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October 14, 1997

The Blind Tui Na Massage

There are quite a few public places in Kunming where Chinese congregate. One is in front of the park devoted to the numerous ethnic nationalities that all share the province of Yunnan.

A couple of (likely Moslem) Tui Na massage therapistsTwo Tui Na massage therapists doing what they do, there in the park in Kunming.

In front of these locations, it isn't unusual to see massage therapists set up for a massage on a little stool. They wear white lab coats, most of them, and there's an air of authenticity about it all, unlike the other massage parlors that we've visited.

We decided, after our time in the hospital one afternoon, to visit these massage therapists. We gravitated toward the two blind ones. After a little discussion as to price, ("20 Yuan from head to toe") we got started. Incidentally, this twenty Yuan is just under three American dollars.

The massage began at the head. My massage therapist, as well as Linda's had obviously been trained in Tui Na since we recognized most of the strokes and the points on the body used with those strokes.

Unfortunately, with any massage in Asia, apparently, there is a price to pay. A couple of young men soon began to congregate around us trying to sell us stuff. I had my massage therapist stop so I could sit facing the opposite direction, where nobody could sit right in front of me and disturb my enjoying this massage.

The two young men with the wares to sell soon left, but following them were other people, all of whom apparently had never seen a foreigner get a massage, or something, because as usual, we were the center of attention.

It would have been a really great massage, but it is difficult to both relax your defenses, which is required when receiving a massage, and keep them up which is required when you have thirty Chinese people gawking at you from all sides.

There is no personal space in China, maybe in the bathroom, that's it. Or perhaps the Chinese have a developed their own personal space on the inside. They must have, nobody could live in such close proximity to so many other people and not have a little room inside of their hearts to return to from time to time.

As a personal mission, I've been working on just that. The fact that China has brought out an immediate need for me to create, furnish and move into this personal space is probably one of the more useful skills that I'll be able to develop during this time in China.

By the time the massage was over, Linda and I decided that it wasn't a good idea for both of us to open our wallets. There are a great many pickpockets in this area and we didn't want everyone knowing that we both had money and where we had it. I offered to pay for us both, but I only had a 50 Yuan note. Our two massages was only 40 Yuan. I told the blind man that I was giving him 50 and he thanked me very deeply. I guess he thought that I was giving him 50 instead of expecting 10 Yuan change.

I asked Linda if she was cool with paying 25 Yuan each instead of 20 Yuan, and she was. There was no way that we were going to dicker around with these two massage therapists for 5 Yuan in front of a growing crowd that were really beginning to cramp us. We got our things together and left.

It was a good massage, but as with every massage we've had so far in Asia, there's a price to pay.

It may have been silly for us to expect a little privacy while getting the massage at a public square, but it is still beyond us what it is that people are looking at. There are many massage therapists giving massages to others, but no one looks.

As I was leaving, I took a good hard look at everyone who'd stopped and gawked at us. They looked to me like the kind that would cross the street to look at an accident victim. Not the kind of person I readily respect.

These traveling Tui Na massage therapists also congregate in front of a large department store near our hospital on weekend evenings. We might try going there next time. Generally, at night, we look less like foreigners and we might be able to get a massage without being on stage at the same time.

The other option is to have someone charging money to watch us. Now that's a thought.

The Holiday Inn Massage Parlor

In the USA, Holiday Inn is a name as squeaky clean as Sears. It may not be the center of luxury, but its a reasonable place to stay if you need somewhere to spend the night.

The Holiday Inn in Kunming is, for us, a wonderful diversion. It has been cold and rainy, and after a day out and about on our bikes, we like to stop in to the Holiday Inn and sip some coffee in their quiet warm, dry dining room.

They have a massage service that operates out of the top floor of their hotel there. The space isn't actually a Holiday Inn business, but a concession rented out and owned by some other company. In fact, the hotel isn't really even a Holiday Inn, but they have given the ability to use the name, for some reason.

We knew that, going in for our sauna and massage, but that didn't deter us. For 200 Yuan, about 25 dollars, we could feel like kings for an afternoon, especially when we don't have access to really clean baths or showers, or an abundance of hot water. Let alone a professional massage offered by one whom we presume will have been trained in the finer points of Tui Na.

