Hong Kong Postcard: Chinese Massage or Prisoner of War Training?

I have a bad shoulder. I don’t know if I slept on it funny or carried suitcase too heavily laden with purchases. Either way my right shoulder has been intensively painful for a fortnight.

Today to alleviate the pain I went to a Chinese Massage centre just a hundred metres from my office. It’s in a convenient basement and is dimly lit so you’re not frightened by the decor. Despite the effort of getting my colleague to phone ahead, make and appointment and explain my symptoms it was a complete surprise to them when I arrived. After batting away the insistent small woman I got the masseur of my choice. He wasn’t particularly big but his platter-size hands were stronger than even I imagined.

He spoke no English and my Chinese is better suited to business. I haven’t learned body parts like shoulder, rotator cuff, ligaments or neck. He started and I pointed and groaned.When he’d located the general vicinity of the pain my full body spasms probably negated the need for fluent Cantonese.

For the first 20 minutes I was in extreme, intense pain. He’d located the source of my shoulder pain. Apparently it’s a stringy cable running down the front of the shoulder. Does that control my typing fingers? Is this RSI? I didn’t care to wonder. I was stifling screams.

Amazingly the masseur found the exact spot and continued to press at the site of the pain. Hard. Again and again. I was ready to admit the site of Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction. I may have confessed to stockpiling chemical weapons. I was sweating and having spasms. It was awful. And every time I thought he was done he would dig deeper. I now know the towels at that hole in the massage table are for tears.

Before long the large cable of pain had been reduced to thready filament. Still he continued to press. It clicked back and forth. It sounded like graham crackers being crushed for the cheesecake base.

By now the first third of his thumb was inserted into the hollow of my shoulder joint. I appreciated my skin for its ability to keep my arm connected to my body. This guy wanted it popped off like the head of a little girl’s doll. Thwak! By far it was the longest 20 minutes of my life.

Before long the pain was gone and mobility was restored. When I entered I couldn’t lift my arm. Now he was twirling the appendage like I was Phelps warming up for the butterfly. He was free to explore the other pockets of non-conformity littered across my back. He found one spot below my shoulder-blade that I wasn’t even aware existed until he started kneading it. I was simultaneously proud and horrified that I could bury a lemon-sized lump and not be aware. That went without nearly the same level of protest as the shoulders.

For the last half of the massage I could relax. It became actually enjoyable. By the end when he attacked those cable-like muscles that connect your neck to your shoulders even they realised resistance was futile.

I am now imitating Jell-o behind my computer at work. The pain is gone along with almost all of my energy. It is a real benefit to life in Hong Kong. During your lunch hour you can emulate a prisoner of war torture, pay for it and be back at your desk before 2:00 pm.

I only hope I don’t suffer post-traumatic stress disorder.

 

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