Current Status of Massage in Malaysia
Speaker: Ivan Ho Tuck Choy
1. Job Opportunities for the Blind in the Early Fifties:
Back in the early 1950's, blind people were mostly known for being rattan weavers or handicraft workers. Naturally, this was one of the most common forms of employment for them. Then, between 1960 and 1980, those who were fortunate enough to have received some education were either trained as telephone operators or stenographers (shorthand typists). Those who could not advance further in the education system found jobs in factories that were rapidly springing up around two or three major towns.
However, with the introduction of computerisation and automation in telecommunications and in the factories toward the end of the 1980's, most of these jobs were disappearing fast. Bosses were no longer giving dictations but, instead, doing their work on computers. This meant that blind stenographers were left with nothing to do during office hours. Large companies that were employing several blind telephone operators switched to automatic answering systems, dial-direct facilities and even mobile phones. Employment for the blind looked bleak.
Luckily, around the 1990's, the Ministry of Education opened its door and allowed blind people to be trained as teachers, both to teach in schools for the sighted and those with blind students. Within a matter of a few years, there were nearly 100 blind teachers with the majority of them posted to schools with blind students. Of course, this created problems in finding placements for them as schools or programmes with blind students were limited. The Ministry of Education became selective with the intake of blind trainee teachers.
2. HOW MASSAGE FOR THE BLIND OFFICIALLY CAME TO MALAYSIA:
While all these things were happening, some encouraging and others disappointing, a very significant incident took place. It was around 1980 that Dr. Tsung Wen-shiong, the Director of the Institute for the Blind of Taiwan, offered a scholarship to train a blind person to be a massage instructor. Chow Hock Seng was selected for a year's course in Taiwan. When he returned, Chow was appointed the first Massage Instructor for the Gurney Training Centre.
3. THE PROGRESSIVE DEVELOPMENT OF MASSAGE:
Massage was not popular with the Malaysian community back then and blind people who took up the short courses, practiced it as part-time job to earn some extra money. Slowly, but steadily the word got around that blind people were doing massage with low fees and with reasonably good techniques. At around this time, towards the end of the 1980's, Malaysians were becoming more affluent, health conscious but stressed over the pressures of modern living. Some blind people, after practicing for some time, became confident enough to make massage a full-time occupation. Others went further and set up massage centres, either as partnerships or on their own, and employing blind masseurs to work on a full-time or freelance basis. One of the early pioneers in this field was Lee Seng Chow.
When setting up these centres, the owners do not need to have massage certification, but they must apply for licenses for doing business. The spirit of entrepreneurship was and is very strong among the blind masseurs. After seeing others succeed in setting up and managing their centres, they would follow suit. This proliferation of massage centres coupled with the rapid increase of "learn fast and earn" masseurs have created new problems. Also, sighted people were entering this lucrative market and providing massage services of every description - reflexology, relaxation, therapeutic, etc., - by setting up shops or stalls at strategic locations, such as tourist spots. Those sighted entrepreneurs who have the financial means, are able to furnish their centres with up-to-date deco and providing conducive conditions for enjoying a pleasant and relaxing massage. Today there are about one thousand blind masseurs and masseuses in the country, and about 70 of such centres spread throughout the major cities, with the majority of them situated in Kuala Lumpur. In Brickfields itself where NCBM is located, there are 18 centres. There were 22 but four of them have recently closed down due to poor business. Some of the blind masseurs, knowing that they must upgrade their skills to stay in business, have visited overseas training institutions or applied for advanced training courses in China, Japan and Thailand. By the way, this combination of techniques from the different countries has now evolved into what is known as "Malaysian Massage".
4. ORGANISATIONS PROVIDING MASSAGE TRAINING FOR THE BLIND:
Up to the mid-1990's the only organization serving the blind giving massage training was the Gurney Training Centre which offered short duration courses. The other organizations supported the move by sending trainees. Later, these organizations - Sarawak Society for the Blind (1999) and St. Nicholas Home (2002 - started their training units. The Society of the Blind in Malaysia and the Sabah Society for the Blind either conducted training sessions with local trainers or sent their trainees to centres run by professional people. These blind masseurs who attended the short-term courses (lasting between one to three months), either received certificates of attendance or certificates issued by the respective training centres. However, these certificates cannot be considered as professional credentials when compared with those of China and Japan. The Gurney Training Centre has recently received accreditation from the government body for some of their courses, including massage.
With regards to training curricula, the one at the Gurney Training Centre is based on experiences and expertise gained from the Asia-Pacific Okinawa Massage Project (which its Principal, Wong Yoon Loong attended), and the input by Koji Fujiki, a trainer sent by JICA and who spent a year in Malaysia. The curriculum at St. Nicholas Home was partly taken from that of the Gurney Training Centre and with input by Norimah Haji Ahmad, who spent nearly a year instructing the trainers and a batch of 12 trainees. She, in turn, obtained her skills by attending courses in China and the Okinawa Project. As for the other three organizations, their training programs follow those of the bodies they engage to conduct the courses.
As massage is considered a non-medical practice in Malaysia, masseurs are not required to obtain certification. However, as the Malaysian community becomes more aware of quality and standards, clients will want to know where our blind masseurs are trained. In general, anyone can be trained to be a masseur regardless of their educational background. The important requirements are that he/she can communicate in the language of the clients and have good massaging skills.
5. FUTURE PROSPECTS OF MASSAGE AS EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITIES FOR THE BLIND:
As massage presently offers the best opportunity for blind people to be employed or become entrepreneurs, thereby gaining economic empowerment and social acceptance, the public is beginning to associate blind people as all being masseurs. Blind people themselves are attracted by the prospects of getting more money when compared to a fixed salary in an office. However, as the market is increasingly becoming very competitive and people are looking for quality massage services, hygienic conditions of the masseurs and the premises/locations, blind masseurs are beginning to find it difficult to compete in this environment. Already several centres have closed down in Brickfields, and others are reporting poor clientele.
The prospects and opportunities for massage as one of the most promising sources of employment for the blind are still very good. However, there must be good and adequate training, professional management of business and even quality control. Gone are the days when one can learn massage for a few days from a friend and become a masseur. Despite the fact that blind masseurs in Japan and South Korea are well trained, I believe they, too, are facing some major problems. It is our duty to find solutions and to help the blind masseurs to give value added service to their clients and to keep massage as a viable employment opening for the blind.
Ivan Ho Tuck Choy, Executive Director, National Council for the Blind, Malaysia (NCBM)