I meant to get a post up here earlier in the week, but I’ve been busy. You know, I’ve been tutoring Chinese kids, helping them improve their yingwen skills. And who else was going to rescue those three mangy, yet adorable bastard puppies dumped, along with a sizable ball of dumpling dough, in the parking lot of LeadA, our local grocery store. (Helpful hint: if you ever find yourself in a taxi in Feng Cheng, don’t asked to be taken to the store’s given name, as in “wo yao qu Leader.” The driver will look at you like the laowai you are. Instead, against all pronunciation logic, tell him “wo yao qu LeadA.” The more obnoxiously you emphasis the “a” at the end, the more likely your chances of getting to the store.)
I sound like a saint. I am not. Those of you who know me aren’t buying this for a second. For starters, tutoring kids would not be my ideal volunteer act, whether in the USofA or in China. I might do it one day — I should do it one day — but that day hasn’t come to pass. The puppy-rescuer story is somewhat true. I helped to rescue the puppies, but only because I didn’t want to look like a mean anti-animal monster in the eyes of my new next door neighbors who really wanted to save those puppies from the dog-eating populace of Shandong Province. I suppressed my fears of wild animal to human disease transmission (fleas, mites, ringworm, rabies, and whatever else) and donated my reusable cloth grocery bag to the cause, which is how we brought them back to the expert village. You will all be happy to know that the puppies have now found homes within the expert village and that no humans were harmed in the adopting of the once abandoned puppies.
What I’ve really been up to is something far less benevolent. Bless me father for I have…indulged? I’ve been dipping my toes further into the enticing waters of Chinese massage. My first introduction to this popular pastime was unfortunately underwhelming. It seemed to me to be more of a torturous affair with women inflicting blunt force trauma onto my bony body with their tiny, delicate hands. But the good expat ladies of Haiyang have taken me under their wings and have recently revealed to me one of only a handful of advantages of living in rural China: affordable, decent and, in some cases, exceptionally sensual massage.
My initial perception of Chinese massage began to evolve when I went to Feng Cheng’s blind albino masseuse where I got a thorough, dirt cheap half hour massage. If anyone knows of a place back in Pittsburgh where I can get a $6.54 thirty minute massage, email me! NOW! Of course, such a reasonable price requires some imagination on behalf of any paying laowai customer who finds his or herself lying on the skilled blind woman’s table. The gray concrete peeking out from underneath the thin, uneven layer of white plaster covering the one-room massage shop walls is quite easy to overlook. After all, this is exactly how the walls look in your apartment, laowai! Home sweet home. Oh yeah, and don’t you agree that privacy is over-rated? Who needs a private little room to tuck away into with dim lighting and a warm color palette? Like that really soothes anyone other than infants. Forget about the muddy footprints caked on the tile floor and the strands of black hair strewn about those same tiles and maybe also on the sheets covering the massage table. And so what that the masseuse’s young son might be there, sporting his slit pants, letting it all hang out, and peeing when nature calls on the floor that you just walked over to get to that table? The kid’s granddad (thankfully not wearing slit pants) is there to wipe it up and let the kid keep playing in the semi-cleaned pee spot.
Pretend those flies buzz buzz buzzing in and out of the shop’s open doors and landing on your increasingly relaxed limbs are just the masseuse’s expert fingertips tickling you…tee hee! That rap, rrraaapp, RAP! you hear against the wall from the neighboring restaurant? It’s a gentle reminder to remain present so you can fully revel in the benefits of the almost chiropractic massage. That potential customer who struts through the open doors — lit cigarette hanging in the corner of his mouth, a curly cue of smoke artfully wafting from it — and engages your masseuse in casual convo as her hands are still expertly working on you? Clearly he and his cigarette are superior to that pleasantly perfumey jasmine-eucalyptus incense that normally spices up your massage back in Meiguo. Consider the crescendo of the screeching cicadas (or are they locusts?) and the blaring of the car horns outside as equal replacement for the groovy tantric tunes that those unimaginable people at Massage Envy pipe out through their speakers. Obviously, a massage from the blind masseuse is worth every jiao.
