“Oh, East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,” Rudyard Kipling wrote once long ago, when the Philippines was not yet on the must-visit lists of globe-trotting travelers. Well, Kipling, welcome to the Pearl of the Orient! A string of 7,641 islands in Southeast Asia, the Philippines can sometimes seem more Western than its neighbors: an overwhelming majority of the population of 100 million speaks some kind of English; the main religion is Roman Catholicism; the political system hews to the American model of representative democracy; and the economy is unabashedly capitalist, dominated by multinational companies from the West.
And yet the Philippines is truly in the Orient, too. Its basic social unit is the clan; the usual go-to person for strange illnesses is the community healer whose command of herbs, potions, and incantations are unquestioned; and in some places, peace-keeping is still wielded by village elders whose authority does not emanate from the threat of a lawsuit or the barrel of a gun.
Nowhere is this coming together of East and West in the Philippines more gloriously at play than in the social ecology and economy of the body undergoing, well, a massage. There is an acknowledgment of the Western mindset of the massage as relaxation, pampering, and leisure. But there is also the Eastern appreciation of the massage as touch healing, connecting with elemental energy, repairing the body from its state of misadventures, and shooing away the negative forces that have brought about brokenness. Today, the Philippines is a top destination among global citizens wanting to get away from it all to recover and reclaim themselves in a healing spa holiday.