SMOKE SIG­NALS

The Heal­ing Hands Of An­toine Tran

Oi Vietnam - - Front Page - Text by Wes Grover Images by Ngoc Tran

WHER­EVER YOU ARE IN SAIGON,

chances are a mas­sage of some sort can be found nearby. There’s an end­less va­ri­ety of of­fer­ings, from high-end spa pack­ages promis­ing an ex­pe­ri­ence of the ut­most seren­ity to the shady, back-al­ley op­er­a­tions promis­ing some­thing a lit­tle dif­fer­ent. You name it, you can find it in this city.

Many styles of mas­sage have be­come com­mon knowl­edge, such as the pres­sure point-fo­cused shi­atsu or the force­ful, some­times pain-in­duc­ing, Thai-style. Yet, down a quiet Thao Dien lane, one will find a holis­tic healer with a wholly unique, and rather ob­scure, skillset.

His name is An­toine Tran and the ma­jor­ity of his life has been de­voted to a swath of tra­di­tional Chi­nese medicine tech­niques, study­ing the con­nec­tion of mind and body through the power of hu­man touch. Stand­ing some­where be­tween mas­sage ther­a­pist, medicine man and philoso­pher, his ex­per­tise range from acupunc­ture to more un­known prac­tices like mox­i­bus­tion (smoke fume ther­apy) and Qi Gong Tui Na (pro­nounced chee

kung twee-na), a Taoist heal­ing tech­nique plac­ing an em­pha­sis on one’s Qi, or en­ergy.

“I be­lieve that the prac­tice of mas­sage brings out a good side of hu­mans in those mo­ments be­cause they let go of ideas and it comes down to the ba­sics of who you are and the warmth that you have in you,” An­toine shares as we sit over cof­fee in the villa where he lives and prac­tices. With a wiry build and hair rest­ing in a pony­tail on the back of his neck, he gives the im­pres­sion of one who has an old soul. Born in Viet­nam, An­toine was adopted by a French fam­ily when he was four years old and spent his for­ma­tive years in Europe, though he al­ways felt a con­nec­tion to his birth coun­try. In his youth, he be­gan prac­tic­ing mar­tial arts and it was at this time that he was first in­tro­duced to mas­sage as a way of heal­ing sprains, torn mus­cles and lig­a­ments and cramps.

At 24 years old, he jumped at the chance to re­turn to Viet­nam, ful­fill­ing an in­tern­ship work­ing with the blind. Help­ing the dis­abled and dis­ad­van­taged would re­main a re­cur­ring theme through­out his life, though it was also at this time that he be­gan to hone his mas­sage tech­nique and study its heal­ing ef­fects.

“In 1995, I met a man who prac­ticed mas­sage on the beach in Nha Trang,”

An­toine re­calls. “He had ac­quired skills from dif­fer­ent coun­tries: Thai­land, In­done­sia, many places. I asked him to teach me cer­tain tech­niques and that’s when I started to prac­tice, mainly with friends and ac­quain­tances.”

Over the years, his skills have been learned through var­i­ous means, from be­com­ing a cer­ti­fied acupunc­tur­ist to more un­of­fi­cial un­der­study­ing with tra­di­tional Chi­nese medicine prac­ti­tion­ers. It’s a trade that, by na­ture, is of­ten learned in back­rooms, due to re­sis­tance from the Western med­i­cal es­tab­lish­ment for not nec­es­sar­ily be­ing quan­tifi­able and also be­cause that’s sim­ply how it has been passed on for thou­sands of years in far cor­ners of the earth. It is an al­ter­na­tive to the main­stream sys­tem and thus can­not ex­actly be reg­u­lated by the main­stream sys­tem.

The Emo­tions That You Don’t Let Out

In An­toine’s arse­nal of an­cient meth­ods is Tui Na, which he ac­knowl­edges is closely re­lated to what is re­ferred to as Reiki in Ja­pan and Mag­netism in France. “The fo­cus of Tui Na is on find­ing cer­tain planes of en­ergy in the body,” he shares. “This could be prac­ticed with­out even touch­ing a per­son. By keep­ing your hands close to the body but not ac­tu­ally touch­ing it, the prac­ti­tioner can find merid­ian points in the body and achieve a trans­fer of en­ergy from the earth to those points.”

