August 5, 2017 by readlisaread
The other night walking through the neighbourhood near our hotel, we were sharing information and needed a short-hand way to describe landmarks. I don’t know how the locals refer to places such as Dead Chicken Alley or Testicle Corner, or even China Vegas, but it works for us. During the stroll, I reacted to a….distinct aroma. One of my mates said “Oh yeah, you can count on at least one of your senses being assaulted at any given time.”
That’s exactly how today was. Every activity affected a different sense. A delicious spicy cucumber salad at a Hilal restaurant. A gentle breeze in a meditation garden. The hysterical giggling of a gaggle of Opera performers. The hot stone outside the temple of the Nanyue King. The refreshing cold shower on my return to my room at the end of this sensate day, including the odd feeling of the cool water getting warmed by my scalp and hair before it hit my shoulders.
But none of this compares to the strange adventure I had on floor number five of our hotel, call The Spa. When we checked in, I noticed that the hotel advertised a spa, excitedly planned to visit it on my first opportunity. In retrospect, I should have asked one of our handlers for a little help with this venture. I mistakenly thought “go to spa” is the same idea, whether in China or North America or anywhere else. How naïve of me to forget that things are always different in China.
So up to the fifth floor my friend and I went, And while she shall remain nameless, and is therefore incognito, I am relieved to have had this experience with a witness who can corroborate. We exit the elevator and come in to the spa. Very noticeable here was something that is different then my experience in Beijing last year, where occasionally there is some English in signage and explanatory pictures,etc. In Guangzhou there is very minimal printed or spoken English. The spa had no English anywhere, nor photos. More and more I do notice clerks and shopkeepers using translation apps on their phones, though, and indeed one of the counter girls whipped out a cell phone and attempted to translate. My friend and I paid for a massage each and then were escorted into the back to get changed and Prepare for the Experience.
In the back the attendant provided us with lockers, showed us the shower, and gave us the best peculiar little outfits to wear. After we were suitably attired, we went out to the relaxation area to await our treatments. There we were offered a beverage and presumably could have watched a little TV attached to our massage chairs. This waiting room was a vast area.There must have been 50 of these reclining massage chairs with attached tvs and beverage service provided by young men in crisp white shirts and suit pants. In fact every part of the spa was vast, except in the numbers of clientele it was built to accommodate. We two represented 95% of the custom in the spa at that time.
After enjoying a few sips of instant coffee we were escorted up to our treatment rooms by another staff member. At this point, on a Saturday evening, we have seen a total of 6 staff members and only one other patron, and discovered that while you enter the spa on the 5th floor, and there appears to be only spa-related services there, it also takes the entire 6th floor as well, which is where we followed another staff member to. And….
This is where today’s tale takes a little bit of a turn. I’m not a frequent massage goer, but I have experienced a goodly number of them over the years, and find it an enjoyable service to receive. It never occurred to me until we were following a spa attendant through a maze of tiny, dimly lit little rooms that perhaps I had made an error in judgment. The spa attendant introduced me to my masseuse and left us in the dark little cubicle to get on with it. My masseuse had a very limited English, no cell phone translation application, and was wearing a tube dress and high heels. This was alarming.
In north america, a massage usually happens on an elevated table where the provider can access from all sides. In China, once you enter your dark, tiny cubicle, you lay on a mattress on the floor and the masseuse takes off her 3″ heels and sits on the mattress beside you. After some gesturing and the exchange of the few English words she had (“I’m from Canada!”), the experience commenced.
Like a number of things in China, this massage treatment almost seemed more like a punishment at times. Starting with the strange little outfit, the entire experience was uncomfortable and odd.
Arms: pinching, pulling and pounding.
Shoulders: pushing and pounding.
Legs: nip-pinching, full arm pressing, punch-pounding
Back: (the roll-over achieved by gesture, and something that sounded like : shimmy-jimmy) Well here is where it takes another turn, besides the literal one. I found the pressure of her forearms on my shins and thighs almost unbearable. Less painful but shockingly more surprising was when she hopped up on my back to use her knees, legs and feet to add even more pressure. “Is ok?” she asked at one point. What am I going to say?
This entire process was done without any of the oils or lotions one expects with a Swedish or Ayurvedic massage. Her hands were very strong, but I could feel the calluses on her fingers– especially with any of the pinching. The last element of the treatment (at least, it was the last for us) was the placement of hot stones, followed by a somewhat gentler oil massage on just my back. If you don’t mind, gentle reader, I’d prefer not to share exactly how we managed to communicate that the shirt needed to come off for that part of the program. As much as it was ill-fitting and uncomfortable, I really didn’t want to remove it at first. However, it was a good finish to the whole procedure. Er. Yeah, I think I won’t edit this section any further.
So, in case you thought the weirdness ended there, guess what, China had a surprise! Our two cubicles were side by side, so when I was back in my little spa-suit, my masseuse indicated my sandals, gave me my locker-key back, and walked me out into the hall, stopping at the door of my friend’s
torture chamber treatment space and said “Your friend is here”. And she left. My friend was still cocooned in a towel and looking far more relaxed than I felt. “OKAY LET’S GO” I said, not in a spa-voice. She had not had any indication from her provider that the ordeal was over, but she took my word for it that we were done, and hopped up. We retraced our steps through the warren of cubicles, past posters with cartoon graphics of Police Officers (I don’t know why) and finally back to the stairs to where we started. We would have made a clean get-away, too, had it not been for my friend realizing she had not received her locker key. So… back through the maze, around dark corners in the dimly lit silence until we found her cubicle and pawed around in the dark until we found her locker key. Just as we were about to make our jubilant escape, our providers returned. Back in high heels, and in different dresses. I don’t know what to tell you, dear reader, I really don’t. I am at a loss for words. Some gesticulating and gesturing commenced, my friend said “Oh, is there more?” I said “Oh, I’m done”, and so we bowed and “shay-shayed” (our fractured Chinese for Thank you!), and with great relief (and alacrity) found ourselves back in the relaxation/waiting area, where our crisp-white-shirted attendant offered us more (instant) coffee and a seat, but again we shay-shayed and made tracks.
Later, we would head past Dead Chicken alley and to a brightly lit restaurant not too far from China Vegas where we would share some duck, gai lin, and a well deserved beer.
There are no pictures to follow….
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