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Are We Being Spoiled or What?

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I enter the busy hairdresser and walk straight past all the customers to the room behind the salon. The treatment benches are standing in a row and the discrete curtains in between each bench are open so that everyone can see everything. In this room only women are allowed to enter. Two victims are lying on their stomachs with their underpants pulled just under their bottoms. We are here to have mandi susu, which literally means milk bath.

My friend, Kis, more or less explained to me what was going to happen - a complete body scrub, followed by a steam bath and then a milk bath. Her description has made me curious. I get undressed amongst all the other women and, clad only in my underpants, lie down on the bench on my stomach.

Some giggling girls enter the room and appear to be the masseuses. The scrub session starts at my toes, feet and legs and I have to shout 'AU!' at times so that my masseuse doesn't hurt me too much; I guess I'm a softy compared to the Javanese people. By the time she has passed my bottom and starts on my back, I really start to relax, my eyelids are getting heavier and heavier and slowly I drift away.

Somewhere far away, I hear the masseuses exchange their gossip and when I hear the music turn on, I am prepared to hear some relaxing tunes. I am definitely wrong though, as Indonesian super hits fill the room and some of the girls sing along. That first hour of massage has been for nothing now as, because of the shock of the loud music, every muscle in my body is as hard as a piece of wood. Relax, I tell myself. Calm down, think of something relaxing.

The masseuse passes her hands with scrub creme all over my back, arms and neck and I almost fall asleep once again. It is now time for the front of my body and here also, she starts at my toes and feet and ends at my neck with only my private parts, covered by my underpants, left untouched.

Next on the agenda, I go into one of those stupid steam boxes, where you sit inside and only your head sticks out through a hole. Of course I am too tall, as I am too tall for everything in Indonesia, and the lid cannot close, so I am covered with a sheet. I sit inside like a steaming giraffe knowing that this is not a very high tech machine. It has a water kettle with boiling water on a gas stove, but instead of the whistle, there is a tube that forces the steam to enter the steam box.

After about 10 minutes I feel like a snail, ready to be eaten, and they let me out. The liquid is wiped off my body and then my body is painted with a white clay mask until it covers my body. So again I find myself standing, drying in my underwear, in amongst all the women.

Once the mask has dried, I enter a bath filled with warm and white water. One of the ingredients is milk with other products added which are purported to whiten the skin; this bath is where the name Mandi Susu comes from. Whiter skin is a big trend in Indonesia and there is no escaping it.

The treatment is almost finished, just take a shower, get dressed and pay the Rp 32,500 (around US$ 5) fee for the treatment. The end result is skin as soft as a baby and a very relaxing feeling ... but then again, I will go home by bemo and if you know how relaxed traveling by bemo is, then you will know how calm I was when I arrived at home.

© Gaby Schilders

Housing and schooling information for expats in Indonesia expatriate website for Indonesia Indonesian language translation of article

Practical Information for foreigners, expats and expatriates moving to Indonesia - find out about housing, schooling, transport, shopping and more to prepare you for your stay in Indonesia

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