Wednesday, December 19, 2007

This is what happens when you have a cold in China...

You go to the massage parlor down the street thinking that a nice massage will ease your muscle aches and pounding head. A few minutes later you are lying on the table wrapped up in towel listening to the soothing ocean sounds CD that seems to be required listening at any spa worth its salt. You are enjoying your massage thoroughly, already feeling better and are on the verge of drifting off to sleep.

The masseuse is happily practicing her English and you are responding in a combination of broken Mandarin and grunts. You tell her you've got a bit of a cold. She says she knows that. She says she can fix it. She tells you to wait a minute and she goes into the next room where you hear the clink of glasses.

She returns holding a stack of glasses that look like outdoor light bulb covers. She wants you to try "cupping". This is an ancient Chinese folk medicine. She has asked you to try it before, but you declined and went home to google it. Your research was inconclusive. Perhaps it could help, perhaps it was not far removed from bleeding the feet to remove the bad humors. All you know for certain was that it would leave ugly red suction bruises all over your back for one to two weeks, depending on your body.

You indicate that you are a little nervous about trying it. You ask if it hurts. She says "a little". You don't want to look like a big baby. She is looking at you eagerly, the thought of being the first to cup your Waiguaren (foreign person) back almost too exciting for words. "You have too much fire," she says. "I will take out." "Okay," you say hesitantly. "I'll try one. Just one." She claps her hands and begins bustling about making preparations.

Cupping works like this: A wad of cotton is submerged in alcohol with tongs, then inserted in the glass and lit on fire. This sucks all the oxygen out of the cup and then it is applied to your back. The skin gets sucked into the cup and blood is pulled to the surface of the skin leaving the nasty mark.

The first one isn't so bad and she moves it around on your back with oil, so it actually feels a bit like a really deep tissue massage. Its not bad on the whole. And perhaps it will relieve your cold. Stranger things have happened, right? "Okay." you tell her. "Lets try a few more."

Two minutes later your back is totally covered in glass cups. When you move, they rattle together ominously. Each one is pulling skin taught so that the skin on your back is ten times smaller than it normally would be. Naturally. this is quite uncomfortable. She covers the whole mess with a towel and tells you she'll be back in eight minutes. Just call her if you are uncomfortable. "But, um, I'm uncomfortable now." you tell her. She laughs, tells you to relax and closes the door softly behind her.

You feel like you have been sleeping soundly in your warm comfortable bed and then suddenly awakened in an alien laboratory where they are hellbent on testing the resiliency of human flesh. You are definitely not relaxed. Only seven more minutes to go! you remind yourself grimly. You cheer yourself up by thinking about how you will describe this experience on your blog. Your friends and family will think you either very brave or very silly, but certainly they will be entertained. This cheers you for a moment.

And then you remember that you are going to Thailand in five days. And that you had planned on wearing very little in Thailand. Just a wide array of bikinis, sarongs, hats and sunglasses really. And then you remember that there are approximately thirteen cups on your back promising to leave you thirteen very ugly purple welts on your back. You shudder at a fashion opportunity lost. And the next day, you still have a cold.

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