As soon as we arrived, Linda and I were separated at once. I was led into a locker room with a burning cigarette hanging out of an ashtray nearby on the floor. Two young men proceeded to assist me in getting undressed. I was wearing a lot of clothes because of the weather. Everything that I took off, they carefully hung up or folded and placed in one of two lockers reserved for me. I was given a robe and some flip flops and led into a bathroom that had about five showers and a few urinals. They gestured toward the showers, but I chose instead to make use of the urinal. It was right up against a full length window that looked down on the crowded streets of Kunming. I felt a little funny urinating within full view of a million or so pedestrians, but that feeling soon passed as the feeling of fullness in my bladder became more intense than my bashfulness.

I followed one of the attendants who remained in my constant proximity into a room with a big Jacuzzi. I was expecting a sauna, so I was a little confused by what I should be doing next. I put myself into the hands of my attendants. They gestured to the Jacuzzi, so I got in. The warm water was very welcome after the day I've spent navigating the muddy and wet streets of this Chinese town.

After a while, I got out, and was led toward the Sauna. I was handed a cold wet hand towel. I didn't know what do with it until the door to the sauna was opened and I was hit strait in the face with a furnace blast of heat for which I was wholly unprepared. I sat down in there for less than a minute. It wasn't especially comfortable for me, so I got out.

The young man in the Jacuzzi room then gestured to me to lie down on the massage table. He first rolled up a wet towel and scrubbed down my back with it in a manner that presumably removed a lot of dead skin. It was a good experience. There was no sexuality involved, but he didn't shy away from any particular part of my body, either. The crack of my butt has never felt cleaner.

He then gave me a percussive massage on my back and legs. Pretty good too, but that only lasted about fifteen minutes, and the sign at the front desk said that the massage would last 45 minutes. Again I was confused, but he gestured that I should get back into the Jacuzzi, and I did exactly that, enjoying it once again.

A few minutes later, I got out and my massage therapist and his partner brought me back into the room with all the showers. My massage therapist got into the shower and turned it on for me, fine tuning the temperature before I even got into it. He pointed to the soap and shampoo, and I looked forward to a nice shower. But then HE picked up the soap and sponge. I thought that this was going just a little bit far, but since they obviously were working hard for me, I thought that it wouldn't be good for me to object, especially because nobody spoke English here anyway. He gestured for me to turn around. And I did, and he began to scrub me down. I felt very silly. I hadn't had this done since my mother bathed me as a child. Again, there was nothing sexual going on, but I was generally uncomfortable with a man lathering me up and scrubbing me down.

As I turned around and saw myself in the mirror, I looked like a king who was so incredibly rich that he had servants to wipe his ass, which they gladly would do. I was disgusted with the thought of someone not seeing to the most basic of one's own grooming needs. I wasn't disgusted with myself, but the thought of someone living like this. Don't much care for it, but since I had put myself into their keeping, I just went along with it.

Once out of the shower, I wasn't surprised when they took some towels and dried me from head to toe. I was presented with some shaving creme, which I used with the razor that was there for my benefit. I was glad that they allowed me to shave my own face, even though I had allow them to wipe off my face when I was done.

At that point, I was presented with a piece of paper to fill out to tip them. I filled in 40 Yuan as a tip for them. That's about five dollars. I thought it strange that I should be at the tipping stage before I got my forty five minute massage, but I was pretty confused anyway, so it didn't matter to me.

They led me out into the waiting room and asked me if I wanted a massage. Apparently the fifteen minutes that I received in the sauna room was not the actually massage that I'd booked. I said "yes" and was led into a small room with two massage tables. I noticed that there were handles in the ceiling that resembled parallel bars. I thought about what they'd be good for. I assumed that the massage therapist would hold onto them as he or she walked on the back of the client. Seemed reasonable to me.

Then, in walked in the most sexy Chinese women that I've ever seen. The full length black silk dress, the breasts that would get her signed to her choice of major studios, the red lips, the slit up the leg. You know the type. She told me to lie on my stomach, and I was happy to do just that. She jumped onto me, basically sitting on my butt, while massaging my back. She didn't seem to have too much training in the massage, but I wasn't complaining.

