Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Masuk Angin

Since I moved to Indonesia, I have been intrigued and bewildered by something I have heard about and seen glimpses of throughout the country: masuk angin Masuk angin, meaning, roughly, "enter wind," is an ailment of which seemingly all Indonesians are afraid.   The closest thing we have in the western world is probably "catching a cold," but the symptoms for masuk angin differ from and are broader than a cold, including indigestion, nausea, heartburn, gas, bloating, achey feeling, dizziness, sluggishness, dry throat, among many others:


Masuk angin is said to afflict you when wind or air gets into your body via various sources... an open car or bus window, a fan blowing directly on you, sitting in the line of fire from the AC unit, riding your motorbike without wearing a heavy leather or winter jacket (sometimes worn backwards for extra protection), drinking cold water (?), aaaand my favorite, being a closed room when someone else has keluar angin ("exit wind," or, as you and I know it, farts).
Masuk angin is the source of endless fascination for other expats/westerners/bules, too, some curious about both the ailment and the various remedies, some mocking, some reluctant converts, admitting that perhaps the idea does hold water...  however you feel about it, it is pretty interesting and has provided the foundation for an entire industry of remedies in Indonesia, including these ubiquitous drugstore treatments that I snapped photos of at my grocery store, including Tolak Angin ("reject wind") and masuk angin syrup (for reducing masuk angin in kids), as well as curing beverages and jamu (herbal drinks sold by street hawkers):

In addition to the drugstore remedies, there are folk remedies for masuk angin.  One of the main folk remedies for masuk angin is an oiled (well, lubricated with an ointment such as Tiger Balm) coin massage called kerokan, which is popular in many Asian cultures.  I don't have photos of kerokan, but I have seen it several times here in Jakarta, usually just on the side of the street outside of a warung during some downtime... one guy with his shirt lifted so the other can drag the coin across his back repeatedly.  Here's a video of the coin massage in action, and some photos of the resulting red marks that appear on the massage recipient's back.  Apparently you know the kerokan is working to expel the wind from your body when you start burping and farting during the process, so you'd better be on good terms with your masseuse.

Researching this ailment has led me down a rabbit hole of wind or air related worries across the world, including a worry similar to masuk angin (although much more extreme), that plagues many Koreans: fan death. Fan death is said to occur when a fan is left on at night in an enclosed space, killing all of those sleeping in the room.  Apparently the fear of fan death is so great that all electric fans sold in Korea feature an automatic shut-off after a certain number of minutes.  Tim tells me that when he was in Armenia, he was regularly chastised for opening a bus window, no matter how hot or stifling the bus interior, because of concern over something similar to masuk angin.

Other ailments in Indonesia that also intrigue me include panas dalam ("hot inside"), which is surprisingly not equivalent to a fever, and tidak enak badan, (unwell body) which is a catch-all ailment equivalent to "not feeling good."


  1. Apa kabar! This post is kind of amazing. And probably the best research I've read in a while on what ailments to watch out for in SEA. I was scared of a case of the upset tummy but now I have to be leery of masuk angin, fan death, being hot inside and having an unwell body. yikes!

    1. I know, right? Watch out, as there are no vaccines for these ailments!


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