The Accidental Chinese Foot Massage

Thursday, May 18, 2017




What’s better than a massage on Mother’s Day? Well, for my wife, shopping at a thrift store is better.  I went along for the ride and noticed that there was a little hole-in-the-wall massage parlor in the adjoining strip mall.  It advertised $20.00 for a one hour foot massage.  Being the inquisitive potential customer, I looked up the establishment on Yelp.  There were some conflicting reviews, but the ‘between the lines’ message that I gleaned was that the place offered a good value and suggested that some reviewers went back for repeat business.  It was clear that a $10.00 tip was highly recommended, but even so, $30.00 for an hour massage seemed a great perceived value.

There are two schools of thought when it comes to massages: some people believe that a massage should be a relaxing, spa-like experience where your body is gently caressed while the air is filled with a hint of lavender or eucalyptus.  Others believe that a massage should be of the deep tissue type, where there may be brief moments of discomfort, and no amount of lavender or eucalyptus in the air will be enough to transform it into a truly pleasing experience.  You might call this the “no pain, no gain” mentality.

I’ve had foot massages before.  My most memorable ones were during a trip to China.  While there, I had one full body massage and a bunch of foot massages.  The full body massage still remains fresh in my mind because of the painful scraping sensation on my back, and the irritation that I felt on my back following the session.  An hour or so after I got back to my hotel room, I began to feel something similar to a sunburn.  It persisted to the point where I felt compelled to look at my back in the mirror.  I don’t know if it was more disbelief or horror, but my back no longer resembled ‘my back.’ It had more of the appearance of well, I don’t know, perhaps a strange piece of body art created by an out of control laser.  You can see for yourself what it looked like in the following picture that I captured in the mirror of my room.  

It turns out that I had been given a coin massage, or Gua sha, and apparently there were a lot of bad demons or spirits in my back that had to escape. 

My foot massages in China were also memorable.  I was put in the hands of a diminutive woman, whose strength was inversely proportionate to her size.  Although extremely painful, it was one of those ‘hurts so good’ kinds of procedures where you almost feel more grateful that the massage is over than leave with a feeling of relaxation that the massage is supposed to generate.  This little woman reached in the nooks and crannies of my feet in a way that suggested she had more familiarity with feet than do some podiatrists. 

This past Mother’s Day, I went in for a foot massage.  I had the China experience in mind, but decided that I would keep an open mind and let the eucalyptus leaves fall where they may.  From this point forward, I have to put the words “foot massage” in quotation marks, because what I got that day, didn’t so much resemble a straight forward foot massage as it did an exercise in exploring my threshold of pain (which is high), but even I have my limits.  Afterwards, I was left in a daze for a few hours as I tried to comprehend what had just been done to my body.

Just a week earlier, I had told my foot doctor not to push so hard on my heel (I have plantar fasciitis) because he had hurt me during my previous visit.  I had thought about saying something to the masseuse about my right heel, but decided against it at the last minute and chose to take my chances.  I admit, in retrospect, that sometimes my instincts are slightly off the mark. 

I was led into a cubicle with shoulder-high curtained borders and a massage bed in the middle.  The maĆ®tre d’, if you will, motioned for me to put my stuff in a basket off to the side.  What exactly to put in the basket was not clear, but I emptied my pockets and put in my socks.  Should I have taken off my shirt/pants? Strange thoughts go through one’s mind before a massage, but I prefer to err on the side of caution. I remained fully clothed.

After soaking my feet in tepid water, he began with my left foot.  This was a good thing, because it would give me a sneak preview of what to expect when he got to my right, sore heel.  I’m guessing that it’s not just me, but I am extremely ticklish when it comes to my feet.  It’s hard for me to relax when I’m simultaneously squirming and trying not to laugh.  He didn’t explore all of my foot as his Chinese counterpart did, but he covered the highlights and didn’t cause me any undue pain. 

The rest of the massage, I’ll admit was intense.  I’m not ashamed to say that I wanted to start crying a few times.  I’m convinced that he wanted to get my back to crack, like at a chiropractor’s office.  I thought I felt some frustration on his part when he didn’t hear any popping noises, but that might just be me imagining things.  There were times, when the masseuse touched on some pressure points I never knew existed.  How did he find them, and why did he have to push so hard?  The thought of being in an octagon for an MMA fight kept popping in my head.  I’m convinced that if I were in a ring, I would have tapped out – a few times.

Maybe the manhandling that I was subjected to was payback for not joining my wife at the thrift store – on Mother’s Day.  Maybe the masseuse was trying to get me to tap out or cry, so he could put another notch on his belt.  Or maybe, just maybe, I should have spoken up a little and kindly asked the guy to take it down a notch.  I, of course, am going with the second option; but like I said earlier, my judgement is sometimes slightly off.

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