My Ketut Liyer

I went to a Tukang Kusuk today.

I actually have no intention of visiting one but after telling stories to people that I slipped in the bathroom this morning and the side of my butt and my back hurt because they hit the toilet bowl on my fall, everybody was saying, Miss, mau yang kusuk? (Miss, do you want a massage?).

2013-05-21 13.38.56

I told the story again of my ungraceful fall to our Chief Accountant and he said the same thing. “You have to see one to put everything back in order. Or else, 5 years from now you will feel the effect of that fall.”

Ok. Sounds scary. So I finally got convinced that maybe that is the way to go. I asked somebody to look for one and invite the Tukang Kusuk to come over. The person said, “Miss, tidak bisa. Banyak anak anak.” (Miss, she can’t. She has a lot of kids.)

Ok. It seems I have to do my own courtesy call.

Come 5 PM and I was on the road going to the kampong (village) of the said expert.

2013-05-17 07.49.07

I was asking the driver if all Indonesians go to a Tukang Kusuk. He said only those who don’t want to see a real doctor and take tablets or injections for their illness. Sounds very much like the Philippines. So I am going to an albularyo or a faith healer, it seems.

We stopped in front of a normal house we usually pass on my way to the city. Men were sitting on the roadside while kids were playing some games with makeshift toys. I, together with a colleague who personally knows the Tukang Kusuk, came inside the house. The driver left us and did some errands as it will probably take an hour before my kusut finishes.

It was my first time to enter an Indonesian house, I realized. It was cool. It looks like any modern house made of bricks and cement except there are no tables and chairs! They only have mats on the floor. Even the kitchen, where I had my massage, only has a mat in it.

2013-05-21 17.33.01

2013-05-21 17.35.23

It must be cheap maintaining a house in Indonesia. There is no need for all those fixture and what-have-yous. It’s like a robber came into the house and finished all the belongings.

Anyway, so a middle-aged lady came out and shook my hand the Indonesian way. The Indonesian way is shaking hands, releasing, and bringing that hand you shook the others to your heart. I think it is a kind of respect for them. I still have to remember this. I tend to forget it all the time and people might think I am snooty, rude and all especially if they don’t know that I am not Indonesian as I look like them.

Anyway, the lady went back in. I was asking my colleague where she went. She said the lady is probably praying. She came back and ushered me to the kitchen where a mat who has seen maybe a hundred coats of oil and a sullen-looking pillow who has seen 200 heads are stationed. OMG.

And then the lady asked me to undress. What? There were 4 people in the kitchen that time. She said “Tak apa apa. Jangan malu.” (It’s nothing. Don’t be shy.) Seeing my reluctance, she asked me if I brought a sarong. No, I did not. She took one from a nearby room and gave it to me. Undressing inside a sarong was still a feat. Anyway, I made it. She asked me to lie down, face down, on the mat and the pillow. I can feel the grease sticking to my body. And I was holding my breath not to smell the pillow.

2013-05-21 18.56.21

And then she started. She took some oil, whispered something into it, and started her magic. OMG. It was a pleasurable pain through and through. My feet were constantly up in the air, involuntarily, because her hands were just kneading all the air she found in my body.

Not my legs.
Not my legs.

Before the massage, she never asked what kind of treatment I need. She just started without consultation. But as she tries to acquaint herself with my body, I don’t need to say anything anymore. It was like she knows me just with her touch. Scary!

As she was laboriously fighting an air in one side of my back, she asked me if I take hot showers regularly. I said everyday. I will die if the water is not hot. It is just so cold here. She told me to stop. All the air in my body is caused by the hot shower. I tried to defend a usual habit which I think is very normal and she said, “Air dingin labih sehat!” (Cold water is healthier!) Ok, I rest my case.

Then she said most probably I fell down. She can feel it from my muscles. And that I am battling sakit perut for days. She can feel it in my stomach. Which is actually correct!

Who is this woman? OMG.

The gentle hands, the painful pleasure she gives, the diagnosis she can gather just from grazing her hands to my body, I AM AMAZED.

As I finished my session, there was a queue of other people who wants a treatment as well. Some were actually watching my naked body as the lady wrapped up. She said that sometimes, she can only eat dinner at 2 AM because her house gets so full with people.

2013-05-21 18.33.45

I dressed up, gathered my things and thanked her. I also dropped an amount in her donation basket that is in another room. I was warned not to give money to the Tukang Kusuk directly as it is considered impolite.

As I was preparing to leave, she asked me how I feel, “Enak?” (Good?). I smiled and said I wish to come back again.

I was on my wait out where the driver was waiting for me when I heard her from the kitchen, “Ingat! Jangan air panas mandi. Air dingin!” (Remember! Don’t take hot shower! Take a cold one!)

I am really not sure about that one. I will probably have another visit with her soon if I take a cold shower as I will be jumping up and down the bathroom just to prevent the body from feeling the cold. And then I will slip again in the bathroom and probably break my bones this time around.

