Sunday, February 10, 2008

Tui-Na Goodness

Tui-Na, for those of you who are uninitiated, is a Chinese form of massage that helps tight muscles to loosen and tense people to relax. It's very popular for people to have done regularly and there are places that offer it on almost every block, some fancy and some not. Between spending time in the office and exploring Beijing last week, and there being a week-long holiday for which most people leave the city to go to their home cities and spend time with their families, I had not been able to have a massage until last night.

The building where I am living right now is part of a high-rise complex of five buildings with a courtyard garden in the center. There are two buildings that face the street and they have businesses on the ground floor - real estate agents, a restaurant, a dry cleaner, and a day spa called Chlitina. I'd walked past the spa earlier in the week and seen the pictures of a woman having a facial. Unfortunately it was closed for Spring Festival until last night. On my way home I took the path by the building and saw with glee that it was open. The comfortable sofas and light interior (albeit all coated in shades of pink) beckoned. First I went home to drop off my grocery bags and change out of my work clothes, then I went back and walked in to what I'd been waiting for all week.

The first thing that I had to do was explain what I wanted. This involved my saying 'tui-na' several times, with different tones. When I've seen it written there were never any tonal marks so I didn't know which of the four tones to use for each syllable. After several attempts the women who worked there all smiled "Tui-Na, yes, yes" and I relaxed knowing that the most stressful part of the evening was over.

The next order of business was for me to take off my shoes and put on slippers to walk upstairs to the massage room. My feet are a European size 41 and the first three pairs of slippers the attendants brought out didn't reach my heals. Finally they found a pair pair of leopard print slippers with a Hello Kitty logo embroidered on them that almost fit me.

The massage room upstairs was well heated and had two massage tables draped in sheets and soft towels. It was nice to feel perfectly warm for once, a rarity in the cold Beijing winter. After we walked into the room the massage therapist, Wei-Wei, made motioned for me to disrobe. Usually when I'm getting a massage the massage therapist will leave the room while I do this. Not here. After each item of clothing came off she nodded for me to continue. When I was down to my underpants she brought out a package of gauze paper panties for me to wear. My first thought was "What the...?" but they soon made sense.

After I lay down on my stomach on the table she covered me in towels and then began. She started by warming oil and spreading it over my back. As she kneaded and pulled my sore muscles the tensions of the last week started to drop away. It was good. As she moved on to my legs and my arms she used more oil - my wind and cold battered skin greedily absorbed it all. Any fabric touching me got oil on it (hence the paper panties) but most of it went right into my skin. After making all of the muscles in the back of my body relax Wei-Wei told me to turn over so that she could begin on my front - arms, legs, belly. The loud explosions of firecrackers right outside the building became distant as I relaxed completely.

By the time the one hour session was done I could barely move. Wei-Wei brought me warm tea while I contemplated getting dressed and walking across the courtyard back to my building. It would be bared 100 steps, I decided I could do that. Before venturing back out into the cold I sat in the reception area and drank some more tea while chatting with Wei-Wei. It turns out she spoke more English than she'd let on at first. She's from Harbin, a city about 30 hours away, and moved here last year. Now she lives about half an hour away from here by taxi but only goes home once each week - for her one day off. While at Chlitana she stays close by when not working (10:00-22:00 are the business hours). It's a very different life than any I could imagine. She didn't get to study much English in school so she studies on her own, with books and movies, knowing it can help her have a better life.

This is perhaps the best 99RMB I've spent so far. It is going to be part of my weekly routine.

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