This past Friday I was invited to a massage by a co-worker and my wife. His wife and my wife work together and many of the women from that office like going to this massage parlor almost every week. There are a few things that are a little odd about this to me. First off we are all just ordinary every day people. We might make more then the average Shanghai worker, but not enough to be considered rich. Why would I bring this up? Well, in America taking weekly trips to the spa or massage parlor tends to be reserved to the upper elite of society. Images for this indulgence conjure up private clubs with tennis courts, steam rooms, saunas filled with bankers, lawyers, mobsters, all with fat cigars and white towels. Thanks to Hollywood and TV shows, these images of rich people with nothing better to do with their time are the only ones who can enjoy such things. This is a difference in cultural perspective and expectations.
In Shanghai everything is pretty reasonably priced, some things are the same price as in the states; cars, TVs, computers, name brand clothing, jewelry, etc. yet others are much more within reach for the average Shanghai resident; food, rent, restaurants, everyday services including massage. Growing up in the part of the US I did, the Southeast, and at the time that I did, being a teen during the 1980’s, massage and spas are not something men would be seen at on a regular basis. It seems this perception is segregated to only this time frame and place.
I went and it was ok, although not too relaxing. My neck was stiff from sleeping wrong a few nights prior to Friday and I have never had a problem with circulation or sore muscles. IT people do not strain anything other then our eyes and fingers and wrists. I opted for a foot and shoulder massage as the last time I had a full body massage, about 6 weeks prior, it was not as relaxing as I had imagined (at this was at a very expensive and exclusive spa my wife had won a spa treatment for two to). The neck massage was nice and I could move my head farther to one side then I could before I went in there which was nice. The poor girl who was performing the massage had a hard time with my shoulders and had to call in another woman because her hands were cramping and because she had only popped one person’s neck before and was nervous about doing this again. I am glad for that last part, as the woman who took over did a very good job; it had been many years since I last had my neck popped. Next came a foot massage, which was ok, but my feet were not sore or hurting before. All in all it was ok, but not as relaxing as a warm whirlpool or jacuzzi or hot tub with turbo jets.
Chinese people do not have the same type of bar culture as Americans and many westerners do. Massage parlors, tea houses, and cafes appeal to them much more as gathering and networking places. I am seeing golf courses, private clubs, and the such being adapted by many Chinese people here in Shanghai, but many still like the old ways of relaxing. My wife and her friends seemed to talk and gossip more during the massage then relax as they were massaged. Granted being pregnant all she got was a hand massage but of the 6 others there they all enjoyed the same thing, just being together and talking the way women do. This is an important part of their culture, to gather in such an arena and unwind from the week by chatting and making plans for the weekend and coming week. It seems much more productive and healthy then a bar, but feels odd being a part of it, even if many men are doing it. I must admit it was a far better way to kick off the weekend, and it did set a good tempo and mood and make the stress and ills of the past week melt away faster. After all is that not the point, to just forget the pains of the previous week and start fresh on the weekend?