Soon, after, however, she asked for a tip. A tip of 200 Yuan, which was the cost of the massage. That seemed a little excessive and since the massage had just begun, it seemed a little premature as well. At least in Thailand, they'd kind of done a little qualifying before offering me an upgrade. She hadn't. She told me to turn over, and I offered her a tip of 50 Yuan, presuming that she would indeed, finish the massage. But then she touched my genitals, then touched her own, and told me that the price for that is 800 Yuan. I told her "Bu Yong" which is my pigeon Chinese for "I don't do that."

Had she done a little more for me, my body might have over-ridden my heart, but at that point, though she was looking good, I didn't really have any desire to have sex with her, and I wasn't going to double the price just because she was so sexy. She left in a huff.

I sat in the room for a few minutes with my thoughts. I figured that they'd send in another girl who was actually there to do a massage. I figured that this must happen from time to time, and that they'd have a contingency plan for clients who'd actually come for a massage. But no one ever came in. I considered just sitting and meditating, I liked the irony of it all, but I knew that ultimately, Linda would be looking for me and so I left the massage room to get some help. In the waiting room, there was a bar. I told the bartender that I wanted "Tui Na" or Chinese message, not sex which I expressed with a gesture of putting my index finger into my clenched fist. He said "Ahh, ya ya, Anmo Shiatsu." Okay, I don't care what you call it, just as long as I'm not jeopardizing my health, or honor, or whatever. I just want a massage.

A few minutes later, another beautiful Chinese woman comes into to the room. She is wearing some athletic style warm ups. That's better, I thought. She's here to do the massage. She was very strong, and knew some strokes. It wasn't the best massage I'd ever had, but she was the best I'd had in Asia.

When she turned me over, we talked a little bit. She knew no English, but I had a few words with which I could communicate in Chinese. She finished the massage, when someone called to her from the outside waiting room, apparently she had reached the 45 minute mark.

She showed me her tip paper and I put down a 50 Yuan tip. She said "No, 200!" I wasn't sure, but it seemed like she was saying that the 200 Yuan charge was to be paid in the massage room, not at the front desk as was my assumption up until that point. I scratched out the 50 and put in 200. I knew that if there was any argument as to where the 200 Yuan was to be paid for the massage, I could simply explain myself and give her the 50 Yuan tip instead of the 200. When I agreed to put down 200, she got very happy, and hugged and kissed me. That seemed a little excessive for someone who was expecting that anyway, so I got even more suspicious, assuming the worst at the front desk.

She was all smiles as we left the room. She even had her arm around my waist. I had a fleeting thought that she wanted the other employees to see that she'd gotten the most out of me that anybody could. There wasn't so much a pride there, but more of a desire to show the others that she'd done her job.

I found my way back into the locker room where the first two attendants were busy with a blow dryer drying my sneakers that had been wet and muddy from the day's bike ride. Even my sox were warm and dry. What a wonderful surprise! I knew, of course, that the only thing that could happen at this point was that they would show me to another tip sheet to fill out. Which I did, giving them 25 Yuan. If I were to do it all over, I would have given these two boys the most, and the two massage therapists the least. They really went the extra mile in a way that really meant something to me.

When I got out to the front desk, I saw the receptionist adding up my bill which was now in the area of 700 Yuan. I laughed, recognizing the huge con that was gong on here. I picked up the paper and started itemizing things as I saw them. 200 for the sauna and massage, plus the three tips. She pointed to the 200 Yuan tip and I pointed to the 50 Yuan tip for the massage that had been scratched out. I told her that the number was 50, not 200, now that I was sure that I'd been conned. She kept looking at a man who was sitting in the room watching all of this take place. He would nod agreement to everything that I suggested. He was the man in charge, and I'm sure that he'd seen this five times per day. In fact, they tried to charge Linda twice for her massage too. She only ended up paying once. As we were leaving, a tall Rutger Hauer look-alike came out. He solemnly looked at the man in charge and uttered just two words. "Bu Hao" Not good. We understood that to mean that he was as unhappy as we were.

