Beijing, like any other society, is comprised of people from all different back grounds: rich, poor, disabled and healthy. The world is full of differences, and Beijing is a city that exemplifies difference. Many see Beijing where the East meets the West with the unique way Beijingers assimilate western concepts and ideas and put their own spin on it, or vice versa when foreigners come to find work and set up business within the Chinese culture. However, as a student, many of these social underpinnings are lost to me in the bustle of city life- it all seems to blend together. What is not though, is the wide gap between the handicapped and healthy of Beijing.
With this in mind, I sat in a clean room, with a huge window over looking one of Beijing’s quieter streets and went through a mental check list. Clothes all on? Check. Shoes off? Check. Ready to get the best massage for the best price ever? Check!
On a daily basis, walking through the streets of Beijing you will encounter beggars. In America, if you encountered someone homeless often times don a sign reading something like “God Bless You” to “Need money, no beer.” But the homeless in China are a much different sort. Some have signs, but most painfully and publicly show their lowly status through their disfigured, mangled or deformed bodies. It’s surprising how many people you can encounter in a day, and it makes me wonder how they make a living off just the few maos and kuais they get by the chance passerby. A lot of times I just don’t know how to react, I have never met anyone with the physical problems asking for alms on the streets of America. Yet, some do get by.
When I arrived at the massage parlor, one of the attendants shuffled to the anti-disinfection box and took out some clean towels, feeling for the quality to ensure he had the right one for the massage bed I was told to get on. Once prepared, I was told to take off my shoes and lie down. But this massage was unlike any other that I have ever had, because my dai fu (massage therapist) was blind. In fact, besides me and the building’s care taker, no one else could see. All clothes were kept on, and he used a towel to rigorously take out all the knots in my shoulder and back. In this way it was totally different than a Western massage, different but relaxing.
Many people cringe at the idea of going to someone blind to get a massage (按摩an mo is massage in Chinese) . How do they know what is clean if they can’t see? What if they don’t know what they are doing? But I can tell you the experience was amazing and I am glad I went. It not only was affordable (~$10USD) but it was really interesting to see into the lives of what being handicapped in China is like. As I got massaged I chatted with the attendants asking them about where they went to school, how they liked their job, etc. They also taught me different names for the parts of the body (like shoulder and back). I learned about the Chinese policy that promoted giving jobs to those with blindness through massage parlors and massage trade schools. It was refreshing to see that despite disabilities, some people in China still had a chance to have a life and work. The people at the massage parlor were so inviting too. They seemed to know my every muscle and could tell easily where I was sore before I opened my mouth as well as other things in like that I lifted weights and ran just from where my muscles were most developed in my back and legs. After going to school for 3 years and then practicing for another 5 my dai yi seemed to be an expert of the human body.
It was such a great experience I plan to return for ‘mo.