News Lens International
The Last of Taiwan’s ‘Blind Masseurs’
By Shannon Lin
Shannon Lin is a staff writer currently on a mission to investigate all things related to Taiwan society and culture and to pet every cat met along the way.
What you need to know
‘Blind massage’ was first introduced to Taiwan by the Japanese during the colonial era. More than 100 years later, signs for blind massage parlours remain a common sight in the underground malls and streets of Taiwan but the number of masseurs is declining.
“I typically start my sessions with the neck and shoulders. Modern day workers sit behind a desk all day so their upper back area tends to be really stiff,” says Lai Jun-hong, a masseuse in Taipei’s Banqiao district.
“Behind the earlobes, there is a pressure point known as the ‘Gates of Consciousness.’ If you massage here, you can relieve headaches and eye irritability. Many of my patrons suffer from chronic neck and shoulder pains. Some consider surgery but I always try to discourage them. One wrong move and you could lose something important like I did with my eyesight.”
Born with visual complications, Lai, 25, lost most of his sight after a botched operation shortly after birth. Though he is partially sighted and can still read enlarged print, Lai is legally blind. He is one of 57,000 Taiwanese with a visual disability and one of a dwindling number of “blind masseurs,” an occupation that until recently was reserved for the visually impaired.
“Blind massage” was first introduced to Taiwan by the Japanese during the colonial era. One hundred years later, signs for blind massage parlours remain a common sight in the underground malls and streets of Taiwan. However, National Chung Cheng University sociology professor Wang Kuo-yu says fewer visually impaired people are entering the profession today as discrimination against disabled people slowly ebbs and their labour rights improve.