Suitcase and World: Chillin' in Xi'an.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Chillin' in Xi'an.

efore we arrived into Xi’an, Bernd and Robbie had told Jenny that they wanted to get haircuts and I had told her that wanted to get a traditional Chinese foot massage. After our bike ride on Xi'an's city wall, we had the rest of the day free so it was a good time to get these activities out of the way. We first had to get the guys to the hair dresser. Jenny led us down the street the look of which reminded me very much of what I used to see in Malaysia....brought back good memories.

At the hairdressers, I took a *before* photo of the two and then went on our way to the massage salon.

 Jan was a bit reluctant to go have a foot massage because she was very self conscious about the way her feet look because she suffers from rheumatoid arthritis but I knew that the massage would likely make her feet feel better so I tried everything I could to get her to come along. According to Jan, I *bullied* her into going even telling her to just come along and if she really didn’t want to do it herself, to be by my side for moral support. She eventually caved into my pleas. Yay :-) Actually, I thought the massage would be good after that long bike ride. Dean also came along with us. Jenny knew exactly where to take us. It was a very short walk from the hairdressers to the salon. Once we arrived, Jenny told the receptionist what we wanted to do. Originally, Dean had wanted a full back massage but Jenny told him that they would be giving him a partial body massage as part of the foot massage so he opted to go for that at the last minute.

The three of us were led into a room with four reclining chairs and we were then asked whether we wanted male or female masseuses. I think we all initially picked female masseuses but then were told that the practice is for male masseuses to work on female clients and female masseuses to work on male clients and so that’s what we went with. We each picked a recliner to sit on and three masseuses entered the room along with a server who delivered each of us a cup of green tea and a small plate of watermelon.

The foot massage began with soaking our feet in a warm herbal bath solution. As our feet were soaking, our fingers and arms got massaged. I must have been really tense because the poor masseuse who worked on me had to keep telling me to relax. Argh….I must have been a bundle of knots. At the end, whatever tensions were in my arms from the bike ride were gone and I was starting to really relax.

Fingers and arms done, it was now back to the feet. I don’t know what was in the herbal bath but by now, the tops of my feet felt as soft as a baby’s bottom.

The water was drained from the bath and my feet dried. I don’t remember the exact sequence of what happened next but at some point, the masseuse took a small amount of what looked like Vaseline type goop and applied it to my feet, one foot at a time. Then the massage began and was it painful and ticklish. I didn’t know whether to cry or to laugh :-) I must have squirmed quite a bit in my seat because again, the poor masseuse kept telling me to relax. He started with massaging the toes first and then proceeded to the bottom of my foot where hit every pressure point and it was not a gentle massage. Ouch! But it really felt good in the end.

There was also the *hammering-of-the-bottom-of-the-foot” part of the massage. I don’t know what this is for but again, it felt good after the pounding ended.

Then, there was the *thundering-of-the-thighs* as I call it. This is when the masseuse slapped the top of my thighs with his palms. I think he actually got into a bit of a drumming routine and when all three masseuses were going at it, it sounded like a drum corps. I found it all really amusing and was had to suppress my urge to break out laughing out of respect for the masseuses. It really was a funny moment!


After the thighs were pounded, they were massaged. “Relax”, said the masseuse. “Okay”, I replied though I really had no idea how to control the urge to break out in laughter. Oh….I had a really bad case of the tickles. Every now and again during the session, I would glance over at Dean and Jan. At first, both were alert and watching every move the masseuses made. After a while though, both had their eyes closed and seemed to be relaxing. With fingers, arms, toes and legs done, the masseuse started to work on my shoulders and back. Oh…..did that feel good. I didn’t realize how tense my shoulders were until he squeezed them. I really really, really wanted him to work on them more but after just a few minutes, he moved on to the back. For this, he straddled the seat, sitting behind me. He put his knee up to my back and basically ran it up and down my spine.

Painful at first, it actually felt good a few minutes later…..I felt my back begin to loosen up. Then, came the strangest move. He masseuse wrapped his arms under my arms and pulled me back so I was lying, back fully stretched, atop him. A very bizarre position to be in and this time I could not help but break out in the giggles. Laugh or not, it did wonders for my back. That ended the session which from start to finish took about 50 minutes. When I got up from the seat, I was feeling thoroughly relaxed…..and my legs no longer hurt from the bike ride!! With a really generous tip included, the entire massage cost 120 RMB which is less than a 1/3 of what something similar would cost at home. With jelly for legs, we walked out of the salon. It was good to hear that Jan, who was so reluctant to go in the first place, actually enjoyed the entire session.

