Excerpted from Singapore's arguably most famous sitcom in its heyday, the mantra of its lead protagonist, the honorary Phua Chu Kang (PCK), was how he was the “Best in Singapore, in JB and some say Batam”. This might ring true if PCK were to say, now start a spa chain in Southeast Asia.

My first perception of massages stemmed from the media images of seedy parlours in Geylang. The seemingly less prurient purposes of massages are not unbeknownst to me of course. I knew about the ubiquitous massage of the freelancing lady, usually from the Malay community, always a whizz at expelling the post-natal bulge.

Then when my parents scrambled for cheap Thai massages in Bangkok, I subconsciously compartmentalized massages to an older person's sport. However, after you slog it out for a couple of years in the work, you discover that the apple has not fallen that far from the tree when you start to occasionally indulge in the healing rituals of “wellness” with massages, amalgamated from different lands , swirling spa pools, oxygenated rooms, all in an ambience heretofore only known to luxury island hoppers.

As a self-proclaimed but not a reliable spa aficionado, I will share with you what little I've gleaned from sampling the spa menus in Singapore (and some say Batam). For my encounters of the spa kind, I have attempted the Oriental Tui Na, Balinese Spa, Javanese Massage & Scrub (with Mandi Lulur or Milk Bath), Aromatherapy, Hydrotherapy, Ayurvedic spa, Hot Stone Therapy, Swedish and Deep Tissue massage.

My humble “101 manual” for the future Spa connoisseur (dare I hope), is here with some simple tips for you to optimize on the experience, which is nothing short of “Sense-sational”:
– The only time you like somebody to talk to you behind your back is well if a masseuse checks with you about the level of firmness of her stroke. If you have interacted with some, you might find that the well honed therapist is generally proud of her craft. But fear not, about indicating your preference, stroke-wise, to her. I know that they will not take it personally unless you have caught one fledgling off guard on her first day of work?

– If you are wounded up like a toy, like most urbanites, with stiff shoulders that ergonomic chairs help alleviate only so much, do try either the Swedish or the Deep Tissue massage. The Balinese spa can be quite a treat and I have heard that the marine elements of the spa treatments are generally more relaxing. In the website by Associated Content, they stated that the Swedish massage is more relaxing than the Deep Tissue massage while the latter is “good for problem muscle areas”.

– If you cherish the thrills and spills of an additional contraption used on the body, opt for the ayurvedic rice bolus (Njvara Kizhi) massage or the hot stone therapy. For the rice bolus massage, there is the tantalizing ball of muslin cloth containing special rice dipped in herbs slathered on your body. It felt like having desiccated coconut rubbed onto your body. The heated volcanic stones placed at strategic points on your body, combined with Swedish massage techniques, provide for an interesting spa experience.

– Aromatherapy as I know it fuses essential oils and clever ministrations of the therapist's hands to engender one of the most soothing massages ever known. The oils are left on your body for assimilation leaving an almost-cherubic glow on your skin.

– Generally, firm practiced strokes of the right service-oriented masseuse in the right setting of resort-like ambiance, complete with enchanting music and down to the comfort of the face rest are the key elements incorporating the simple pleasures of the spa.

– In the end, nothing beats the exemplary service rendered by the staff and for that, kudos to the spa therapists in Batam. They might not have the best equipment and one actually had a pathetic seashell in a possibly wriggler-infected spittoon right below where my face rested on the massage table. Forget enchanting music, the construction of the neighboring wing of the hotel played havoc on my ears when you were supposedly to hear the waves caressing the beach. Disposable underwear will not be part of any package I I encountered apparently so far.

At another venue, a joint massage room consistent of gymnastic-style mats where the Javanese massage took place and the toilet was the traditional hose-it-down kind. At junctures of the massage, you might feel as though your toes and fingers were tugged a little too painfully. If pain is gain, you wonder if pain was the only thing you gained. Do not let the Indonesian girls' petite frame fool you. They are strong.

What ever saved the day was really the impeccable service rendered, not the overly-sweeted ginger tea. The scrub and milk bath was divine and the batik, serving as the drape for your body as the massage proceeds, heavenly. After the spa, I almost wanted to award them a medal for the competitive price too.

Well, if PCK had an epiphany and wanted to start a spa chain, he might need to continuously reinvent the spa menu, get stunning and unique massages, with permutations and combinations of techniques and massage oils. He could send his staff to emulate true Indonesian hospitality and get a great marketing guru to revamp his website. It might just work and his clientele will certainly be hooked on spa.

Have a Blessed Festive Season!
Sharon