It was one of those unexpected days where I wished I could tuck this experience into my jeans pocket and keep it as a reminder of how trips abroad should be.
After days of visiting important ancient, historical UNESCO Cultural Heritage sites, Zhengzhou was our first actual leisure stop after a week of seeing historical and UNESCO Cultural Heritage centers is one of the largest cities in China in the Province of Shaanxi.
China is is a country with countless monuments and thousands of years of dynasties, emperors and warriors. However, it’s always a plus when you have leisure time to mix with the locals and see how they live, their lifestyle, likes and dislikes.
Out of nine writers, four of us, after walking impossible distances, impulsively decided that a foot massage, so well known in China, was a typical treatment. Besides, our Mandarin speaking guide, Ke, knew this to be a well know establishment. It seemed the right time to indulge.
When I was last in Beijing, it was a nightly ritual that we four women travel writers would seek out an outdoor foot massuse use of a 15 minute reflexology for $2. Not only the price but it certainly eased our burning soles and heel blistering from the daily walk schedule. Just the walk across the area of Forbidden City could easily cause the above pain since spaces are so very large.
Zhengzhou, however, is in a much smaller city but nevertheless, getting from one place to another usually means by car (which we didn’t have or motorcycle, both unavailable and would have been impossible to maneuver in this wild traffic). Here we were standing in front of a large building which in Mandarin said foot and body massage, this knowledge through our most patient and knowledgeable guide, Ke. So without hesitation we all agreed and like sheep being lead to slaughter, we entered, as the non English speaking staff starred in wonderment of this array of tourists. The session would be 90 minutes and the price about $15.00.
Not even knowing what to expect, we knew this was a true bargain. We grabbed that opportunity and this being mid day, it was a quiet time and there was a room and the technician for the four of us. Who could resist?
We went down a well designed, Chinese decorated hallway to a spotless room with four beds and fine white sheets and towels.
In our large room we were given uniforms of yellow and orange pajamas -like outfits ,a ‘V-neck short sleeved shirt and shorts. Strange, I thought, since it was only a foot massage. Wrong, I soon discovered. And while we changed, were offered a variety of cool non alcoholic drinks.
Shortly, as if on stage and about to perform a ballet, four masseur, two women, two men, quietly seemed to leap out of nowhere , quietly settling on stools at the foot of the beds, in unison. Through Ke’s translation, were told to soak our feet in the buckets of hot water with which they had jettied into the room as though we were critiquing balletomanes. While this softened our feet, our personal masseuse massaged our arms and shoulders ‘for more blood circulation’. At one point, near the pulse of the wrist, the pressure was long and just verging on being painful.
Now back to the bucket. Our feet cooler, they were scrubbed and rubbed with a rough cloth discarding any cracked and dry skin- not scissors or scraping tools in sight. Then the reflexology on our feet began for what seemed like about ½ hour. It was so comfortable but admittedly at times also painful. I was still able to nod off for a few minutes. It had been a week of nonstop work and walking. Then the quartet a suddenly, plied out of the room. It turns out that there is so much effort in these sessions that after strenuous scrubbing and rubbing, they take 5 minute breaks , three during a session.
On their return oil was applied and our calves were well massaged hitting all the pressure points that certainly didn’t allow for napping. Obviously, all the walking from the previous days had centered here and this was certainly a relief from the tight muscles. Then there were a few minutes of slapping and banging of the thighs and calves, their skilled hands hitting all the necessary muscles. As I listened, eyes closed, it was like Chinese drummers as all four were in unison, hitting the same spots at the same time with the same tempo, slap, bang, over again and again.
Now came the hard decision. Do we choose heated pads for the back or heated cups. I had at first opted for the heated cups until I saw my colleague’s back producing red, burning circles from the red hot cups, an ancient Chinese cure for aches and pains leaving raging red circles Try to explain that to your husband!!. I quickly changed my choice to the very pleasant hot bags which certainly eased my aching back.
From shoulders down to the lower back which had caused me much distress, it was such a pleasurable experience that even the masseuses laughed at our reactions when our oohs and aahs were emitted after the 90 minutes.
We all would have liked to start all over again. We sprinted out like Nureyev, each discussing their own impressions, each knowing that when traveling, it’s really essential to take time to search out a pleasant local occurrence.
My invisible note will always remain tucked in my jeans pocket with the constant memory of what great knowledge traveling offers and how important feet care is on a busy trip, if possible a daily ritual.