Sunday, April 11, 2010

I’m Constipated. Can You Rub My Feet?

Posted by She Said

My friend Lilian wasn’t too sure about her experience with our massage last week, so this time she scheduled a foot massage for us. To be honest, I had never heard of a massage specifically for the feet. Remember, I can count on two hands the number of massages I have ever had. I am totally trying to double that number while I am here. Hell, I’m hoping to triple it!

Anyway, we headed back to the same spa we went to the first time. I was more amazed this time than the last with the sheer number of employees just waiting for patrons to enter. First, there were four or five employees standing outside of the building, and they greeted us as we entered the high-rise. About 50 feet into the building at the top of the stairs that led down to the spa itself, and I kid you not, there were roughly ten people lined up, all in suits and all wearing headsets to communicate with other staff members.

The first staffer in this line smiled and greeted us, or at least I assumed what she said was a greeting. She led us downstairs where several others greeted us. In unison. After using the very clean W.C. (yay!), we were led down a staff-lined hallway to our room. Seriously, about every five feet there was a staff person on both sides of the hallway. And as far as I could see, Lilian and I were the ONLY PATRONS.

The spacious room was set up with two large reclining chairs, each with an ottoman, and a small table in between them. On top of the table was a book of music CDs, none of which I recognized, and a remote control for the large screen TV hanging from the wall. After changing into our hospital-style attire, Lilian and I plopped into our comfy pillow-lined chairs. She channel-surfed until she found the only English speaking channel. Just my luck, it was a basketball game. After telling Lilian I was not a sports person, she threw me a quick “really?” look and then switched it to some Chinese soap opera she heard good things about. I know, I don’t like shopping for over-priced clothing in malls, I’d rather bargain for my goods, and I don’t like sports. Yup. I’m working to break all American stereotypes, one Chinese friend at a time.

Two very young men came in, each carrying a very large wooden bucket of steamy red-colored watery liquid. We were instructed to put our feet into it. O.M.G., was it freaking hot! Centimeter by centimeter I slowly got my feet into the molten lava. The bottom of the bucket had large smooth bumps in it, meant to massage I figured. The two men left, only to come back several minutes later with clean towels in hand.

One young man sat in front of each of us and began swishing the lava around our calves. The young man assigned to me had a contagious smile and a sweet face. So much so, I was almost embarrassed to watch him watch me react to what he was doing. After all, we crackers can’t exactly hide our blushing easily. I’m not a cougar, so don’t get me wrong when I say this. He was cute! In a “you are so adorable” kind of way.

After “my guy” said something to Lilian in Chinese, I asked her what he said, and then instantly regretted it. He told her my skin was very soft. As the heat filled my face, I joked that it was because I shaved that morning. Yeah, it didn’t feel very funny then either.

After removing my feet and gently drying them, one at a time, “my guy” moved the ottoman under my legs, and the hour and a half massage began. The massage was intense and painful at times. It is believed here that a person’s diseases and problems can be fixed through their feet. Where the massages I’ve had in the States were meant to relax and comfort, the two I have had here have meant to heal. In my opinion, Western medicine kind of does a similar thing. It often takes a bandaid approach to healing. You know, it can make you feel better, but it doesn’t always aim to get to the root of the problem. Eastern medicine, such as acupuncture or acupressure, aims to figure out WHY you have the problem and then fix it.

I can honestly say I am a believer in both approaches to healing. I am more of a believer in Eastern approaches after my foot massage. He hit one spot on my foot that almost had me crying. Yeah, it hurt that badly. He relayed through Lilian that I have trouble with sleep. Uh, that is calling the kettle black. After I told them that I have to get help with sleep each night with a pill, he said that two massages a week and I’d be sleeping without the pills.

And no joke, I was intensely groggy during the rest of the massage.

After moving to another area of my foot, he once again said something to Lilian, and she relayed to me that I was having trouble here, and she pointed to her stomach. Um, that would be the second nail hit on the head. Since I’ve been here, it is safe to say that I… uh… haven’t been… regular. Oh, what the hell. Going poop here is hard for me. I have the opposite effect as most would probably think.

After nodding in agreement, he continued with his incredibly strong hands to the next area of my foot.

And no joke, I started to get gassy. And suffice it to say, I was summoning all my strength in the powers of the kegel exercises I did when pregnant to get through the rest of the massage without killing everyone in the room.

And it is that uber clenching that I blame for my spilling my tea. It was a lovely chrysanthemum tea. Yet another employee came in three or four times to make sure our cup was never empty.

The two men and Lilian did a lot of talking throughout the massage. Occasionally I would ask what they were talking about, and I’m glad I did. I learned quite a bit about the men who were so talented in the art of massage. I learned they make 20 RMB for an hour and a half massage. Translated to the American dollar, that is about $3. Just to give you a feel for how much that is to them, I spend 3 RMB on a diet coke here. I was shocked to learn they earned so little. I don’t what I had expected when I was only paying 68 RMB for the massage. But still. It felt wrong.

I asked if they could receive tips. Lilian asked, and they adamantly said they could not. It was a regulation of “the company” not to accept tips.

I asked how many massages they did in a day to which I was told it varied but it could be as many as seven in a day.

SEVEN. That’s 10 1/2 hours of labor intensive work IN ONE DAY for 140 RMB, or $21.

When asked how many days a week they worked, we were told they had a six hour block of time for themselves each week.

My only comfort was hearing that they lived at the establishment and their room and food was paid for by “the company.”

After this detailed and meticulous exploration of my feet, which took about an hour and fifteen minutes, the men moved to a massage of the legs. It was soothing to my soul and felt damn good.

After a final and memorable grin from “my guy”, the two men left the room. And I thought we were done, but what the hell do I know? Lilian then informed me that we were going to get a 10 minute back massage. Seriously? Oh, hell ya.

Two different men walked in, laid the chairs back into a reclining position, and instructed us to lay on our stomachs. And that’s when my 10 minute yoga-physical therapy-acupressure-chiropractor session began. I give those Chinese guys credit, they are doing their damndest to make sure my back is straight, my ribs are in place, my hip isn’t tilted anymore, my sleep is restful, and my pooping is regular. All at a no joking price.


  1. *yawnnnnn* This sounds sooooo good to me. Go you, for taking in all of the experiences that you can - the worst thing would be to leave Beijing and think - I wish we'd done that or this or the other -

  2. You have me in stitches. I'm glad you're feeling better with your uh stomach. Did you sleep well?

  3. Is this like the people who claim you can treat a child's cough by putting Vicks Rub on the soles of their feet?

    You would think those guys would AVOID the fart spot on the feet.

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