My recent massage binge was initially kicked off not by a visit to the blind masseuse, but by a ladies outing to one of Haiyang’s foot massage parlors. At 78RMB ($13) per hour, I have to say that the price is again pretty damn good. The massage here is middle of the road in comparison to the blind masseuse, but the place sure makes you feel like you are in slightly cleaner hands. It’s odd that you never know the name of your masseuse at this place, but at least you know their number (perhaps a carry over from the amazingly awful Mao era?). I got the guy who wore the number 15 yellow smiley face pin both times. His nails were his instrument of choice — ahem, only available instrument — for scraping off the dry scales flaking off my heels. Ew. He didn’t seem to mind, so as he and the other workers worked, I and the other ladies relaxed on the cushy tan lounge sofas that lined the nicely decorated room. We chatted and giggled over the American Idol like Chinese talent show playing on the room’s sole big box TV. All in all, it was an enjoyable one hour, minus the few minutes I spent in sheer fear anticipating my first “cupping” experience. Hey, I am no Gwyneth Paltrow, so the idea of tossing flammable liquid inside a small glass jar, lighting it, then rubbing and sticking it onto the soles of my only two feet should be understandably nerve-wracking. But I liked it. The sensation was mildly uncomfortable — imagine lots of pressure packed with some heat — but not so much as the massage I had a couple of days ago.
One of the ladies who participated in the foot massage offered to take me for a facial at yet another massage place upon hearing that I had only had one before. Though my comment wasn’t a cry for help — I’ll take a massage any day of the week, but could really care less about having thirty-five different types of cream and oils (most probably full of good-for-you parabens and the like) slathered on my usually blemish-free, thoroughly freckled skin — who was I to say no to trying out a Chinese facial? So, the day after our foot massage, we headed to Chilitina (another badly spelled Chinese name considering it’s pronounced “Christina”), a chain found in many parts of China. I got the first timers rate of 98RMB ($16) and spent the next TWO hours in a legit massage place. It was extra clean. It was a women’s only establishment that included a little locker room complete with a compact sauna, walk-in shower, and counter full of free make-up. I was given a pink terry cloth towel-dress and maroon slippers. There were clean floral sheets tucked over the massage tables and fresh-looking blankets on top. There was plush carpet, dim lighting, symphonic music barely audible over the library-silence filled rooms. I barely heard the masseuse when she spoke to me (not that it mattered since I didn’t know what she was saying other than “hao de?” meaning “okay?”).
A small portion of the two hours included a partial body massage — a pleasant surprise even if I was a bit bewildered by my ninety pound masseuse hopping onto the back of my legs to sit as she massaged my back. I liked it so much I jumped at the chance to go back a few days later to get the TWO hour body massage. I didn’t even ask how much it would cost since, let’s face it, where else in the world can I get such cheap massages? Turns out I only had to shell out 250 Maos ($41). That’s like one-third the cost of an hour massage back home. Ah, rural China, thank you for this one small gift that can briefly help me overlook your moldy housing, picked-too-soon fruit, smelly hutai, and constant loogie-hawking.
When I made my appointment for the massage, I didn’t know a couple of other things. Like how was I to know that in order to get the two-hour massage I first had to take a shower? No biggie, obviously. It’s just that I wasn’t expecting to have my masseuse stand outside the see-through glass shower door as I rinsed off or have her watch me dry off. Sure I appreciated the bright white, soft robe she helped me slip into afterwards, but um, I could’ve done that myself. And I didn’t know that I’d experience another form of cupping in this massage. No glass jars full of lighted flammables were involved and my feet went uncupped. I can’t say the same for my chest. Okay, I’ll just say it: I experienced my first boob massage. TMI? Probably. But, hey, I’m trying to accurately portray what my Chinese adventures entail. Now, the expat lady who took me to Chilitina did warn me about this part (after I made my appointment). I initially thought I wouldn’t have any part of this, but I ultimately decided that when in Haiyang…you know. So, yeah, it was a little weird, though not much different from the two minutes we ladies spend getting “cupped” by our lucky gynecologists each year. It was like a second but free breast cancer screening. Thanks, masseuse lady, for looking out for me! The highlight of this massage was the stomach treatment. Have any of you ever had your stomach massaged? Me neither. I don’t recall this as an option back home. It should be. It felt awesome — even when the lady dug her bony fingers underneath my ribs and sternum and poked around. We have a whole muscular section of the body being over looked back in the West! Someone correct this, please. And, you’re welcome, dear masseuse, for giving you a way to set yourself apart from the other non-informed masseuses of the West.
As you can see, it’s been a busy time in the life of this Haiyangese housewife. But rest assured I know that this indulgence can’t go on at its current pace. I mean, it easily could, but I don’t want to set myself up for disappointment, knowing that so many massages in such a short time span is unsustainable back in the land of the free and home of the brave. I guess China does have its perks. Keep that in mind all you potential visitors to Haiyang…I know there are some of you out there. Please be out there…Beijing may have the Great Wall, but I guarantee you the massages cost much more there.