Getting to grips with a problem

by Ronnie Hoyle                                                               

SOME people have a lot of bad things to say about massage girls in the Far East, especially those who tout their wares on the various tourist beaches…and in some instances they may be true. But one or two bad apples do not necessarily spoil the whole barrel.

            There are some places in the Philippines which have got to grips with the girls who give the service a bad name, and one of them is Alona Beach on Panglao Island, Bohol. There, the bad apples seem to have been eliminated from the barrel completely.

            It is no longer part of the ‘sin trade,’ which could easily spoil an area’s reputation, but a well-respected and rewarding employment for many people.

            Getting the situation under control was Panglao Mayor Dr. Doloreich Dumaluan, who made it difficult for the ‘bad girls’ to get a foot in the door by insisting that the profession be regulated and controlled.

Almost immediately after his election, the local doctor brought in restrictions so that every girl had to go through strict instruction and training before they were allowed to approach customers at any of the 28 resorts around the beach and offer their services.

            It also helped to stop the friction caused by some fly-by-night ‘outsiders’ pouring onto the beach at weekends and taking away local income from the visitors, especially in the peak season between November and May, when the ‘outsiders’ who had no real experience of massage techniques, caused many tourists to complain of substandard workmanship and over-pricing.

The origin of bad feelings by local workers, who also thought that their reputations were being impugned by the invading girls - some of whom were offering ‘extra-curricular services’ and ‘home visits’ - disappeared almost overnight.

            Doubling up as licensed wandering shell and native jewellery sellers on the beach to help keep their income up, the massage and strictly local girls all have numbered T-shirts with the words ‘Massage Vendor’ on them supplied by the Municipality of Panglao which they were given after they had attended seminars and had been registered as a qualified masseuse. They also offer full manicure and pedicure services.

            Principles of massage for different ailments were taught to the girls, including for the relief of heatstroke and muscle cramps brought on by scuba diving and unaccustomed exercise in tropical climes, and the use of essential oils for aromatherapy. Some vendors are also adept in shiatsu – pressure-point massage.

            Repeat visitors to Alona Beach – and there are a lot who come back year-after-year for a vacation, some for as long as six months at a time – are enthusiastic about the skills of the vendors, and sometimes there are five or six at work at the same time on their customers.

            Typical was first-time French visitor Paul Dupree who came for a diving course. After more than ten hours of flying and waiting for various connections to reach Alona, he found he was suffering from shoulder and neck ache. It probably didn’t help, he said, that he spent his normal working week hunched behind a computer all day.

After an hour of pummelling and kneading and relaxing of tired muscles, he said he felt invigorated and ready for the next day’s dive – and what he paid was worth it.

“It was as if the stress just drained away,” he said, admitting that it had cost him the equivalent of “only a few Euros” and less than he would usually spend on a short taxi-ride to the masseur in his own country – and that would only take a few minutes.

“In France, I couldn’t afford this sort of luxury treatment more than once a week,” he said, “but here I think I can afford it every day – it’s great.”

Asked if he thought the massage treatment on Alona was any different from ‘back home,’ he gave a Gallic shrug, shook his head and smiled: “The surroundings at home aren’t as good,” he said surveying the scenery, “and you don’t get warm sand in your toes...”