Ok, so this was my third time to Shanghai. I’ve also traveled quite a bit in other less-developed countries, e.g., several Caribbean Islands, Mexico, Tahiti, and Hungary, where it’s not wise to drink tap water, so I don’t. I have never gotten sick . . . until this time. Did I mention it’s my third time to Shanghai? Must be the charm! Here’s the story. It starts with a wonderful sunny day, the second Friday of my stint. I did some work in the morning, and then decided to explore a section of the city known as Xintiandi. It’s located in the center of Shanghai, right off Metro Line 10, which is the line I could access easily close to Fudan University (close being a 30-minute walk from my apt).
Upon arrival, I hopped off the metro, got my bearings (meaning making sure I knew how to get back to the metro station) and starting exploring. Spotting a nice coffee shop, I ordered an iced latte and sat down to map out a plan. Xintiandi is a unique area that has seen incredible gentrification in the last 20 years, and is where many of the very wealthy locals and foreigners now reside (saw several high-end luxury cars driving slowly around the area when I was there, for example). Its old buildings are in what’s called the Shikumen style and were built in the 1800s as housing for locals. The site of the First National Congress of the Communist Party of China in 1921 is the most famous landmark in the area. In 1997 the old buildings began to be totally remodeled and updated with ultra-modern interiors, and they now house upscale restaurants, coffee houses, retail spaces, and boutique hotels. A number of world-famous chefs have also opened restaurants there; Wolfgang Puck just happened to be showcasing a grand opening of one of his places during my visit. I primarily wanted to explore the remodeled Shikumen area, and as I finished by latte, I eyeballed roughly where its boundaries were.
Setting out through the designated target area, I was amazed by the obvious difference between this part of Shanghai, and the many others I had seen. Even the famous shopping district on Nanjing Road is not as upscale as this neighborhood. Streets are clean. Garbage is invisible. Not as many bicycles and scooters swerving around me (though there were still many), and plenty of people bustling about dressed to the nines. After taking some photos of several examples of the architecture, I happened upon a Cadillac-sponsored art exhibit of Van Gogh’s paintings, which seemed totally appropriate in that setting. Having seen many of Van Gogh’s paintings in museums around the world, I skipped paying the 200 yuan (roughly $32), and kept walking. The area was filled with people from all over the world. Lots of westerners, for sure, indeed many more than I had yet seen. But, there was representation from the Indian subcontinent, Eastern Europe, and Africa, too. I even heard Australian accents at one point, and turned to see two young women staring at a map.
Once we had an understanding, I was led into a low-lighted therapy room that had soft music playing in the background, given some hot tea to sip, and asked to slip off my clothes down to my underwear. Presently, a technician quietly knocked and crept into the room carrying what looked like a fishing tackle box. In broken English, she said “ready for ear clean, sir?” I assumed she meant ear massage, and so I replied in my best Chinese “Shi de” (yes).
She motioned for me to lie on the table face up, and she quickly got down to the business . . . of cleaning my frickin’ ears! At first, this was indeed relaxing as she gently rubbed and cleaned all around my ears’ external surfaces. Yet, when she started moving down the ear canals with some sort of utensil my pulse quickened as I began to think of the potential for a slip-up with whatever it was she was pushing toward my ear drums. As this continued, however, it seemed as if she was fairly skilled so I relaxed as best I could, and began to enjoy the experience. After about 10 minutes, just as I was getting used to a stranger cleaning my ears, she switched utensils and promptly began shooting water bursts into both ear canals. The surprising wetness of this caused me to flinch, so she put her hand on my shoulder and said “it ok sir; will help with clean.” So, once again I tried to focus on relaxing, and honestly started to enjoy this treatment variation, too. In another 10 minutes, she stopped her work, put a slip of paper in front of my face and pointed to where I should sign for the service. Then she indicated the masseur would be in next and promptly left.
As I sat there wondering what the heck had just happened, admitting that my ears did feel cleaner, yet thinking they definitely should rename the treatment on their menu, in marched a well-muscled young man who motioned for me to lie face down on the table. I reflexively put a hand over one ear, and then climbed onto the table. Immediately, the masseur slapped my upper back and jiggled my muscles fairly rigorously, then proceeded to pull my underwear down so that my butt cheeks were exposed. Now, I was aware this was often part of Chinese massage practices, but even still, it was a slight shock when it occurred. I was determined to relax, though, and enjoy what I had primarily come to experience, so I ignored my slight sense of embarrassment and focused on the floor below me. He then rubbed, pounded, slapped, and massaged my body so hard for 60 minutes that at one point I grunted quite audibly from the pressure he was putting on my lower back. He feigned concern by asking if I was ok, and I lied a little by saying yes.
When he finished, he indicated, by pinching me in two places where muscle knots still persisted and shook his head in frustration. I sat up to indicate I knew what he meant by rubbing my upper back, but he misunderstood and demanded that I sit down facing away from him with my arms above my head. Before I knew what was happening, he had grabbed my arms, kneed me in the lower back, and expertly cracked my back bones. Still trying to recover from that little surprise, I was handed his pay slip to sign and he motioned that I should get dressed.
As I paid my bill and walked away from the parlor, I tried hard to convince myself that what I had just experienced was wonderful. That my 55-year old body needed the type of treatments I had received, and that I was lucky to have stumbled across such an upscale salon. It was a tough sell, though, and I’m still asking what the hell happened to me in Xintiandi? And this is where I believe Mao got his revenge, because later that evening my stomach started cramping and I became quite intimate with my toilet for about 24 hours. Was it the ear massage, I mean ear cleaning? Perhaps. She did use water from an unknown source, didn’t she? Hmmm. Ironically then, maybe the ear cleaning ended up cleaning out more than my ears. Or maybe it was the iced latte. (A few more pics).