What to do in Ubud when you’re already dating a hot Brazilian a la Eat, Pray, Love, but had to leave him at home to study?
You wander aimlessly around town window shopping, menu-gazing and nervously eyeing off devious monkeys, that’s what!
Then you go get your little toes poked by a little old man with a big smile and a big, little-toe-poking stick.
I went to see Cokorda Rai out of curiosity more than anything, as – other than a little Bali belly – I felt perfectly fine. I was healthy, very relaxed, and not at all in need of a healer, but I couldn’t bear to spend another valuable day of the trip just reading by the pool and scoffing down addictive papaya-bacon club sandwiches. Cokorda was recommended to me by our hotel’s concierge as being a grandson of the old king and not trying to sell expensive remedies, as well as being well-respected among locals despite their waning faith in traditional medicine. He was also recommended for having better English (and therefore, better diagnoses) than Ketut Liyer of Eat, Pray, Love fame.
So I jumped in a car and off we went for a meandering drive through the rice paddies to Cokorda’s house. Hopping out onto the gravel carpark, the driver nodded his head to the right, indicating where I should go. There was an open room with a platform floor and simple pillars holding up the roof. A hippie couple were in the middle of their consultation. A skinny, scraggly looking man was waiting cross-legged on a mat, playing with a dog. His fresh-faced girlfriend sat at Cokorda’s feet, receiving what appeared to be a head massage.
I was totally in the dark about the etiquette of this kind of thing, so I hovered around the steps up into the room and played with the dog, who’d left its spot on the mat to come and say hello. The healer cracked a huge, beaming smile and motioned for me to join the man on the mat, so I kicked off my sandals and wandered over. It was clear that all the diagnoses and healing are done publicly, and that my arrival was somewhat of an interruption but not an unwelcome one. Rather than feeling like an uninvited guest who’d wandered into their consultation, I became another participant.
The vibe was one of practicality more than divinity or holiness, which was a huge relief to me as I was expecting much more wishy-washy-incensey rubbish. The dog curled up in my lap and Cokorda went back to his head massage, making little grunting noises as he worked. After a few minutes, he asked the girl to lie down and crouched at her feet. From this angle I couldn’t see exactly what he was doing, but having done my research before heading off, I knew he was poking little pressure points in between her toes with a stick, looking for sore spots. Shortly afterwards he snapped back up (he’s pretty sprightly for his age, just as you’d imagine a healer) and called the man over. He then began the exact same process as before, only this time chatting to us as he worked.
“Always the same. Man come, think they have one hundred problems. But most times they complain about nothing. Woman come, think they not have problems, but have one hundred,” he laughs. “Man make my job very easy. Woman make me work, ha ha ha! And then pregnancy is the same. For you,” he jiggles the man’s leg, “five minutes. But for wife, nine months! Ha ha ha.”
When it was my turn, I stood up and joined the healer by his chair. He looked me up and down, bemused, and asked what he could do for me. I felt more than a bit silly having come out of pure curiosity, but Cokorda just shrugged. I assume he gets a lot of customers like me.
“Ok, we check for problems just in case, but I think you ok.”
Facing me, he zeroed in on some pimples I had around my jaw. He craned his head so close that we were basically nose-to-nose. He has a handsome weathered face, with little age spots dotted around and wise, sparkling eyes, completely true to stereotype.
“This,” he said with a cheeky attitude, like he couldn’t wait to confirm what I’d been trying to tell Western doctors for years.
“This not acne. No no.”
“Good, I didn’t think so. What is it then?”
“Oh, easy! Vagina! Now we do check up, then after, we talk vagina.”
So, the guy’s direct. I love him already.
He sat in his chair and had me kneel in front of him. He started poking and rubbing around my head, my jaw, my cheeks and behind my ears, making little ‘mmhm’s and ‘aha’s as he went. I asked him to explain what he was checking as he worked.
“Ok. Kidneys ok. This part?”
“OW!!!” I wrinkled up my face. ‘Yeah, that’s a little uncomfortable.” I wanted to swat his hand away, but the little bugger was still pressing down on the knot behind my right ear.
“Ah. That is mind. Mind a little bit not so good. But also not so bad. You already learn how to fix, yes? I think you have under control.”
“Yeah” I nod. He was spot on, but he already knew that, so he’d moved on to the next pressure point already.
“Hurting?” he seemed particularly interested in this spot.
“Mmm, not really. Only a tiny bit.”
“That is heart. Some problems before, but now is much better.”
Geez. This guy’s good!
Cokorda had me lie down on the other mat, face-up and resting my head on a block of wood. He pulled out his chopstick-like instrument and grabbed my left foot. Then, slowly and deliberately, he started working the chopstick in between my toes. I was expecting to be in agony as some other curious bloggers had described. Well it wasn’t exactly a foot massage, but nor was it excruciating. Just kind of an annoying but necessary evil, akin to getting your eyebrows done.
“Liver ok…. spleen ok…. pancreas ok… stomach ok….hurting?
I sucked in a breath and gritted my teeth. “Err, yep, that hurts!”
“Ok. Hormones is here. Yes, little bit hurting. Same thing as vagina.”
With that, the prodding was over with and all four of us regrouped on the mat. Cokorda Rai explained the pimples as being a product of “too much white slime, not balanced with red and yellow slime” (sorry guys, I know). I made a joke about spending too much poolside time in wet bikini bottoms and he laughed, saying that it isn’t exactly helping the situation but that I can worry about it after my holiday. He recommended that I “make the smile face” while I shower, and jumped up again to enthusiastically mime a demonstration. Try to imagine an ancient, leathery holy man jumping around with an exaggerated smile on his face, pretending to wash his vagina. The guy just makes people happy, full stop!
Then he turned to the couple, who were apparently having trouble conceiving. The problem, according to Cokorda, was a combination between a bad diet (“too much potato chips”) and a lack of suction. Struggling a little with the more specific medical and anatomical vocabulary, Cokorda padded over to the table where he keeps his dictionary. He stared at the dictionary, hesitant for a few seconds, and picked it up gingerly. Then before opening it, he placed it back down on the table and sat with us again. “If it’s ok,” he said, whipping a brand new smartphone out from underneath his white robes, “Google translate is better.”
Read more about Cokorda Rai, and credit for the first photo here.