When a friend first introduced me to the concept of a blind massage service, my interest was immediately piqued. More than anything, I wondered what it would be like to behave in a space that belongs to the other, and, for my fellow Chinese readers out there, to know what it’s like to be the minority in the room for once.
When talking about the visually-impaired, most of the time, they live largely in our world. A world where the gift of sight is the norm, where street signs are erected in screaming colour, and where our smart devices visually engage us in a multitude of ways. Armed with a curiosity as to the best way to conduct myself in such an environment, I decided to experience the service for myself at the famed Blind Massage Service parlour at Tanjong Pagar.
As I step in, a voice chirps from across the room. A tall, male masseuse, whom I later learn is the head masseuse of the place. “Vera right?” he welcomes. “Yes.” “See, I know okay!” he exclaims, his voice overflowing with joy. I break out into a grin—his joviality was needless to say, infectious.
I look around and take in sight of the room before me. It’s largely unassuming—humble, cosy, tidy, and compact with just enough space for work.
Another masseuse, Pin Pin, comes to usher me to my treatment area. But before that, I ask, to charge my phone and Pin Pin responds with a simple, “Sure, the charger’s this way, but remember to tuck your phone away, okay, because we can’t see.” I’m slightly surprised by her frankness, and I find myself clamouring for an appropriate reply. In the end, I manage a “Yes, of course” as I promptly do as told.
Rule number 1: Remember that you’re entering someone else’s space. And sometimes that means reconfiguring whatever you once knew.
Every object neatly and deliberately placed to aid in drawing a mental picture of the space in their mind’s eye.
She also reminds me to keep my phone on silent mode at all times, and I later learn why this is ever so crucial. Apart from maintaining a calming, serene atmosphere for patrons, I also observed that every masseuse has a different mobile ringtone. Introducing unfamiliar audio stimuli isn’t ideal, especially since their sense of hearing has been heightened. So to minimise any unnecessary confusion, rule number 2 is always to be respectful of their space—and that includes giving extra thought to these minute considerations that hardly cross your mind on the daily.
As I wait for my massage to commence, I observe the space around me. Every masseuse is like a well-oiled machine, moving in synchronised, rhythmic motions just as they would a massage. The space also seems to be familiar to them—every object neatly and deliberately placed to aid in drawing a mental picture of the space in their mind’s eye.
“Sorry, I move aside, you go first,” I hear someone say as she makes space for her colleague to pass. They cooperate and understand that they have to look out for one another if they’re going to make this work.
Pin Pin carefully presses down on my back, slowly kneading out the knots of tension. I nervously steel myself for the usual pain that comes along with these massages. I’m not stupid, I’ve been to full-body massages before, and they sometimes hurt a lot more than they should. I already have a mental list of all the spots to take note of—it’s going to get ticklish at the small of your back, it’s going to hurt a little at the nape of your neck. I steel myself. But the pain I anticipate never comes.
Proofread your words in your head first, and ensure only pleasantries make it to your speech.
I’m in awe of Pin Pin’s steady but careful hands. She’s paying a lot of attention to my back “Have you been stressed at work? Your back is so stiff,” she asks. Unlike other massages I’ve been to before, Pin Pin meticulously works her way down just the edge of my spine in circular, almost flicking motions. Her hands have a cadence and precision like no other masseuse I’ve experienced
I strike a conversation with her, telling her how amazing I feel right now, to which she responds with much humility. Throughout the conversation, I make sure to be careful with my lexical choices. Rule number 3: always speak with tact. Think through your words before they escape your mouth—you want to be as considerate and mindful as possible. The rule is simple, really, proofread your words in your head first, and ensure only pleasantries make it to your speech.
Too soon, a tiny device that’s slung across Pin Pin’s body chimes to indicate that an hour is up. But she’s not one to cut corners. She meticulously goes through the steps until she’s done with the full routine of the massage. Gently, Pin Pin calls out, “Alright, Vera. The massage is done. I hope everything’s okay.” Again, I appreciate how she makes every effort to personalise the service as much as she can. I thank her, pay up and made my way out.
The biggest takeaway from this experience is understanding what it means like to conduct yourself when you’re in the presence of the other and to be conscious that you’re entering someone else’s space. The last thing we want is to overstimulate the senses of the masseurs by introducing unnecessary foreign stimuli. And that means keeping all your belongings neatly tucked under the bed and respecting the serenity of the place. It’s not difficult to make the experience pleasant for everyone—it just takes a dash of patience and a sprinkle of understanding. So the next time you find yourself in a space that doesn’t belong to you, you’ll be better equipped to act, speak and behave in an appropriate manner. As the saying goes, do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
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