Experiencing Chinese Massage

I wrote about some of the difficulties I had on my 2008 business trip to Shanghai, China over at SpunkyGirl Monologues. But I never did tell one of my favorite stories from the trip: my first experience with Chinese massage.

I landed in Shanghai mid-afternoon and went straight to the hotel. After resting in my room a bit and getting something small to eat I thought I would try to get a relaxing massage to help me get over my jet lag and sleep soundly that night.

Shanghai Skyline

I asked the hotel concierge if there was a massage place nearby and luckily there was one in a shopping mall a couple blocks away from the hotel. Doubting I would encounter anyone who spoke English on my adventure, I asked him if he could write down “full body massage” on a slip of paper for me to bring, and took a card with the hotel’s phone number in case I had any trouble.

It was dusk when I set out and I was a bit nervous at the thought of coming back in the dark alone. It was my first night in this completely new world, after all! But, I resolved to have a relaxing massage experience and worry about making my way back to the hotel when the time came.

Fortunately I found the shopping plaza easily, and wandered in to the lobby. I was glad to see a sign in English saying “massage” at the top of a set of escalators. A group of girls were seated there in a row as if they were waiting just for me, and whisked me into the massage parlor.

Being about a foot taller than everyone made meet feel rather awkward as I tried a couple words in English. When no one understood, I silently handed over my “full body massage” slip of paper to one of the girls and smiled. Luckily she understood and led me into a room, giving me some instructions I couldn’t understand and holding up a pair of pajamas I assumed I should put on. She asked me a question and after a couple minutes of hand gestures and enunciating, I realized she was asking me if I wanted Coca Cola. I said yes and began to take in my surroundings.

I was taken to a small room in a long corridor of what must have been other massage rooms. I felt like I must’ve been the only client there. My room was dimly lit, bare of any decoration, with a television and ashtray sitting on top of a dresser.

And best of all? A mattress on the floor appeared to be where my massage would take place. I began to wonder exactly what sort of massage parlor this was. I hoped it wasn’t the “happy ending” sort!

massage parlor

I changed into the PJs which were comfortable and clean. I wasn’t quite comfortable laying down on the mattress so I just kind of stood there until the girl came back with my drink. Soon the massage therapist appeared and gestured for me to lay down on the mattress.

She started out slowly, giving a deep tissue massage to all my major muscles. Different from Western massages I’ve had, she massaged over top of the PJs rather than directly on the skin.

Soon the calm portion was apparently over. Once my muscles and joints were relaxed enough, the therapist began twisting and turning my body is all kinds of directions to stretch my muscles and crack my joints. It was crazy! She applied precise movements and bent me in ways I’ve never moved before. Each twist produced a satisfying crack that left me feeling stretched and refreshed.

Even though the massage started out relaxing, the adjustment portion was a lot of work! I was moved into all sorts of crazy positions. At one point the therapist laid down on her back and held me up over her with her legs, putting me in a back bend position to stretch out my lower back. This was no small feat considering I must’ve been about twice her size!

The massage lasted about two hours, and was a total bargain for under US$10. While all the twisting and popping wasn’t exactly relaxing in the moment, afterwards I felt completely stretched and relaxed. I slept like a baby that night!

Later in our trip, one of my Chinese colleagues introduced me to a special foot and body massage combo that we ended up getting two more times while in Shanghai. I was definitely sold on the merits of Chinese massage!

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