China is all about manicures, pedicures and massages. Spas abound, much to the delight of expats who might not have the chance to indulge in such luxury at home. Although, there ought to be a small skull and crossbones at the entrance of every provider, a subtle warning that a fifty minute massage may include ten minutes of hair pulling and a few bruises. Even silver clouds sometimes have gray linings, kind of like my phone which is shiny silver on top and flat gray on the back. Seth gave it to me with a gleam in his eye, having just experienced the drug-like rush of purchasing a new bit of technology. I held it with suspicion. My friends have noted that my phone and I frequently part company, so Seth received a text from my friend Julie–We’re going to a spa at 10am. Ask Paula if she wants to come along.
I dug out my phone and texted back:
“I hear you’re going to a Korean spa. I’m keen to go, but I don’t know what they do there. If it’s anything involving getting wrapped in a towel or a robe, I’m afraid they’ll look at me and say they’ve never had anything that would cover that much real estate. Maybe after that we could go swimsuit shopping, because that’s always fun.”
I hit Send.
Too bad it went to Chase’s teacher instead. No fair placing the contacts so close together.
We did make it to the spa, the four of us joking about being the Real Housewives of Suzhou, right up until they told us to strip naked and sit in the pool with all the tiny Chinese girls. And here I was worried about the size of the towels. Got anything else? They gestured vaguely to the upper floors and we each pulled on their standard issue pink shorts and shirts and set off to explore. First there was the salt room where I was warm for the first time in weeks. Then the ice room, essentially a walk-in freezer that felt curiously like the marble meat locker that is my house. There were various moist saunas too, and huts of paper, wood and adobe, all raised on different levels with coffin-like alcoves carved out underneath, each tube just wide enough for a floor mat and a nap. The spa was all about resting, having an open space in a quiet plane, without the harsh blast of car horns or the beep of ebikes. People pay the entrance fee for an extravagance of peace. There are other services too, available for a fee, which is how I paid for someone to pull my hair and bruise my shoulders. As soon as I can speak the language, I’m going to ask the first Chinese girl I see where they found a pencil sharpener big enough for elbows. Still, there might be something to all that pummeling. The young man massaging my friend said, “You’re not sleeping.” He was right, she just returned from the United States and is horribly jet lagged, though you couldn’t see it to look at her. He set out to put an end to that, and she wondered in English what she’d done to make him mad.
I returned home feeling pretty chipper, particularly because I was able to get into the pink shorts. When Seth came home he said he’d gotten a call from Lee, our contact at the boys’ Chinese elementary school.
“Is everything all right?”
“I think so,” Seth said.
“One of the teachers got a text she couldn’t understand in the middle of a staff meeting. We think it was from your wife.”
Luckily Lee’s English is very good, so he was able to translate for everyone.
I have no business owning a phone.