I shouted “Saya coba!” (I will try!). And then I was gone.

Sayur Assam

So maybe I was not telling the whole truth on why I am OOO (Out of Order) today.

Last Saturday, a colleague brought me to the market. I love markets despite being a little bit chaotic. It reminded me so much of the ones we have in the Philippines. The problem was the heat. It was like I was punched in the face. It was a sweltering 32 degrees Celsius there in the city.


I lived in a tropical country all my life but since I migrated to one of the hills in North Sumatra, it doesn’t feel so tropical at all. We have 18-24 degrees Celsius everyday, sometimes lower.


So I think that one set me back. And then I had to attend a travel fair which could have survived the light of day without me. I have to remember not to attend such things again unless I need to buy a trip for a cheaper price.

And then I went to Cemara, the biggest Buddhist temple in Medan. It has become a local attraction. People of all kinds are there. The rows of street kitchen and restaurants probably also added to the appeal.




So dinner time and we decided to have our feast there. The colleague has been dying to let me try Sayur Assam since she learned that I like sour taste. She caught me picking green mangoes from the tree in the city office one time and that sealed it. Anything that is sour, Leslee will like.

I was curious what this Sayur Assam is. Sayur means vegetable and Assam means sour in Indonesia. From the picture I saw it looks like the Filipino version of Sinigang. If it is, I won’t have a problem with it.

sayur assam

I checked the ingredients: shrimp, beans, cabbage, eggplant, tamarind, fish stock, turmeric, almond, shallots, garlic and dried shrimp paste. Sounds like Sinigang to me except for the shrimp paste.

The dish came. A soupy dish. I tried it. The sour taste is overpowering. Then there is the sweet taste. But the killer was the shrimp paste. I almost puked. It was horrible.

When asked if I like it, I said it is interesting.


I finished one whole bowl without breathing but promised to the self that I will not touch that dish ever again in this lifetime.

Until now, I can still taste it on my tongue. It has that lingering effect which makes me cringe my nose.

I hope I learned my lesson. Just say no.

But the problem with me is I always find it hard to say no. Haaaayyyy.

The Tree Feller


I am demolished in my bed. I don’t want to get up. I am actually feeling a little bit better than yesterday but I don’t want to take the risk (Read:I just want to be lazy today.)

I knew something was wrong when I woke up yesterday morning. The whole body was in pain. I was silently cursing that lady who massaged me the night before. The expat colleague has been raving about this spa next to the hotel in the city where I always stay when I go down from the hills. He said the price is cheap and the service is good. He got that all wrong.

One, I think the price was exorbitantly high. I paid Rp200,000 for a 2 hour massage. Ok, so maybe that is not so expensive. But I was trying to compare it with the massage I had in a 4-star hotel recently which only costed me Rp70,000. But yeah, that’s an hour. Ok never mind. I just want a massage that time and I will pay whatever it costs. But it has to be good.

Two, the service is horrible.

So the masseuse led me to the room. They have this stainless palanggana to wash my feet. So cheap, I was rolling my eyes as I was telling this to the self. Anyway, I was busy BBMing so I just let the matter go.My BB is alive again! But that’s another story.

Then I was led to a room where 4 massage beds separated by curtains are. And I can hear people talking. What the heck?! So much for a relaxing massage. The masseuse started rattling and my Baby Bahasa Indonesia cannot keep up. I have to say hold on, saya tidak orang Indonesia (I am not Indonesian.) And that made her blabber more wanting to find out where I am from. After 3 failed attempts, she has been repeating three countries again and again like those are the only countries in this world with this kind of face, I gave in and said I am Filipino.

Then the massage started. OMG. The lady must be a tree feller in her past life. Her hands were so strong and tough. Grazing them to my body was torture. But the Asian in me did not speak up. When asked if I was ok, I just gave a grunt hoping she’ll get it. She didn’t. And that’s 2 hours of wincing. Ok, maybe one and a half hours as she tends to go out from the room from time to time for I don’t know reason. I felt like I am being cheated for my hours but it gave me respite from her ax hands.

What I hate the most about people in the service industry is when they blatantly ask for a tip. This one is that kind. I have barely recovered from my self-inflicted punishment and was fumbling down the stairs in a heady state when she said, “Miss, tips.”

I could have been mean right there and then but I did not (which I regret). I fished through my pocket and gave her more than necessary. I just promised the self I will never be back in that spa ever again.

So, long story, when I woke up the following day (that was yesterday), the expected happened. The whole body was aching and the worst part is I have to pack and check out from the hotel. I have to go up to the hills that morning and endure that 4-hour semi-bumpy ride.

I knew something was wrong when I was having breakfast in the hotel resto and the food makes me want to puke. I eat those food all the time. But that time, I only had a few spoonfuls. I thought it will go away when the body realizes it is awake. It didn’t.

