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SUNDAY MORNING

So near, yet so feared: the magic touch

Cecilie Gamst Berg

 

Ah, Chinese beer. So weak, so pure, so good. However, it can still give you a hangover if you consume too much - for example, after the enforced-to-the-death "cheers, cheers, drain your glass" fun that can accompany mainland dinner parties.

But no matter how awful you feel, help is at hand. Literally. I'm talking about the famous Chinese foot massage.

In Western countries, a foot massage is called acupressure therapy (in Cantonese it's prosaically called sai geuk "wash feet") and it really is therapeutic. Those pressure points under your tortured soles clearly do connect with all sorts of other body parts and, when handled by an expert, you will come out of the massage parlour walking on air, all traces of the night before having vanished.

I don't know how many people I have initiated in this wonderful art, or science, but it's a lot. They go in full of misgivings: "What? Have somebody touch my feet? Eew". But after they have crashed through the pain barrier and the initial shock of harpoon-like thumbs bearing down on their instep, they succumb and quickly turn to jelly.

Some people, especially in Shenzhen, plan their weekends around massages, which can last up to three hours, complete with ear-cleaning, pedicure and manicure. They even stay the night, because after a massage, be it foot or body, all you want to do is sleep. Pre-dinner massages are not recommended.

Last time I was in Guangzhou with my friend A, we had a foot massage just down the road from our hotel after a rather beer-fuelled dinner. We ordered a man for me and a woman for him, but as it happened they only had men that night. Just as well, because those massage girls in their pink Russian-style training gear are more ruthless than the men, and don't consider their job done until they've made the customer cry.

Because no one can be expected to just enjoy the massage in itself, all parlours in the mainland come equipped with personal or communal television screens. We sat down and put our feet in the hot water basins to a sprightly Jackie Chan fighting his way through Drunken Master, and woke up in the middle of Tom Cruise failing to assassinate Hitler in Valkyrie.

Staggering out onto the pavement, our heroic plans of visiting a nearby disco had evaporated, and all we could do was jelly our way back to the hotel.

One warning: avoid the masseurs at Lo Wu Commercial City, most of them are cowboys and charge a ridiculous 10 yuan (HK$12) an hour. Just a few hundred yards north, up Jianshe Road, are real parlours with properly trained staff.

You'll never have to suffer a hangover again.

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