, bus stations and any other major transportation hub in addition to the usual stand-alone places.
In a country were the physically-abled find life challenging I found their story refreshing and inspiring.
I made friendship with Caloy and few more of his friends. Every Friday and Saturday night during Puerto Princesa’s weekend open market sighted Elena along with her non sighted husband Ditas and a group from her organization set up a stand in the Puerto Princesa’s pedestrian area. Here for a remarkably cheap 200-peso-for-half-body massage. That’s less than 4 US Dollar.
It was Ernel, a 30-something year old blind boy, standing nearby. His English was excellent. He’d been practicing online with chat mates in USA and the UK. With Ernel’s help I soon got introduced to all the staff, and, was thrown into the deep end of gray humor that they constantly thrive on. Laughter is common place amongst the staff.
It’s all out in the open air, and one remains fully clothed. I spent a full day with the group, watching and chatting.
The Blind masseurs’ friendliness showed me another side of Filipino life. They invited me to a promotional day time free massage they were having next day. It was here learned a lot more about them all.
Ernel was made blind by an accident when he was 12. After that his parents felt over protective of him. He didn’t go out, and could do little. Then, through a friend, he found an opening: a massage course. Fighting the will of his parents, he completed his course and gained employment. Now he earns a living, and makes his own way from home, to work at weekends.
Joel another extremely funny and friendly guy came from Davao where he attended the Philippine School for the Blind. He moved to Puerto Princesa 5 years ago to work as a masseur. Now he’s got a girlfriend and doesn’t intend leaving any time soon.
Two things struck me about the blind Masseurs of Puerto Princesa. The first was the incredible sense of humor they all have.
“Can I take a picture with your camera?” Joel asked.
At first I didn’t know what to say? Then they would all break out in laughter as they won a humorous victory over me. Several would then begin teasing each other on their respective boyfriends.
And so the banter would continue: smiles emblazoned on the faces of those that can only feel laughter.
The other thing I noticed is that being blind gives one an incredible ability to use ones hands. Nene, who’s from Boracay, asked me if I want a firm massage, or soft. I opted for firm. Like a professional sports masseuse her expert hands made magic on my back.
They all work from 6pm until midnight. Elena the sighted girl uses some of the proceeds to help run the house that many of the masseuses live in. Here they have a computer that they use to help chat with people around the world and improve on their language and cultural knowledge. Elena prints off and reads emails on a daily basis to everyone. They’re hoping to one day be able to afford a legitimate license of the JAWS computer software that lets a computer be operated by a blind person, but it’s seriously expensive.
I asked the guys about the biggest difficulty they had in the Philippines. I expected to hear them say ‘getting around’. But instead they said it was simply acceptance from their own people. Acceptance in the sense that they can work in normal jobs, and not looked upon as needy. ‘Give us a chance, train us, and we can do just about anything.’
I then asked if they had a message to the world, what would it be. The answer was immediate.
“Please treat us as normal people … and if you come here, come for a great massage!”
To be honest it was a very emotional two days for me, an experience that I probably will never forget, I laugh, I cried, I changed as a person. An experience that other then learn new massage techniques was a way to make new friends, a lesson to be extremely grateful for LIFE, everyday doesn’t matter what life brings to you just accept it and BE GRATEFUL. Never forget to be KIND to all people around you.
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I’m looking forward to connect with you 😉