A couple of days ago, I went downtown to meet with my friend Stuart. I took the subway, of course, and emerged into a brilliant sunny day to see not one, but three tanned Australian smiles waiting for me at the top of the subway steps at the Beijing Zhan stop. Stuart works for a travel company called Intrepid Travel and he had brought two of his customers along and declared that we were all going for a massage.
In Australian English, this word has the emphasis on the first syllable so that is sounds like “MASS-auge.” I smiled to myself when I realized how appropriate this emphasis was today. The four of us piled into a cab and drove across town where we all sat in the same room and were simultaneously massaged, en masse.
It was an amazing experience!
When we arrived, I realized that I was back in the section of town that was my first introduction to Beijing. Just down the road was the hotel I stayed at on my first night, Worker’s stadium was across the street, the place I first met my friend Traci was just moments away and the venue at which I played my first Beijing gig was about a five-minute walk west (Yu Gong Yi Shan). All in all, Dong Ti Bei Lou seems to be the place to return to. It was nice to see landmarks I recognized.
The massage parlour (are they still called parlours?) was down a small alley and off to the left and is called Bodhi. A beautiful glass-covered stairway with a gurgling pond, swimming orange fish, and a modern wooden staircase carried us up into a beautiful lobby where the attendants greeted us in English and Chinese. Stuart had already “booked us in” and we were taken in almost immediately.
It is custom here to be massaged by the opposite sex and so two male attendants and two female attendants were called to duty. We were led down a labyrinth of dark hallways past many doorways draped by flowing curtains that swayed as we passed. Eventually, we found ourselves in a private room at the end of a main hall that held six recliners along the same wall, each with a footstool. We were all told to take off our shoes and relax awhile. Drinks were offered and the lighting was only the small cracks of sunshine that snuck through the closed venetian blinds. I felt sleepy immediately. What a luxury in the middle of the day!
We all piled into a recliner each and chatted easily while the attendants gathered their supplies. They brought in four large buckets of coloured warm water that looked to be the colour of red tea or a tea tree lake – a sort of ruddy brown. We rolled up our pant legs and put our feet in the buckets that were placed before us and then we were instructed to rise, turn around and sit on the footstools facing the recliners.
Here in China, a lot of massages are fully clothed, which I suppose further encourages the “en masse” environment. It becomes more of a social thing and less of a private experience this way. I didn’t mind. I’m learning to appreciate a massage with or without clothing on! Besides, my attendant was so handsome that it would be hard for me to imagine not being clothed. I would be way too shy for that! (And yes, I do have my shy moments just like everyone else.) All of my previous massage experiences have been with female massage therapists in North America so China has been new in this regard. . .
Each massage therapist proceeded to give us amazing back massages. In fact, before long the room was silent. My attendant was so good at massage that I lost my ability to hold a conversation as I felt the tension draining from my muscles. He used his hands, arms, wrists, and even his knee to manipulate my back and arms and I was suitably pliable within minutes. Eventually, I broke the silence with a quiet one-liner: “Good idea, Stuart!” and everyone laughed.
After the back massage, we were all spun around and led into our recliners again and our legs were raised one after the other onto the stool and massaged up to the knee. At this point, we got to chatting with the attendants and Stuart and I were translating for the other two who didn’t speak any Chinese. The conversation was full of kindness and positive exchange as we learned where each of the massage therapists was from and picked up some good slang and tips about Beijing.
I even had the occasion to hand out my new “ming pian” (business cards) that I had made here a few weeks ago (200 for only 40 kuai! That’s only $5.50 Canadian!) because they began to ask me about my life here and I spoke openly about my music and my career. Perhaps I’ll have made some new fans? Who knows. Handing out business cards seems to me to be the standard way to connect with people here and so I didn’t hesitate.
Just over an hour later, we were all loose, calm and ready for a nap. The lighting was still dim and when the attendants left the room and had formally finished, we all stayed in those big chairs for just a few more minutes not wanting to leave the cocoon of comfort and relaxation. Eventually, we put our shoes back on and strolled to the front to pay.
These massages weren’t exactly the cheapest in the world (80 kuai per person, I believe it was) but it was worth it. In the end, that’s only $11.31 in Canadian dollars and I haven’t a single complaint about the experience. I’d definitely return to Bodhi in the future.
We followed that up with a walk to a nearby outdoor café where we enjoyed a cold beer in the afternoon sunshine. That’s a Canadian summer tradition that I miss here – a cold beer on a hot summer’s day – and so it was great to indulge in “yi ping pijiu” (one bottle of beer) before I had to leave to connect with another friend that evening.
I said my goodbyes and then walked smoothly away, gliding through the air as though my limbs were lighter than light. I’m not sure if that was the buzz of the beer or the remnants of the massage but I didn’t care. I smiled as I walked and got smiles in return from strangers.
The best kind.