However, it might not have meant that at all. When I was being massaged by my "good girl" massage therapist I learned how to ask for a massage versus sex at the Holiday Inn's massage parlor. For a massage, you ask for "Anmo Shiatsu". For Sex you ask for "tui na, bu hao" which kind of translates to "naughty massage." So, I don't know if he was asking for naughty massage, or he was angry about the pricing structure.

The Kunming Holiday Inn Massage Parlor, if you're into it, its a nice place to go, however, I found the presence of a prostitute/massage therapist to scatter my Qi rather dramatically, and it took me a long time for it to settle down again. I think that's the result of competing needs within me. One need is purely physical, and the other need is more emotional. They don't quite agree, and so there is a conflict of interest inside the self. One says "yes!", the other says "no!" It leaves me feeling a little drained.

At least it didn't cost an extra 800 Yuan ($100) for this drained feeling.

December 15, 1997

The Reflexology Girls

In our never-ending quest for a real-live Asian style massage we happened upon this little storefront not far from our home in Kunming. Inside, I saw a couple of women working on the feet of a couple of Chinese businessmen who seemed to be thoroughly enjoying the experience.

I asked how much it cost to have a reflexology massage. I was told that it was 60 Yuan, about $7.50. Works for me. Linda and I returned that night around nine for our foot massage.

Once inside, we were given the two chairs to sit in. These chairs were something like barber shop chairs that reclined. The women there put down new sheets for us, and once we were comfortable, brought out some tea for us to drink.

After the previous two massages, we were especially cautious of too much hospitality. We didn't know when or how the "upgrade" would take place, but we were hopeful and accepted everything they offered us graciously.

It got a little uncomfortable for me, when the owner, a middle aged woman and her boyfriend came in and began to describe the virtues of our two massage therapists. The big selling point seemed to be that they were just seventeen years old. I figured that the sales pitch was for my benefit, perhaps I would like to take one of them home with me. Or just support her and visit her whenever I was in town. Perhaps this was just my own projection, perhaps not. I still don't know.

It is true, that they were both attractive, but by this time, I would really have been happy to just get a massage, with no strings attached, just for once.

The massage really was good. It began with the washing of our feet in a warm herbal decoction. They really took their time with it. The 60 Yuan was supposed to be for a one hour treatment, ours ended up taking closer to two.

After the little foot bath, the reflexology treatment began in earnest. These two had obviously been trained in foot reflexology, they knew the points, how hard to push them and when.

But my massage therapist was always gazing into my eyes. Direct eye contact of this nature has a very specific meaning in American culture. This meaning is probably not shared by all cultures. The way that the Chinese people stare at us on the streets suggests that they don't have the personal space issues that we maintain in America.

But I wasn't comfortable with all of her eye contact. Not after her boss' boyfriend's sales pitch. I closed my eyes and enjoyed the massage.

Soon after, the girls from this company's other location, a couple of doors down, stopped in to see the foreigners. They were all beautiful young Chinese women, these girls had a distinct Western flavor in their dress and make-up. They worked at the beauty salon.

They began to tell Linda about the other services available two doors down. We were still a little leery as to what was really going on, always waiting for the sales pitch to turn into a sales obligation. It never came, they were just sincerely interested in telling Linda about their facials, etc... But it was hard for us to really relax in there.

We actually had a little fun, all of us, trying to communicate between really bad Chinese and really bad English.

It was the closest thing, so far that we've had to a really good massage in Asia. After we left, we decided to return sometime, but in the weeks that have followed, I think that our enthusiasm has waned. It was kind of intense in there for us. Being the center of attention while you're getting a massage doesn't allow you to drift away and enjoy it. There's a part of you that has to maintain a social consciousness. It is rude to ignore people. Though, we're getting better and better at it as time goes by.

We ended up tipping each of the girls an extra 10 Yuan. It took a little convincing, because to accept a tip isn't customary for them. It must seem a little underhanded in a way to them. But they ended up taking it at our ongoing insistence. I'm glad that they did. They really worked hard for their money that night. At least, with my size 13 feet.

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