Part III: Cupping?
Part one & two about my Monday afternoon & evening can be found here: Inside the Qipu Shops & Street Shopping
I had been to this particular massage parlor once before with May, but this time it was a different experience. It was wonderful both times, don’t get me wrong, but it was a more blog worthy event the second time. Five of us, two Taiwanese, one Chinese and two Americans, hopped on a bus and went to the massage parlor. It was around 8:30pm when we got there – these places are generally open late. The Chinese speakers told the receptionists what we wanted and went back and forth for a bit in dialogue that I could not understand, before they asked us to take a seat and wait. It would be just a minute.
Literally, a minute later, they were ready! In China, it isn’t an issue to walk into a massage parlor and request a room and masseuses for five people ready. Yes, one room for five people. Massages in China are a social event. Forget a private spa-like room with candles, soft classical music and hushed voices in the hallway. This is China! We go into a room with 6 big Lazy-boy type chairs and ottomans. There is a flat screen TV on the wall, small tables between the chairs for your tea (which is provided for free) and an ashtray (in case you want to light up a cigarette while they rub your feet).
We are asked if we want to change our clothes and we opt for doing so. Chinese body massages do not typically involve oil or bare skin contact. Oil costs extra (sometimes it is outrageously more expensive – depending on where you go) and the massage is frequently done with some sort of clothes on and through a sheet that is laid over you. Five sets of cotton pajama type outfits are brought in for us, shirts and bottoms individually packaged in cellophane – (I take this as a sign of cleanliness – the smell of laundry detergent also puts my mind at ease).
My change of clothes
Sportin the massage outfits
When we are dressed, the TV is on and our tea orders have arrived, we settle into the big soft chairs and are brought buckets of hot water to soak our feet in. We chose the 130 minute massage which includes a 60 minute foot massage and a 70 minute body massage for their special rate of 99rmb (about $15). They start by soaking your feet and this time we had some type of ginger wrap wrapped around our knees held on with saran wrap. It got really warm – like icy-hot – and felt wonderful after walking all day. As your feet soak they massage your legs, then dry your feet and massage them.
Of course during this time everyone is chit-chatting, the TV is on, and the masseuses are talking with each other and with us. The girls had requested male masseuses because they “give better massages”. I never had felt this to be true, but after being to this location twice – I do feel the guy I had the second time was better than the girl I had the first time. Unfortunately, there were only 4 males on staff and one was already busy. We got their other three males for the foot part of the massage and then the one who was busy joined us later for our body massages.
Normally, after the foot massage the armrests of the big chairs are taken off and the chairs lay completely flat (with a hole that was hidden by a cushion for your face); however, I don’t think there was enough room for them to maneuver around us in that room so they moved us into two other rooms that were adjoined by a sliding frosted glass door. In this room, they laid out the chairs and had us lay down for our massages.
Yumi and I were in one room and hadn’t turned on the TV because I don’t think we really need to watch TV while getting a massage and also because it is hard to watch when you are laying on your stomach anyways. I did notice, however, that a few minutes into our massage one of the guys turned on our TV. Apparently, it is entertainment for the workers as well as the clients. So there we lay, enjoying our deep tissue massages while listening to the chatter of the Chinese girls in the other room, the noise from what sounded like a Chinese soap opera from the TV in the adjacent room and Chinese music from our TV. But really, it is very relaxing!
On our way to the massages from Qipu, Osteen told us she was having a cupping treatment again tonight and asked if we had ever tried it. Cupping therapy is a method of traditional Chinese medicine which involves using little cups with hot air in them to create a vacuum on the skin; this supposedly gets rid of toxins in the body, improves blood flow and improves the flow of qi. It also is said to have many other health benefits. Yumi and I looked at each other and did a “if you do it, I’ll do it” exchange and figured for 30rmb – why not try!
Well, now that time had come. It was cupping time and I was nervous. I had seen the marks it leaves on people once in the states (the only time I had heard of this practice before China) and also on Osteen as she had done it before. But I didn’t know what to expect. I was told it might hurt or cause a bit of discomfort my first time, they advised Amanda that it would hurt her more because she is so thin.
We lay down on our stomachs, this time without our borrowed cotton pajama tops and waited. The guys brought in trays of small glass cups, what looked like some rubbing alcohol and stick with a type of wick on the end to light on fire. They started on Yumi, first, so I was able to turn my head and see what was going on. Fire was used to heat up the jar and the air inside the jar before it was placed on the bare skin on her back. I asked her if it hurt and she said it didn’t…. okay, my turn!!
As they put the cups on my back it doesn’t hurt, you feel suction for sure but it was fine. Then they leave them on your back and cover them with a towel for several minutes. After a minute or two of laying there with 11 cups suctioned to my skin, I ask Yumi, “Is yours starting to hurt?” “No… I feel fine.” Hmmm… okay, well mine were causing some discomfort. Not necessarily pain, but I didn’t feel comfortable at all and was more than ready to have them taken off.
A work in progress...
Luckily, in another couple minutes they came off and it feels amazing when they do. Such a release! Osteen takes pictures of our backs and shows us. I look at Yumi’s and barely see light pink rounds where the cups were. My back has huge red circles on it. What does this mean? According to my friend the worldwide web – I have more toxins in my body than Yumi. Great!
Not as toxic as me!
Immediately after removing cups
The marks from cupping can be anywhere from light pink that disappears quickly, to a dark deep red that can last for a couple weeks. They look like bruises but shouldn’t be considered as such, there is no impact to cause a bruise and they are not painful or discomforting to touch. They aren’t the prettiest things and definitely not something I would want to have on my back in the middle of summer.
My back - four days later
By 11:30pm, I was more than ready to get home! I hadn’t been home since I left for school at 8:15am. Studying Chinese, shopping Shanghai’s crazy Qipu market, watching out for pick-pocketers, a long massage and having the toxins sucked from my back all were exhausting activities. But all made for a lovely, exciting and adventurous day in Shanghai with girl friends!