Posted by: Lotus Light | April 13, 2011

Massages, massages and more massages!

One of the real joys of living in China is the cheapness of massages.  Back home I was lucky if I could afford a massage a couple of times a year.  Here – for between 10Y and 180Y, every couple of weeks I can indulge myself.

BUT… if you are thinking soothing massages, forget it!  Chinese massages are based on a concept of beating you up.  It is possible to ask the masseur to be gentler, but I feel that is wimping out.  It becomes a contest between me and the masseur – can I handle the massage without whimpering?  So far I have managed to win this game.

If you are lucky, you can find a masseur to come to your house on a regular basis, and this is worth every yuan.  Once the massage is over, all you need to do is roll to bed – no having to find your shoes, catch a cab or walk home.  But if this isn’t easy, there are massage places everywhere, and most of them will give you very professional service.

All massage establishments (that sounds more respectable than ‘parlour’!) have adjustable chairs to provide seated or lying massages.  The rooms can accommodate one to 10 people and usually have a TV.  The TV does not have a peaceful station option, so we frequently don’t turn it on.  This is a massage, right?  We are supposed to relax, not cheer the Lakers.  A beautiful girl brings in different teas and nibblies so we do not starve during the massage.  Massages in a  group are often mixed gender so keeping your clothes on is normal, although sometimes if you are wearing tight jeans or clothes not easy to massage through, you will be offered a pair of short pyjamas – very fashionable indeed.  🙂

I usually ask for a fella to give me my massage, and most of my male friends will ask for a girl – but we all expect the same level of strength to be applied.  And if you think the girls can’t pound those concrete neck muscles of yours – you haven’t had a proper Chinese masseuse attack you!

One of my favourite massages is the one we call ‘fish nibbling’.  The real name is ‘Nuan Shui Ge’ and it is situated just off the South East 2nd Ring Rd in Xiang Yan Lu. When you order ‘fish nibbling’ a large wooden bucket of luke-warm water, filled with tiny fish, is brought to your room and you very carefully place your feet in the water, hoping not to squash a fish.  The fish begin nibbling the old skin from your feet.  They are too little to bite hard.  After a while it feels a bit like the tingling from pins and needles. I have surprised friends with this and even 6’3” tall, tough men giggle like school girls!

After 20 minutes the fish are full, and are replaced with boiling water – not exactly boiling, but certainly on the hot side!  While my feet are being nibbled or par-boiled, the masseur is attacking my head, neck, shoulders and arms.  The techniques have technical names, but in general, are different forms of banging, beating and kneading.  My favourite technique is when the masseur rubs his hands together to make the palms hot and places them over my eyes and presses.  That is heaven, but never lasts long enough and he is back to pushing on pressure points, making horses gallop across my head with his palms or digging deep into my muscles.

My feet come out of the water and the masseur swaps ends and begins digging into the soles, pulling toes and hammering on the balls of my feet.  He twists my ankles every which way and then works his way up my legs, grabbing muscles and, if I haven’t shaved my legs, pulling hairs!  Another operative will use a Stanley knife to slice off callouses and cut toenails.  This looks scary, but, touch wood, I haven’t had one nick!

After my legs, the masseur does a stomach massage, poking fingers deep into pressure points and pressing heavily.  Eating before a massage in NOT recommended!!  Then we turn over and the back massage begins.  One of the techniques here is the ‘crab crawl’ where the masseur grabs a handful of flesh and pulls, releases and grabs the next bit.    After this is back beating.  At my second favourite massage place, Hanten in Guang Hua Lu, the masseur stands on your back and dances, digging toes into muscles, sliding his feet up and down your spine.  At ‘Fish nibbling’ they kneel on your back and dig knees into you, squeezing tightly.

De-oxygenation

Sometimes you can ask for the ‘hot cups’ or ba huo gua.  This treatment is designed to pull the toxins from your body under suction.  Glass cups (or as above – any receptacle!) are poised above your body, a burning poker thrust inside them to burn all of the oxygen and they are quickly smacked onto your body, creating the suction.  After around 15 minutes, they are released and you are left with elegant looking red-black giraffe spots all over your back or wherever the cups were placed.  Strangely enough, if you are healthy and with few toxins, the red spots disappear rapidly.  But – any problems, and that area of your body will looked bruised for days.

Another technique is ‘gua sha’ – much more painful, but with pretty much the same aim.  With gua sha, the skin is scraped (NOT gently!) with a piece of sharpened bone or wood.  Firstly all over your back, and then deeply around each muscle.  The colours of the sunset last for at least a couple of weeks on your back!!

Giraffe skin!

Once my back has been thoroughly pounded, the masseur disappears and you can flop into the chair for as long as you wish.  Why do allow ourselves to be beaten like this?  We even PAY for it!  I hang out for it and find any excuse to go for a massage.  Are you coming to visit soon?  “Let’s go to a massage”, I’ll say – quick as a flash!

WHY?  Because once the two hours is over, every muscle in my body is jelly and incredibly relaxed.  Thinking about leaving is too much. Sometimes I have just been too relaxed to walk 600 meters home and caught a cab.   Massages are sheer heaven!

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