THERE IS SOMETHING quirkily perverse, even creepy, about arriving for the very first time in a big and famous city, on a bright and lovely day, and then being whisked away from your hotel and locked up in a big, dark box where you are kept captive for the next couple of hours. Well, that's the bare bones of the scenario. The story is really a familiar one, and the details literally flesh it out. The plot, we must warn you, is straightforward and somewhat thin, and involves a cast of only two characters. We might as well add that the lighting is subtle, and that there are some sweet directorial touches along the way. I was in Shanghai on a two-and-a-half day business trip, and part of the weekend's business was to be the pleasure of accepting a spa package at the spanking new, wholly exotic Banyan Tree Shanghai, located on the third floor of the Westin Hotel. It was early afternoon, I had just arrived in the city and my body was itching to leap into the general urban excitement outside. Corporate courtesy, however, demanded I go through the motions, keep my meticulously planned appointment, and submit to what turned out to be a very pleasant pampering experience. A smiling welcome committee takes me down a long, red-carpeted corridor. We turn intriguing corners and pad past rows of palatial, partially-lit rooms. The room I enter would be more accurately described as a hall. Impressive space, high ceiling, hidden lighting, regal decor. Three days earlier I had blindly selected a spa treatment called the Royal Banyan Package, out of a choice of three mentioned in a business e-mail. I am in what is known as the Water Room, where this particular treatment package is unwrapped (very slowly). I am greeted by Prareet, the charming Thai lady who administers the treatment. While the preparatory foot bath is in progress, I ask Prareet what the rest of the treatment entails, and then lean back and take in the atmosphere. A stem of incense burns in the prow of a ceramic boat by my shoulder, and a clay burner releases the aroma of a Thai herb. The next couple of hours float by in a haze of incense and herbal scents. Head so lulled by the peace surrounding me that body barely registers the gliding presence and pressure of soft hands on skin, I drift in and out of sleep. The session ends with me being left alone in the room to enjoy a soak in the tub. While I have my penultimate of several showers on this long, fragrant afternoon, when time stood still for what seemed like eternity, Prareet has poured a jug of boiled ginseng water into the bath and left a tray of watermelon, purple grapes and honeydew melon, and a pot of honey-flavoured rose-barley tea. A curtain has been drawn half the length of the room, the lights have been dimmed and a crescent of stunted candles burns along the edge of the tub. Delicious. Theatrical. Magical. The point of the story is that an afternoon of sightseeing may have been lost during a rushed visit to a neighbouring city, but a floating island of suspended tome (so necessary for mind and body) was achieved. This is a precious gain indeed in the perpetual motion of the typical Hong Kong work style, life style - and even travel style.