KK Calming Touch
Explore a form of massage with roots in the depths of Borneo's past
Jari-Jari Spa, Kota Kinabalu
Wherever you go now, spas and massage salons promising bliss seem to outnumber convenience stores. As a result, it is hard for a spa to stand out, make a splash.
If you explore the capital of the Malaysian state of Sabah, Kota Kinabalu (KK), in search of a spa blessed with class, beware. Many are so-so or worse with their drab décor and middle-aged men standing around smoking.
If you thirst to experience more sophistication, one alternative is Jari-Jari, which lies on the fringes of the urban seaside resort, a five-minute, 10-Ringgit taxi ride from Centrepoint. Jari-Jari achieves a touch of distinction through authenticity. That is, it returns to Borneo’s roots, delivering various strains of traditional tribal massage.
Weighing up which will suit me, Jari-Jari co-owner Jennifer Lee highlights a kind aimed at people afflicted by rigid shoulders that are the legacy of hunching over a computer. That’s me (and everyone I know).
Most of the time my shoulders feel stiff yet sensitive, which means I habitually walk like that Borneo byword the orang-utan. Sometimes – usually when I have been using my bed as a laptop stand – I feel searing pain that drives me to perform a flurry of stretching exercises that have no effect whatsoever.
The apparent solution for my private agony is “dusun”. If it sounds exotic, it is.
The name comes from a Sabah tribe of mysterious origin. “Dusun is the Malay word that means ‘orchard’ and is derived from ‘Orang Dusun’ or ‘men of the orchards’ as their houses are surrounded with fruit trees”, the online encyclopedia Wikipedia says.
“However,” Wikipedia helpfully adds, “this Malay word is not the origin of the Dusun name.” So there you have it. Further muddying the waters, the Dusun are often bracketed with the hill tribe known as the “Kadazan”, resulting in the name “Kadazandusuns” or “Dusunkadazans”. Take your pick.
One thing is clear: Dusun massage arose in response to the needs of backache-bedevilled paddy field rice gatherers. Dusun is anchored in realigning deep layers of muscles and connective tissue. Particularly suitable for chronically tense and contracted areas such as stiff necks, it also helps lessen lower back tightness and soothes sore shoulders. Perfect in theory.
Escorted into the Jari-Jari lobby where the atmosphere is spacey yet earthy, I hear traditional Bornean music redolent of café del mar compilations in general and ambient maestro Brian Eno in particular, unplugged. The fragrance of lemongrass, lavender and palm wafts over the wild jungle plants and hardwood and sandstone décor.
The pièce de résistance is a slab that suggests Aztec sacrifice but turns out to be more ancient than that civilisation – 50-million-years-old, according to Lee who says that it took 20 men to move.
The signature slab has a “beat-that” quality. Nothing from whatever Borneo’s equivalent of Ikea might be could trump the slab, no matter how expensive. Only the monolith belonging to the legendary headhunting ace Monsopiad and displayed down the road at his old village could do that.
Once the chatter generated by the conversation piece peters out, Wendy the masseuse sits me on a sofa and, like a Geisha, conjures a dinky cup of ginger tea followed by coffee. Not a venti latte but a coffee foot scrub in a petal-strewn bowl whose base is coated with pebbles. What attention to detail.
After the caffeinated floral foot scrub that gives me a short-term fake tan, Wendy ushers me through a yellow curtain into an alcove. Prone on a bed with a hole for my face, I indicate that I’m comfortable, my voice distorted à la Darth Vader, my integrity suspect.
Part of me -- the guilt-ridden, pleasure-averse, no-pain-no-gain Anglo Saxon side -- associates massage with sin and effeminacy. Worse, I suspect that, like a gateway drug, it could lead to even more heinous metrosexual indulgences: manicures, cosmetics and worse…
I wonder how much Wendy can read my mind as she works my body, operating with no-nonsense grace. Her methods of manipulation definitely seem less brutal than those enacted by Thai practitioners. One, her magic thumb trick, entails stroking what might be a nerve nexus on my back with a touch of panache, unlocking tension and unleashing a flood of chi -- or a pleasant shiver at least.
In truth I fail to notice much because I keep lapsing in and out of consciousness and dreaming about events that instantly flee my mind the moment I remember where I am. Oh, Jari-Jari.
Maybe there was something in that ginger tea, or maybe Wendy has stronger arms and nimbler fingers than other masseuses -- if you must call them that. “Massage therapists” seems less sleazy and more dignified, but suggests that the person face-down on the bed is a patient worthy of treatment from the men in white coats.
Whatever the best term for the profession, the effect of Wendy’s efforts is impressive. Understand that I am the kind who, on a long-haul flight, fails to sleep a wink after consuming enough Irish whiskey and ambien to kill, well, someone from Ireland.
Now, I am so dazed that my hour or so of pressure and tender loving care unravels and elapses in what feels like a third of that time. Oh to drag the session out for another hour.
Wobbling to my feet, I hear from Lee that I’m smiling. I do feel fairly warm and fuzzy and in no mood to conduct something so taxing as a conversation. In fact, I barely have the wherewithal to say how the massage felt before the final twist of decadence -- a warm, wet flannel and more ginger tea.
Dusun body therapy
1 hour 15 mins @ RM 160.00
1 hour 45 mins @ RM 230.00
2 hours @ RM280.00
on 11 March 2008.
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