have been hurting (literally) for a really quality massage place in Beijing. At the end of college I began to visit a Chiropractic & Massage spot in Walla Walla, and realized just how much that kind of massage experience can help my back and overall well-being. During my hunt in BJ, I tried the Chinese traditional massage – interesting, but probably more geared toward restoring blood and Qi flow (don’t quote me) and really nothing doing in terms of helping my back. I have continued, to get sub-par massages at a spa in the building where I live, hoping to hit on a winner. Kudos to them for putting up with my English, but it’s a place more about the candles and soothing music than digging into my knots. Not helpful. So, with some hesitation, I ventured off yesterday for my first blind massage experience in Beijing. These are everywhere in the city, offering very affordable massages and, while I can’t promise they’re the best, job opportunities for the visually impaired. I was skeptical, having just wrapped up a conversation with my Chinese coworker about the lack of real certification for those who want to try their hand (yuk yuk) at the massage profession – essentially anyone can do it – but decided to go for it, since this friend had multiple positive experiences at this particular place. And at 40 RMB (around $6.50) for an hour-long massage, I figured it couldn’t hurt to try.
First of all, this was no spa experience. Unlike the demure women in traditional Chinese dresses who greet me and usher me in and out of the spa in a flurry of bows, we were surrounded by men and women, visually impaired if not blind, very actively moving in and out of the central room where four of us were getting massages together. Throughout the hour was constant banter between masseurs, nonstop jokes and laughter – no need for ambient music here to cover up the weirdness of a stranger touching you. 😉 The least spa-like moments of the hour included the masseur’s great deal of coughing and throat-clearing directly above my head (face down, I wasn’t stressed) and the point when he answered his phone and chatted away while continuing to massage my neck one-handed.
For all that, this experience was excellent. During some of the poorer massages I had at the spa, it sometimes felt like the masseur was just guessing where to put pressure, jabbing elbows into my spine, or jabbing fingers into my neck to an unnecessarily painful degree, and being unsure how to communicate what I needed I just grit my teeth and bore it. This masseur, though, bless him, was very sensitive about identifying some tension spots in my neck and back, and tuned in to how much pressure was helpful, not harmful. Phew. It was a lovely experience – I might just go back again this week! I realized, too, with my friend’s help, that I can already express the jist of what she communicated to the masseur about my back. I’m in the transition period of having listened to enough Chinese input to be able to express myself, and while it’s exciting, I am suffering from some nervousness about trying to spit out my Chinese vocab. All in good time. Maybe my new massage joint will give me the chance to push myself to speak more freely!