On the way out of South Gate, Jenny had pointed out Calligraphy Street to us. Sounded interesting so that’s where Jan, Dean and I went after the foot massage. It was just a short distance away but we were all so relaxed, our walk turned into more of a stroll. We passed Jenny along the way and from the look on her face, I think she was glad to see that we had an enjoyable time at the massage salon. We slowly ambled our way to Calligraphy Street. It is a street that lives up to its name – stores selling everything to do with Chinese calligraphy line both sides of the streets intermingled with vendors selling souvenirs. None of the three of us was really in the mood to do any shopping so we just walked up the street and back down.
 Somewhere on our walk, I heard the sound of music…..sounded like a flute. I followed the sound and discovered one of the street vendors playing. The instrument is a ceramic, slightly triangular egg shaped object with a blow hole at the top and several small holes on the sides for your fingers. I had seen these things before but never knew what they were for. The vendor was playing a piece of Chinese music that I really wanted to capture on video but I was standing alongside Dean when the vendor caught me videotaping him and so he switched the tune he was playing to “Here Comes The Bride”. You can’t hear the tune very well on the video but you can see how both Dean and I corrected him on his choice of song and hear me giggling at what was happening. The video ends as Jan steps in front of the camera.

 I restarted video capture to record him playing a Western tune which I did manage to capture “Jan free”.  :-) I love these impromptu street moments!  

From Calligraphy Street, we made our way back to South Street and went to the supermarket that Jenny had pointed out to us earlier that day. We all wanted to buy water and munchies. It was a good sized, Western style supermarket spread over two floors. There was definitely a large variety of produce and goods to pick from. We figured this is the place where the well heeled population of Xi’an goes to shop. We each got the items we needed and headed to the checkout lines together. There, we bumped into Trevor and Madeline….it’s a small world in Xi’an. :-) As we were cycling around the city wall, Jan and I had gotten it into our heads that we wanted to have ice cream. We knew there was a Haagen Dazs store just a few minutes walk from our hotel so you can guess where we went next. We dragged poor Dean along and he was a good sport for coming. We walked down South Street back towards the Bell Tower and navigated the underground passage as Jenny had shown us. The Haagen Dazs store greeted us as we surfaced. Yay!!
Every other Haagen Dazs store I’ve ever been too is nothing more than a counter behind which there were bins of ice cream. You walk up and you tell the sales person how many scoops you want and whether you want a cone or a cup. You pay and then you leave….usually slurping on ice cream as you walk out the door. So, this is exactly what I expected walking into this one BUT oh no, this is upscale Xi’an. This Haagen Dazs store was more like an ice cream parlor where you sit down, they hand you a menu with fancy selections (e.g., ice cream desserts costing 70 RMB or more) and serve you like you were in a high end restaurant. We were all led to some pretty comfy looking chairs. We immediately slouched into them and went “ah” as our bodies were enjoying the cool of air conditioning. The hostess handed us our menus and we gasped at the prices. After having spent 60 RMB on the tour of the city wall + bike ride and then 120 RBM on the massage + tip, none of us felt like spending much on ice cream so we all opted for single scoops which still ran us around 24 RBM each! We slowly savored our very expensive scoops of ice cream and left the store.

On the short walk back to the hotel, Madeline and Dean veered off to go to the internet café while I headed straight back to the hotel. It had been a long day and what I wanted to do more than anything else was to have a cold shower and put my feet up. We had about an hour or so left before we had to meet up with Jenny for dinner. During that time, I also picked up my cleaned laundry… nice to have clean clothes!

Dinner our first night in Xi’an was at a nearby restaurant that specializes in hotpots. Here, you get your own individual hotpot of soup. The meat and veggies are provided and there is a selection of condiments and sauces. For the rest of the group, having this sort of a dinner was definitely something different and it was nice to see them all enjoying it.

After stuffing our faces, we followed Jenny to a nearby bus stop to catch a local bus to go to Tang Paradise, a Tang Dynasty theme park. The main night time attraction at the park is a water light show. It was a short bus ride. The park was filled with locals taking their after dinner strolls. Located inside near the park is the Wild Goose Pagoda which was built in 652 AD during the Tang Dynasty. Jenny gave us a quick briefing of the Pagoda but the crowds around me was so loud, I didn’t make out a single word. We joined the crowd and meandered our way towards the fountains where the light show would take place. Scattered about the park are brass (?) sculptures depicting figures from the Tang Dynasty. Of course, several in the group couldn’t resist the photo op. Text from famous Tang Dynasty poems are imprinted on the light stands and coins from the Tang Dynasty were recreated and embedded into the stone walkways. Lining the walkways were vendors selling souvenirs and food as well as the opportunity to dress up in period costume and have your picture taken.

Amateur calligraphers were also in the park, practicing their art using brushes dipped in water. Though it was a muggy night, there were so many distractions around me, that I really enjoyed the walk and the park. Here's a video of the calligrapher practicing his craft on the sidewalk. The first few seconds of the video may be too dark to see but be patient, there will be light :-)  

We arrived at the fountains just a few minutes before 9p which is when the show is suppose to start. The place was p-a-c-k-e-d!! We each found spots to stand in and I did my best to video the show but I was having battery issues with my camera so I did not capture as much as I would have liked. Entertainment wise, the show was okay…..I’m not really a fan of such things.


The show lasted for about a half hour and we left as soon as it ended, retracing our steps back to the bus and the bus ride back to the hotel. There, Jan and I had to once again face our temperamental door card reader. I lost count after 21 tries during which time, we were both giggling so hard at the inanity of it all. Jan and I eventually got in.

I was ready for a hot shower and bed! It had been another long but memorable day. Goodnight Xi'an!