Indonesia 2016

My first Indonesian beauty treatment (and why that matters)

One of the things that I most enjoy when travelling is popping into a beauty parlour and getting treatments. I’m not particularly bothered about my appearance, (and I definitely don’t get these treatments in the UK), but they’re usually less than £5. They are a good way of taking a break from the sensory onslaught of towns and cities, but still being ‘out in the world’ — it can be lovely to chat to the women working on you, as well as seeing them chat to each other. It’s a lovely, intimate, easy atmosphere. (And stress, pollution, dust and change of routine means that I am often a wreck).

We were in Bandung, and had just finished seeing the angklong centre (with the inexplicably-cancelled performance). We were flying to Yogyakarta in a few hours, and were looking to kill time — Matt wanted to go to the Geological Museum. And as we were waiting for a taxi, I saw a salon, and I begged him to let me stay there instead of going to the museum and to meet me later.

It was a small, run-down salon, stark under the strip lights. Everyone there looked as though they were still teenagers. There was a girl with whom I haggled by writing on a bit of tissue paper; a gel-haired boy who translated for me; and a girl who smiled and asked me to go upstairs with “French Kiss” on her t-shirt. (I doubt anyone in her acquaintance would have known what it meant, but I still feel bad for not letting her know what the phrase means. Although I’m not sure what her reaction would have been.)

Anyway. I had an hour-long massage. A lot of women would have taken this in their stride, but I found the preparatory bit pretty awkward:

That’s basically a sack, yes.

The girl, despite being tiny, was immensely strong, and I was surprised that I wasn’t left with bruises on my arms and thighs, so thorough was her job. That said, what I enjoyed most was when had a chat through Google Translate. She got awkward and shy about the fact that she couldn’t speak English — which I tried to counter by saying that, as a tourist, I really ought to be better at Indonesian!

We managed to bridge the gap eventually, and when she left me to get changed, I wrote her a note on my Google Translate saying that she was excellent and very strong, and that I hoped she had a good day. It reminded me of a similar friendship I struck up through Google Translate on the other side of the world, in Peru.

It remains my only proper conversation with someone close to me in age — the majority of people I speak to are older men. I left feeling refreshed and pleased both physically and socially — I had made a connection, which I didn’t end up repeating until the very end of my trip.