We headed for China on Chinese New Year. Everything in China closes for the Lunar New Year, so it was a good travel day. We took a plane from Denpasar to Singapore and then to Hong Kong. From there, we took a boat to Zhongshan where we were met by lovely Miss Cherry, with whom Primitive has been involved for years. She is smart, stylish, enthusiastic, and multi-lingual, speaking excellent English and several dialects of Chinese. She’s a walking advertisement for the “new” China.
It was late when we arrived, so we decided to go straight to the hotel, about a 45minute drive from the port. Despite the hour, there was plenty of traffic on the wide boulevards and all along the way people were lighting off fire works. It seemed like the continuous stream of exploding rockets were heralding our arrival, but what struck me most was the huge amount of neon lighting everywhere I looked. Whole buildings were covered in neon, their colors constantly changing and moving. Neon had become an essential part of the architectural vocabulary, and the landscape danced to a regular beat. Being my first time in China, I did not expect it to remind me of Las Vegas, but it did.
At the hotel we had some tea and a quick Chinese lesson before heading out. Glen insisted on foot massages to usher in the New Year. Apparently, the foot massage house stayed open despite the holiday. In China,I learned you can get a foot massage just about any time of day or night. We walked to the massage house behind the hotel and were brought up to a private room with four giant LA-Z-BOY style arm-chairs. We were greeted with smiles and enthusiastic “happy new years!” And before the massage began we were showered with more tea and platefuls of fresh fruit.
I was nervous. I don’t like being waited upon. Perhaps my reluctance comes with age, but I think the notion of foot touching was also in play. I felt like I should have been given a set of instructions telling me how to smile so the masseuse would know I appreciated it and how to adjust my feet so that she wouldn’t have to bend so low. There was none; so I made up my own rules. I lifted when she pushed and tilted when she turned and smiled when we met eyes. It was only after forty-five minutes that I could relax enough to appreciate the cushiness of the chair and the earnestness of her efforts.
I was rubbed, whacked, and kneaded for two hours. The label, foot massage, is misleading. It’s also an intense deep tissue back massage while your feet soak and leg massage after your feet have been sufficiently worked. There are medicinal powders, oils, and steaming towels involved. The three ladies and the solitary man did their work while keeping a constant lull of chatter. Glen and Claudia practiced their Chinese and Cherry chimed in with Mandarin and Cantonese corrections. “Don’t learn Cantonese,” she kept saying. There were laughs at regular intervals. The mood was lighthearted. Time passed quickly. We were done two hours later.
After paying and wishing Happy New Year, we burst out of the glass doors and into the night. While we were at the massage house, the temperature had uncharacteristically dropped, and even though we were in southern China, it was freezing. At full speed, we ran the 75 meters back to the hotel. Our breath left a trail of white behind us like a boat’s wake. Finally, we arrived, stamping our feet and holding our fists to our mouths. The receptionists at the hotel welcomed us warmly and offered us candy along with a predictable “Happy New Year.” There was strawberry taffy, White Rabbit, chocolate coins, and something that looked too unfamiliar to eat. Their smiles were infectious.
After a long day of travel we were pampered and warmly welcomed. The new China I learned is something different than the China that appears in the news every day.
It is not some distant place delineated by growth statistics and proclamations. It is a bustling place filled with many enthusiastic, gracious people who are eager to learn, share and compare,and their hospitality began to erase my first impression that China is like Las Vegas. Nevertheless, as I headed to my room in anticipation of what tomorrow would bring, Las Vegas once again entered my mind. I cannot say “what happens here stays here” because in our case I know it won’t. We’re here to find treasures to bring home to Primitive.