Sitnews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska


Travel Log

#2: The Art of Chinese Massage
by Joann Flora,
Acupressure, Nutrition Counseling, Qigong


October 16, 2003
Thursday - 12:45 am

When we go for massage in the west, we have certain expectations: flannel sheets, aromatic oils, hot stones, aroma therapy, soft music, cushions and bolsters, low lighting. We have come to consider these things an integral part of the massage experience. Not so in China. I have had a massage of some type, reflexology or full body, nearly every day I have been in this country, and it is not at all akin to its western counterpart.

To begin with, there are no oils; at least not in any of the massages I have had. There are also no soft flannel sheets, only towels. The soft, relaxing music is replaced with the television. There are no hot tubs, saunas, aromatherapy, or steam rooms. You can smoke

Photo by Dan Hart ©2003
if you wish as ash trays are provided. But don't think that this country (that has been doing massage longer than the US has been a country) is selling the client short. Just the opposite is true. Chinese massage is down and dirty. It is massage at its most fundamental and comes with amenities that westerners would be lucky to find at high priced spas.

When I approach the massage spa in Zhong Shan, the hostess at the door alerts the desk clerk that I am coming. She in turn contacts a service person who prepares my tea and slices my apple. I am greeted by the hostess and desk clerk. Since we can't speak the same language, I am shown a card of the therapists I have used; they all have a number. I pick one and am escorted to a room on the third floor. On each level, two service people greet me at the top of the stairs, welcoming me back. I am the caucasian who comes every day, after all. In my treatment room, the air conditioning and TV are on (I mute the tube as soon as my escort leaves the room). My tea and apple are delivered on a tray. I can also have milk, coffee, water, or something that looks like dark brown Jell-O, all free of charge. I stick with the tea and apple. Next comes the therapist.

If reflexology is the order of the day, I am in a room with an oversized, reclining chair. I sit on a cushioned bench while my feet soak in a hot alder water preparation. While I soak, my head, neck, shoulders, back, & arms are massaged. I am tapped, stroked, cupped, pummeled, squeezed, twisted, and pressed. I am pulled, shaken, and taken through my range of motion. Acupoints are pressed. But I'm here for my feet, right? Right. But there are certain preliminaries that must take place first. The Chinese wouldn't think of leaving me to soak alone with the TV. When my upper body massage is concluded, my feet are adequately soaked. I stand, turn 180 degrees and recline back in the big chair. I feel a bit like Lilly Tomlin's "Edith Ann" in daddy's chair. The therapist scrubs my feet, even between my toes, lifts them out onto the towel covered bench, and wraps each one individually in a towel. My reflexology begins.

One at a time, my feet and lower legs are massage with a salve, similar in smell to menthol but without the hot/cold effect. Like my upper body, I am stroked in a wide variety of ways, some long and smooth, some hard and percussive, some across the grain of the tissue. My feet and legs are pulled, wiggled, rotated, and stretched. My toes are pulled, cracked, and popped. My tendons and ligaments are pressed. Each joint is moved through its entire range of motion. Each of the acupoints of the feet are pressed. The conclusion is a very vigorus rubbing first directly on the skin and then with the towel. Each foot and leg is wrapped with a hot towel such as barbers use for shaves. I am told to "take a rest", which I do as I finish my tea and apple.

On the days a full body massage is in order, I am installed in another room containing a no-frills table with bars over head. There is a cut out for face down work and a lone towel covers the surface. I wrap myself in the towel provided, sip my tea and have a bite of apple till the therapist arrives, which is very quickly. I lie down face up. The therpist begins by pressing down on me along the length of my body, from shoulders to feet. She presses my right shoulder and left hip stretching me along the bias, then changes orientation. She presses both hips, both shoulders, and repeats this process several times. The face and head receive attention first, with soft, but firm strokes around the bony structures of the face, and pressure along the points of the head. I'm all flattended out and relaxed. If she stopped there, I'd be good for the night. But, we're just getting started. As you'd expect, I am massaged neck, shoulders, arms, abdomen, fronts of legs and feet. Again, no oil is used, just skin to skin or skin through towel. All the strokes are the same as in reflexology except for the abdomen which receives long, curving, rocking motions. I indicate areas where I want exrtra attention and get it.

When I turn over, the fun begins. Again I am pressed for several minutes in all directions. Following some neck and shoulder work, I feel the massage therpist climb onto the table. My gosh, she's sitting on me! Using me as a perch, she uses leverage and her body weight to work my back and gluts. She kneels on me and uses her feet and knees in heavily muscled areas. Standing on the table, she digs her toes and heels into my tissues, vibrates me with her feet, and then she grabs the overhead bars. The therapist walks all over my back and legs, vibrates me, and slides down my hips and low back. Using her body weight, she stretches me shoulder to opposite hip. I feel like a dance floor, except better.

For the finale, she twists me into positions that seem somewhat unnatural and stretches each of my major joints. I am pinned to the table by her foot in my low back while she lifts my legs up over my head, then pulls my torso over my rump. I receive a few smooth, soothing strokes, and am told, "OK". I guess it's over.

I'm glad I took the one hour treatment and not the optional two hours. My clothes and shoes are brought to the table. I sit up and tip her $5 Yuan (62.5 cents US); she is very pleased with that. Downstairs, I smile and the receptionist smiles back. I'm sure I look dazed. I pay $45 Yuan for my hour of bliss ($5.62 US). Leaving, I'm already looking forward to tomorrow



E-Mail Joann Flora
 E-mail Joann Flora


©Compliments To Your Health
Joann Flora 2003


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