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    My foot massage epiphany
Lin Shujuan
2006-03-10 08:25

One interesting thing about Beijing, or perhaps China, is that whenever a trend starts, many soon follow to the point that even a person too dull to follow fashion like me, can't help but notice.

A case in point is foot massage. It has been there for centuries, but only in recent years has it come back into vogue, with almost every hair salon advertising this service in their windows.

But I had a nagging doubt: How can those youths in hair salons, with kaleidoscopic hairstyles and continually humming pop songs, suddenly turn their hands to massage?

A fan of reflexology, I had my first treatment four years ago when a friend invited me to one of Beijing's leading clubs for the treatment. The parlour had obviously paid much attention to the herbs used in the water and the dcor. This combined with the massage itself was very relaxing. But at 200 yuan (US$25) for a 50-minute treatment it seemed foot massage would remain nothing but luxury for this low-paid reporter.

Three years later, a friend and I were out walking one night when we passed a hair salon in our neighbourhood. I suggested we go for a scalp massage, which I have found really helpful at relieving stress over the years.

Once inside, we encountered a couple who had just finished foot massage, and were paying the bill. They looked relaxed and refreshed, and not wealthy at all. Again my curiosity was aroused and this time I didn't hesitate. I suggested the idea to my friend, who readily agreed.

Inside the parlour were three rooms for the massage service, two with beds and one with adjustable chairs. We chose the latter which also had a television that was showing a comedy show. The room's furnishing was simple but clean. They changed the sheet for each customer and offered sterilized towels for free, or a disposable one at a reasonable price.

Up on the wall was a board listing the prices for various services besides foot massage, including full body massage and healing techniques used in traditional Chinese medicine like ba guan (cupping) and gua sha (scraping). The price was extraordinarily low compared to what I had expected. A 50-minute foot massage was a mere 20 yuan (US2.50). I saw other customers seemed to be really enjoying their massages. Some were watching TV and would laugh from time to time at the comedy, while others just closed their eyes or chatted casually with masseurs.

I was asked to pick a masseur from an array of photos on the wall. However it turned out that I didn't really have many choices since most of the masseurs were engaged with customers. I was a little relieved when a bespectacled man in his mid 20s (not someone with the spiky rainbow-coloured hairstyle) came to my service.

The masseur, named Jiao Zhen, was from Shandong. To my surprise, he had been working in the parlour doing foot massage for more than five years, as had most of his colleagues. They know almost every customer, since most of them are regulars from nearby neighbourhoods.

"I was between jobs at that time and a friend recommended this trade saying it was quick to learn and easy to find a job," revealed the 25-year-old.

Jiao now averages six customers a day. He revealed that during the first few months, his hands were swollen and his arms ached from performing so many massages day after day.

The young Shangdong man makes 8 yuan (US$1) for each treatment. The boss, who also supplies the masseurs' accommodation and food, takes 12 yuan (US$1.50) per customers. With a monthly salary of around 1,200 yuan (US$150), Jiao and his fellow colleagues look happy and contented, though sometimes they are envious of the girls in a nearby parlour who earn up to 3,000 yuan (US$360) a month.

"Girls are more popular in this trade," Jiao said. "But I am not complaining, at least I have a stable income in a parlour that has a big crowd of regulars," he added.

The massage was pretty good, certainly no worse than my first luxurious one. To test Jiao's skills, I asked him to tell me of any health problems I might have. He was spot-on in his diagnosis, and even proffered some advice on how to manage these minor ailments.

I am now a foot massage convert, and go at least once a week for my own little bit of serenity and stress therapy.

(China Daily 03/10/2006 page4)


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