The torture chamber of a Chinese massage parlour..


I always believed that massages were a luxury reserved for the rich: the rich in time with nothing better to do, or the rich with more money than sense.  Or maybe a special treat being spoilt in a lavish spa.  How things have changed…   Being immersed in the cultures of India and the Far East where massages are a way of life, only the stubborn and foolhardy would not succumb to a bit of ‘pampering’ to release the tensions of the daily grind.

Glossing over my first ‘body scrub’ massage in India after lying on the beach, my initial reluctance to delve into the world of massage soon vanished when I started having regular visits to a 5* hotel in Kovalam.   A generous discount for being a teacher at the hotel owner’s school meant access to extravagant treatments, as well as sumptuous massages…  I wallowed in a milky bathtub perfumed with sweet smelling rose petals.  I was swaddled in a chocolate body wrap to reveal ‘glowing new skin’ underneath.  A brilliant white face mask was applied in the hope of shedding a few years and rejuvenating…   I allowed myself to be smothered in green slimy stuff which probably was intended to cleanse and heal.  Hot stone therapy left me nicely relaxed and warmed up.  And I tried out massages with enthralling names, such as the  Swedish Sojourn, which  sent me soothingly to the Nirwana of blissful semi-consciousness…


Being curious and eager to try the different massages,  I allowed myself a taste of the Thai Monastery massage… Out with the gentle stuff and in with the proper kneading, and kneeling and kneeing…  I was pulled and pushed into various unnaturally looking angles and almost certainly literally walked all over.  Not sure of the purpose of all this manoeuvring, but isn’t it supposed to be beneficial for the body?  Extend its youthful appearance and restore lost flexibility in joints?? A Thai massage is not for the faint hearted and just a one-off was sufficient to sate my hunger for experiencing the full extent of the world of massage, I thought..

Of course, being in Thailand in the summer, I had a little flurry.  How could I not at least try a massage dispensed by the experts?  But Phuket definitely panders to the whims of Westerners and my masseuse obediently paid heed to my calls of mercy and indeed managed an experience that almost had me floating away with the fairies.  Just once in a while did her fingers probe deeper into the muscle tissue but any signs of my discomfort were meekly taken to heart and a softer technique was applied.

Just as Thai massages have a certain reputation, the Chinese ones are equally famed.  In a country were traditional  medicine often still carries more weight than Western approaches, massages are seen as part of maintaining a healthy lifestyle and a cure for all kinds of ills. How a massage would be helpful when a three year old suffers from a common cold, is lost on me, but Maggie from the little language school duly took her young son for a Chinese massage because he had a runny nose…  Last weekend,  after several months in China and having to reduce my hiking exploits due to knee problems (more about this in future blogs…), my body longed for a massage, a gentle one.. where I could just lie down and relax… I had been recommended foot massages before, but I was looking for the full works.. something along the lines of the Indian experience: a  5* massage restyled to fit Western tastes and expectations.  I put out some feelers with Chinese friends, surely they would be able to point me into the right direction…

Indeed, Maggie came to the rescue.  What kind of a massage was I looking for, she enquired.   Whole body, please, and definitely relaxing…   A friend of a friend whose son has lessons at her little language school happened to offer the kind of services I wanted, she claimed.  The date and time set, I turned up at the meeting point and was shown the ‘massage parlour’.  ‘It is a good place,’ Maggie assured me, ‘because they specialise in massage for pregnant women and women who have recently given birth’…???  I could hardly suppress a quizzical look, because I certainly did not fit into either category…   But then again, surely those women deserved a little gentle stimulation…

‘What type of massage did I have in mind,’ the masseuse enquired.  ‘Relaxing, soft, ‘drifting away on fluffy clouds’ kind of massage,’ I repeated for the umpteenth time, leaving the translation of my request to Maggie, as I started up the stairs.  ‘Remember that a Chinese massage is supposed to be medicinal,’ Maggie’s voice boomed behind me…

How can I describe the agony of the next two hours?  ‘Why did you not walk out?’ L (colleague from New Zealand) asked incredulously.  ‘Better learn the Chinese for ‘it hurts!’ K (colleague from South Korea) suggested afterwards…  Deep tissue massage may well have some benefits for those with plenty of muscle and tissue, but the lack of cushioning around my skeletal frame did not provide a lot of protection from the onslaught.  And if kneading and prodding and pushing was not sufficient, the masseuse also added friction heat to the witch’s brew of medicine…  Duly covered in oil, she used her elbows and forearms to work up plenty of heat in my muscles…  I curled my toes, twitched my arms, pulled up my legs  whilst emitting muffled sounds of displeasure and torment.  The masseuse took notice. ‘Hurt?’ she enquired.  My nods only seemed to add to her pleasure and she continued her torrent of massage strokes relentlessly..

And as all ‘good’ things come to an end, so did the massage.  It was only when I stood up that the masseuse noticed my back… and showed me the angry red patches in the mirror…  Friction burns and bruises???  How the hell was this medicinal???


Maggie sent me a message as I left the parlour.  Did I enjoy my massage?  How did I feel?  Being the polite person that I can be, I lied..  ‘It was wonderful, Maggie.  I feel 10 years younger…’  I eventually, after a few days, told her the truth, and explained, ‘I have had massages before, Thai ones even, but I have never ended up with bruises..’  If I had thought that there would have been at least a modicum of sympathy, I was sorely disappointed.  ‘Of course, I knew about the bruising,’ she said, ‘they phoned me after you left…  But that’s OK, it’s a good thing…  When will you be going back???’

Really?????  ‘Not in a million years, Maggie… If this is the only kind of massage China has to offer, I think I will be giving it a wide berth from now on…’  I am not into masochism…

4 thoughts on “The torture chamber of a Chinese massage parlour..

  1. Doreen Frusher

    When last in NZ my husband had 3 chinese massage sessions over a 4 month period all at a walk in shop in a shopping mall. The chap looked about 105 yrs old but boy was he good! Clearly there was a language barrier and husband has bad disc problems but the chap just ran his fingers down his spine, found them instantly and worked around them each time, brilliant. Husband floated out pain free each time for the princely sum of 16$ approx £8 each time, best value ever. I also have used a walk in shop in this country and it was good, massage and cupping for £20 and walked home on air. Don’t despair … there are good ones around, maybe just not where you are!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. lievelee Post author

      I agree… but I think their philosophy about massage is that it is first and foremost therapeutic and medicinal, so the benefits may not be immediate… It just was not what I was after…

      Liked by 1 person


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