Based in Tao­ism, An­toine ex­plains that this tech­nique main­tains the be­lief that there are five el­e­ments as­so­ci­ated with or­gans: the liver is wood, the spleen is earth, the lungs are air, the kid­neys are wa­ter, and the heart is fire. “So when you work with this, you can trans­fer or bal­ance the en­ergy from dif­fer­ent merid­i­ans in the body. Some­times en­ergy might be build­ing up in one place, rather than bal­anced out. The im­por­tant dis­tinc­tion here is find­ing those points of en­ergy and trans­fer­ring it be­tween dif­fer­ent merid­i­ans, rather than fo­cus­ing on a phys­i­cal, stereo­typ­i­cal type of mas­sage. This is more in­side the body.”

What fun­da­men­tally sep­a­rates tra­di­tional Chi­nese medicine from Western medicine is the be­lief of the body’s in­ter­con­nec­tiv­ity. As An­toine notes, in Western medicine, “If you have a prob­lem with your eyes, you see an eye doc­tor. If you have a prob­lem with your ears, you see an ear doc­tor. If you have a prob­lem with your stom­ach, you see another doc­tor… You should never cut up a body into dif­fer­ent pieces, so to speak, be­cause it’s one whole.”

With his pa­tients, he finds that the cause of phys­i­cal dis­com­fort can of­ten be rooted in the mind, point­ing to some­one who doesn’t ex­press their emo­tions as an ex­am­ple. “At a cer­tain point in time, the emo­tions that you don’t let out will ac­cu­mu­late in­side your body, be it in the stom­ach or the in­testines, and that will re­sult in cer­tain phys­i­cal pains. You have to be very con­scious of the fact that a pain in a spe­cific or­gan does not nec­es­sar­ily mean that or­gan has a prob­lem.”

Rather than pre­scrib­ing some­thing to cover up a symp­tom, his job is to help pa­tients find the cause of their con­di­tion and in do­ing so a bond is of­ten formed. “There’s an in­ti­mate side to it. There’s a side you could al­most say that’s con­fes­sional, that peo­ple share when get­ting to their un­der­ly­ing prob­lems… I need to show them that a lot of the un­der­ly­ing prob­lems are based off to­day’s so­ci­ety where ev­ery­one tends to want to con­trol their worlds.”

“Peo­ple pay more at­ten­tion to pro­duc­tiv­ity and ef­fi­ciency in to­day’s so­ci­ety,” he opines, delv­ing into a philo­soph­i­cal mood. “Peo­ple quan­tify ev­ery­thing. Time is per­ceived as money. Ev­ery­body tends to think in those terms, rather than think­ing about in­ner val­ues. For me, mas­sage can func­tion as a bridge that brings out these val­ues. It’s not just about the exterior of the body, but it reaches in­side—into some­one’s en­ergy. By do­ing that, I be­lieve it can bring out the essence and kind­ness of hu­man be­ings. It’s very dif­fer­ent from the cap­i­tal­is­tic ap­proach that most peo­ple main­tain in their daily lives.”

He is, to say the least, not your typ­i­cal masseuse in Saigon. A ses­sion with

An­toine (Tel: 094 568 4053; ton­ho­tran@ gmail.com) can last any­where from two hours to over four—how­ever long it takes, be­cause heal­ing is not quan­ti­fied in time. What’s clear talk­ing with him is that he has cho­sen this path be­cause he truly be­lieves in its power to help peo­ple, though he re­mains open to ex­plor­ing dif­fer­ent treat­ment tech­niques.

“I don’t know if I will con­tinue do­ing this work for­ever. I might learn another form of medicine at some point,” he spec­u­lates on the fu­ture. “Con­tin­u­ing to learn is ex­tremely im­por­tant. You have to al­ways be will­ing to learn and keep an open mind to new thoughts and ideas.”

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