LAOWAI (Pinyin: l?owài) is one of several Chinese words for foreigner. Laowai literally translates as “old” (lao) “foreigner” (wai).
Hey! I’m not that old!
But as I stroll along this shop & stall-lined street within the fifth ring-road of Beijing, I am conscious of one fact… I am tall! Its not like I go around measuring myself beside every passer-by. But when you are surrounded at close quarters, it becomes obvious. I am 193 cm tall (that translates to about 6′ 3″ in Church of England!).
Once, when I was in Xinjiang, I was accused of being too tall for my hotel bed and that there would be an extra charge! Totally preposterous! My sharp-eared guide stepped in to “gently correct” the over zealous hotel entrepreneur! I must admit though, I’ve heard a lot, but that was a first!
Ahhh! And I have found it, my stroll in the sun bleached 5th ring-road area has brought me to my destination, a small massage studio. I have been told by a local it is one of the best around and completely staffed by blind massage attendants. The proprietor is a petit woman who greets me and pulls me inside out of the sun. It is clear I am probably the first Laowai to darken their door. The attendants, a young man who will do my body, and a young woman, who will work on my tired feet, both touch me and size me up with their hands and shut eyes. After a few giggles it was down to business. And what a business it was.
Unlike most massage studios in the West, this massage is completely clothed. Modesty and professionalism is regarded highly here and the quality of the massage is second to none. In fact, I had tears in my eyes as I tried to silently endure the skills of the young man. But like a true pro, he could sense my discomfort and immediately softened his touch. Good thing! It would be very undignified if I had to cry out in anguish like a whimpering 5 -year old!
After my massage, I was helped to a massive armchair facing out to the street. I sank low into the chair. Very very low. I think the chair’s springs had failed back in the 1980′s as evident by the lime greet funky Wayne’s World upholstery. Settled and comfortable, the young woman brought out a wooden bucket filled with what looked like steaming tea. Gently, my feet acclimatized to the scalding tea and an hour of total bliss began. After my feet and legs were at the perfect boiled lobster shade of red, one lobster was swaddled in a thick towel while she began to administer to my tender foot. Oils, creams and a vice-like grip worked their magic for about 25 minutes. This I knew then, was going to have to be an almost daily treat. And why not? At the equivalent of about $5 Canadian dollars, I could reward my strolling every few days.
Once my practitioners were satisfied they had punished me enough, we had a sweet moment of conversation – which is always a bit amusing given we have no idea what each other was saying. But a lovely moment none the less.
I hurried back to my hotel and put my feet up so as not to ruin the fine job of my blind attendants. That night I slept like the dead.
When you visit China, seek out a fine massage. They are all over the place. If you find blind attendants, do avail yourself of their skills. It is a wonderful way to support this profession. And it will be one of the most memorable things you will do!