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Confessions of a foot reflexologist: Yes, stinky feet are a big problem

Smelly feet are definitely a problem.

And they usually belong to men, as women are usually too embarrassed to go for a foot massage if they have foot odour problem.

If wiping with an antiseptic towel doesn't solve the issue, this foot reflexologist will gently excuse herself, before dripping generous amounts of essential oils into the massage cream.

It helps. Mostly.

When it doesn't, it means 40 minutes of putting up with the odour.

Ms Jaene Kuan, 53, tells The New Paper on Sunday: "I have to pretend that it is not smelly, even if the smell is overpowering. It is not nice to suddenly don a mask."

Her job involves massaging away soreness and water retention in feet, as well as kinks in the body, for better health and improved well-being.

She explains that certain reflex zones on the feet correspond to different body organs and systems. Benefits are reaped when pressure is applied to the correct zones.

She says in Mandarin: "When we massage the feet, we are stimulating these reflex zones and this sends the message to the body to self-heal. It also helps with blood circulation and improves the immune system.

"If I press the big toe and it hurts, it means you probably have lack of sleep and maybe sinus problems. The big toe corresponds our brain, nose and eyes."

Ms Kuan entered this industry after spending more than 20 years doing administrative work.

She took up a government-sponsored course in foot reflexology and body massage in 2004 because she wanted to help her mother, now 78. She had suffered two strokes.

She says: "She was not so flexible after suffering a stroke in 2000.

"I've seen how she has reaped benefits and improvements from her massage sessions."

Over three months, she learnt body and foot massage. She also picked up shiatsu, also known as acupressure or finger press.

She was bonded to a now-defunct spa for six months after the course.

She is currently with Refresh Bodyworks at Lot One, Choa Chu Kang, and this is her 10th year in the industry.

She says: "I love it and there's job satisfaction. I enjoy my work because I feel that I can help people.

"I thought I couldn't last - I'm a woman and I don't think I have that much strength. Most foot reflexologists are men.

"But I was wrong. Strength can be cultivated over time, just as my instructor used to say."

She laments that she has become more muscular, compared to the days she spent working behind a desk.

Jokingly, she says: "My butt used to be bigger (than the rest of my body).

"Now, I use more of my upper body, so my body is now more well-proportioned."

Besides smelly feet, she has also come across those which are calloused, fungus-infected and even covered with blisters or eczema.

She has to reject customers who have severe skin conditions or infections.

"We have to speak tactfully to them and maybe suggest that they opt for an upper body massage instead."

While most are obliging, some refuse to budge.

She says: "In that case, we request to use the gloves.

Since most of her customers are men, they often ask her to use more strength and pressure when she kneads.

"Especially those who wear safety shoes a lot, the skin on their sole is very thick. No matter how hard I press, they can't feel a thing."

And then there are especially ticklish customers. For them, she will slow down and apply more pressure.

Without a basic salary, Ms Kuan's pay is fully dependent on how many customers she serves a month. On average, she brings in $3,000 a month.

The money is hard-earned, but the job has potential to net good money, depending on how hard you are willing to work, she remarks.

Ms Kuan also has to learn how to deal with very chatty customers.

She has customers, mostly elderly, who come week after week with the same grouses.

She admits: "We reply in the same way every time. We know them so well."

The downside of the job is that she sometimes suffers from pain in the lower back, which is brought on by hours of leaning over customers.

But the perk is that help is just a shout away.

She confesses: "Sometimes, we get our colleagues to help loosen up the tightness in our back."

On top of that, she still engages other massage therapists from other parlours for a full body massage about once or twice a month.

She uses this opportunity to "steal skills".

"If I feel that a particular stroke is very comforting, I'll see how I can incorporate it," she says.

"Learning is never-ending."