What colour is the wind?
“Ouch!” Kimsoeun my husband laughs at my cry of pain. He is the one who is sick, so why am I screaming? And why is he laughing?
He has had a headache for a few days, but that’s not the pain that makes me say “Ouch”.
To treat his headache he has asked me to “ gos khjol” his back. So I’m scraping a small round metal lid up and down his back until his skin turns red, using a menthol rub as a lubricant.
When his mum does it he ends up with two red lines down either side of his spine, and smaller rib-looking lines going outward from these main two lines. I’m trying to do the same, but I only manage a few small, faint lines here and there. He wanted me to scrape harder but I felt like I was hurting him.
Sometimes “ gos khjol” is translated as “coining” because you can use a coin to do it. Cambodia doesn’t have coins anymore, but Cambodians in Australia use coins and Vicks. It’s similar to the Chinese medicinal practice of “cupping”. Hot cups are placed on the skin until it turns red. Khmer people also use this method and call it “joop khjol”.
Once when a Cambodian husband in Australia “coined” his sick wife, he almost got in trouble because of it. The doctors who were eventually called thought he had been abusing her. After someone’s been “coined” it does looked like something violent happened to them. Red welts on the skin are surely a sign of something bad?
It seemed to be used as a general cure-all. Apparently it can help if you have a fever. “Coining and cupping reroutes the blood flow by opening up the arterials near the skin surface cooling the blood and in turn it can reduce fever.” (Dr Sheftall, American Medical Center, Phnom Penh Post, August 2007)
Sometimes when Kimsoeun has a headache he pinches his skin so hard it stays red for the rest of the day. He explained this is called “jup khjol” and a likened it to a massage. A pretty painful massage if you ask me!
Many Cambodians would feel that they can’t get better from their sickness if they are not “coined”.
The word “khjol” is also the word for wind. When I learnt this I understood why my neighbours kept asking me “What colour is the wind?” They would burst into fits of laughter and I would feel confused. The wind doesn’t have a colour, does it? But now I know the colour of “khjol” is red.