The driver picked me up and the pain just worsened with that uphill climb. I was dragging myself to my room when I arrived in the hills.

So yes, I am still in my bed. Today is supposed to be a workday for me. I have tons of things to do. But what the heck. I am going to laze around eating my bubur ayam (porridge) until the sun goes up again tomorrow.

The story of my life.

Babi Panggang Karo

It was a Wednesday. The bosses allowed me to escape from the hills and gave me a few days off.

I have a flight to catch the following day and with the distance of my hills to the nearest airport, I have to go down a day before.

I was with other colleagues in the car. They are going back to the city too. Lunch time and we decided to have a rest from the 4-hour drive. We stopped by KFC. They know I love KFC (only because there is no McDonald’s in sight).

As they were having their cigarette break before we walked into the fastfood, one colleague asked me if I would like to try one of the specialties that North Sumatra offers. The place is not so hygienic but serves good food, he said.

I am not picky. I can eat anything. I love new experiences. So we forgot about KFC.

We ended up in BPK.



BPK stands for Babi Panggang Karo. Babi means pork. Panggang means grilled. Karo is one of the ethnic groups in North Sumatra.

When I saw the place, I smiled. This is a place where my Dad and I would not cringe to eat in. My Mom, brother and sister, well, that’s another story. πŸ™‚

According to Wikipedia, Babi panggang Karo and Babi panggang Toba are two similar dishes made by the Christian Batak Toba and Batak Karo of North Sumatra. Pigs are slaughtered and used in their entirety to make babi panggang – bones for a clear soup, meat (including offal) to be grilled, and blood for a dipping sauce. The three dishes are served with plain rice and a sambal andaliman, made from fresh sichuan peppers.


I am familiar with bones being used for soup and meat being grilled. But blood as the dipping sauce? I almost died (not). I am used to soy sauce and kalamansi or vinegar with crushed garlic.


I was a little bit hesitant to try that blackish sauce but then I remember we have Dinuguan back home which is a thick soupy dish made from the blood of the pig mixed with meat from pig’s face and its innards. And I eat Dinuguan with passion so who am I to be scared of this small bowl of blackish dip with pepper in it? It should be child’s play.

Still. πŸ™‚

The experience was interesting.

First, they served steaming rice with a bowl of salty clear soup and Camote tops. Only a spoon was given and a bowl of water where you can wash your hands. The spoon is meant to be used only for the soup. The rest of the meal you have to eat by hand.

People love to eat with their hands in Indonesia. That same bowl of water will be used later on to wash away the remnants of food that clung to the hands.

I am not up to it that moment. I asked for a fork.


As the Babi (pork) was being grilled, I asked my colleagues what they use to marinate the meat. Do they dip it in special sauce or do they just put salt and pepper? They said none of the above. No condiment whatsoever is added. The meat is just grilled directly. Say what?

I hope the meat was washed before that. I remember how my parents always talk about meat hanged by the roadside and sold to people. They were saying how much bacteria sticks to the meat from the dust and other elements of the earth.

I have seen a lot of exposed, “unprotected” hanging pig’s head and meat on the way to the BPK resto. Is that where the meat came from? OMG. No Monterey? Yikes.

So the grilled meat arrived. I can still see some pig’s hairs sticking out. Ok.


My lunchmates started digging in and eating the food passionately. I was a bit slow. I asked if they sell cola. Grilled meat is good with cola. They have none. But the owner of the shop was nice and bought me a bottle from the nearest sari-sari store or small store by the road side. Very much like the Philippines. The cola was not cold. I asked for some ice. The owner came back with some irregularly crushed ice. I wonder where she got it. I should not think too much.


The grilled meat with no condiments in it didn’t taste much. And I love tasty food. So I did it. I dipped my meat in the blood sauce.

I think I enjoyed it. The thick soupy blood mixed with the finely shredded hot chilis added extra flavor. Interesting.

The salty soup and the Camote tops completed the meal with my iced cold cola.

I must say it was a great first BPK experience.

But with all that smoke getting into the shop from the griller, the noise of the cars passing by the road and the incomplete cutlery here and there, this place is not for the fussy eater or the weak at heart.


But we only live life once so what the hell.

Experience everything, I always tell myself. It will be worth it. πŸ™‚

Creating Lasting Positive Change

[It’s] the lens through which your brain views the world that shapes your reality. And if we can change the lens, not only can we change your happiness, we can change every single educational and business outcome at the same time.

β€” Shawn Achor

Creating Lasting Positive Change:

– 3 gratitude (Emmons & McCullough, 2003)
– journaling (Slatcher & Pennebaker, 2006)
– exercises (babyak et al., 2000)
– meditation (Dweck, 2007)
– Random Acts of Kindness (Lyubomirsky, 2005)

*Not bad. I think I am in the running.

Sharing to you my daily positive find. Let’s go get that happiness. πŸ™‚