The first time I tried guāshā (刮痧), the traditional Chinese scraping/rubbing therapy for having too much “fire” in your body (which can make you get a cold), a Chinese friend told the shīfu to do it a little lighter than usual (轻一点儿) and it only got uncomfortable at the last two or so strokes on each line. The second time I told the shīfu the same thing and barely felt anything, which kind of seemed like a rip off. This time I’m ready for the real deal so I don’t tell the guy anything.
Instead of using a coin or an animal horn to do the scraping/rubbing he uses a small-size fire cup; it feels like having a magnet on your back that’s attracted to your skin. It also means I’m getting suctioned and scraped/rubbed at the same time. And he does 30 strokes per line — I know because I’m counting… oohhh, am I counting! I’m grinding my teeth by the time he gets to 24 or 25. It hurts the worst on the sides of my lower back (where it’s soft) and on the back of my neck, I guess because there’s less flesh there. But I’m determined, and try to make conversation to distract myself from the pain. The shīfu is a southerner who came to Tianjin from Anhui province in the early 90’s. Ow! Rrrrr… uuugh! The photo is from the morning after.
This bathhouse is a different kind from the first one we tried a few times. That first bathhouse was the lowest-level business/recreation-oriented kind that charge 10-12 kuài to get in. Last night’s bathhouse is a step below that. It was originally built as part of the neighbourhood either in 1980 or just before — one old man peeling off his callouses on the edge of the tub said he’d been going there since 1980. It’s 5-6 kuài to get in. Back then most people used public baths as much out of necessity as for recreation. Indoor plumbing and heating in these 30-year-old neighbourhoods is poor and back then people didn’t so much want to shower at home, especially in the winter. Many still don’t, because even though household gas or electric hot water heaters are now common and more affordable, the government-controlled heating is often virtually useless in these older places. Thankfully this bathhouse is too small for xiǎojiěs; there’s no back room or private rooms to put them in. Plus there’s a women’s side, too; when I entered the lobby a mother and her happily excited 11-year-old daughter were just receiving their locker keys for an after-dinner shower. This is the one (the only one in that area) that Mr. Lu said “doesn’t have any funny business” (没有乱七八糟).
It’s definitely a step down from the first place in terms of facilities. I’m glad I brought my own towel, because otherwise it’d be a public towel that has already been used by several people that evening. Same with the shower shoes. For soap and shampoo you’re also on your own. Signs on the wall overlooking the tubs list what kinds of skin, venereal, and other transmittable diseases are forbidden in the tubs. Next to the signs there’s a picture of puppies sitting on heart pillows, and next to that a 1970’s-looking pin-up drawing of a woman who would be considered too fat by North American pin-up “standards.”
It was definitely great for language practice, and relaxing, but I don’t know if I’ll go back. It was over a half-hour bike ride home straight on into heavy wind in sub-zero temperatures. There’s gotta be a similar place closer to our apartment. Plus, it was pretty dirty. Ideally I’d find a closer and cleaner place for around the same price without xiǎojiěs where I can return multiple times — that way I don’t have to have the same conversations (“What country are you from? blah blah blah…”) every time I go because I’ll see the same people. Maybe that’s a tall order, but it’s worth keeping an eye out, I think.
Other bathhouse & Chinese medicine/therapy posts: