Sunday, 13 September 2009

HK - Day 1 - Sunny Paradise

Lady...walk all over me, please! Get my meat all tenderised.

sunny 32 °C
We decided to join a HK tour to China for 3 reasons:
1. Everything in Singapore is about 30% more expensive than HK, and tour packages are no exception.
2. Hongkongers are very picky about Chinese food, and the tour operators know it all too well.
3. We don't have time to organise the trip ourselves.

The Wing On's 4-day Guilin tour costs about 1800 HKD + tips for tour guides + various other service charges, the total damage came to 3600 HKD. These costs include all '5-star' accommodation, airfares, airport transfers, drivers, tour guides, hiring and admission charges (if applicable), meals and an optional tour. El cheapo. This is the best time to travel to China as their cost of living moves in double digit growth while tourist facilities have been reasonably developed.

We used the Aussie budget airline Jetstar and costs 150 SGD from Singapore to HK. The price of cheap airfare is inconvenience in flight time which occurs at the graveyard hour of 4AM.
As the taxi drove past the casino work site on our way to the airport where a tangled mass of steel cranes and the skeletons of buildings are telling me that the December deadline is impossible to meet unless the project is taken over by alien from outer space - the ones who were allegedly built the Great Pyramid of Giza with anti-gravity devices to lift the huge blocks. Quite a few of the construction workers are actually alien from India.

We landed in HK and got to Fraser Suites in Wanchai about 12PM. Two things that we missed about HK that outshine above all else: one is food that HK is well known for, and the other is massage.
As soon as we dropped our bags in the hotel, we wasted no time and went straight to one of our fave eating joint locates only two streets from our hotel in Spring Garden Lane.


This noodle house is not only unassuming in its outlook, it has even less space than it looks. Because of its popularity, you are almost expected to share table with other customers and are literally rubbing elbows with your neighbours as you eat (HK people are used to this, and their personal space is a hairy wider than battery hens'). Leaving your backpack in your hotel before entering this restaurant is a good idea. They are famous for their beef cake noodle soup. The sign on the shop says this is a Teochew noodle shop and when we think of Teochew food, we think of fish balls (and tofu or bean curd dishes when you think of Hakka cuisine). But their speciality is actually beef cakes.
Their beef cakes are essentially beef balls flattened into a disc shaped cake. Its savoury soup is difficult to put into words. The noodle is very springy, and the beef cakes are bouncy enough to use it to play table tennis with (just don't eat it after you play with it without washing it, your hands, that is. Always wash your hands before a meal). I always took away a couple of bags of fried fish skins after my meal here. This fried fish skins are sealed in Gladwrap bags and are placed strategically at the door next to the cash register so you don't have any excuse for forgetting to do some take-out snacks. Quite a few places in HK sell this delicious local snack and I would say it's a lot tastier if not healthier than potato chips. It's 10 HKD a pop.

After brunch, we hit Sunny Paradise in Wanchai (could be Causeway Bay) on Lockhart St on the double. The establishment is well over 30 years, and has a decent hot and cold spas, and a well-oiled staff that you expect from HK. And it even has a Turkish steam room that emit steam infused with Chinese medicinal herbs (one of them that I can detect is peppermint, the other is a blur). The sign says this steam is good cure for colds and other minor ailments. There is also an oxygenation room that I have never used (Michael Jackson would call this home). The large number of senior clientele makes this addition sensible. They also provide both men and women sections (on separate floors). As in Bahrain, Sunny Paradise charges women at a lower rate, but not as much a discount as in Bahrain. We have tried other places, but our search has ended in The Paradise as we ride into the sunset (on a tram).

Swedish, Chinese acupressure (aka tui-na) and Japanese shiatsu is fine if your muscular knots aren't as tights as car tyres. Mine are, and not at all an exaggeration. As we age, Calcification of muscle increases. My unusually tight muscles has a lot to do with my CFS/fibromyalgia condition, although I don't know which is the cause and which is the effect. I suspect these muscular knots results from CFS. The above mentioned massage techniques just won't cut it for me. Something stronger is called for.

The application of Japanese shiatsu is strictly limited to messuers' hands - thumbs, fingers, and palms, which is fine for normal healthy people for tension removal. Tui-na does a better job for me because it also has an element of deep tissue massage that involves the use of masseuses' elbow, which is stronger than any hand in applying pressure to the tension points. The deep tissue massage associates with sport/athlete therapy. I need it not because I do a lot of exercise, but because I do little (due to fibromyalgia).

Thai Traditional/ancient massage that developed by Thai monks is good for loosing joints, and has more to do with stretching than reducing muscular tension. Good Thai masseuses also crack your backs and necks, which save me fewer visits to chiropractor for spinal adjustments (much more expensive). It has its place and I do use them, but it isn't solving the problem of dissolving my stubborn knots.

Thai oil massage and Balinese massage are almost identical in that they make use of aromatherapy oil and the application of broad, gentle stroke, tapping and kneading. They are quite relaxing, and are more sensual (not sexual) than physio therapeutic like those massage techniques above. I squeezed as many sessions of Balinese massages when we were in Bali. Although it isn't perfect for me, but the low rates (10 AUD/hr) made me do it.

Regardless if they are Swedish (not started in Sweden), Thai oil, traditional Thai, Balinese, Chinese Tui-Na, Japanese shiatsu massage, they all can provide relaxation to body and mind to different degrees, and detoxification, an increased energy level due to an improved blood circulation. A body with tight muscles is a recipe for insomnia. "Hello darkness my old friend".

Massage is a good pain management for fibromyalgia, which dogged me for decades. Too bad I'm not a Blues musician, these pains would come in very handy and may make me a celebrity. To relief this royal pain that covers from my face to feet most of the time, I was encouraged to search constantly for the last a score or so years for a good natural pain relief therapy that right for me (Popping pills just isn't my thing). I have tried all of above 'therapies' on umpteen occasions and places (and probably single handed put many kids to college). They all provide me benefits in various ways and levels. But the massage that I find most suitable for me is the barefoot deep tissue massage. Deep tissue are the operative words. This form of massage is the most common in HK, and Sunny Paradise's masseuses are all quite decent practitioners of this wonderful art of back walking.
Elbows are stronger than hands, but feet are even stronger than elbows. As the masseuse walks on your back, she is applying the weight of her whole body to your acupressure points. Steel bars are installed in the ceiling so the masseuse can hold it while balancing themselves as they walk all over you.

I asked the reception of the spa for a strong massuese, and they sent me a middle-aged lady that was built somewhat like a Chinese Olympic female discus thrower. This broad has arms broader than my thighs. Jackpot! Of course, I didn't tell her that fearing that she may throw me away like a dwarf at an Olympic record breaking distance in a Pygmy throwing competition. When she stood on her tippy toe (sans pointe shoe) like a Russian Bolshoi ballerina in Nutcracker performing her balancing art on my back, the thoughts that my rib case may collapse crossed my mind on two occasions. But I re-assured myself that I have done this on numerous times and my torso was still reasonably intact. As I looked at my upper back in the bathroom mirror (upper back, I said, look higher), highly visible bruises that embossed in the shape of footprints appeared between my shoulder blades. These bruises is a stamp of her job well done, an effort of a lovely hard massage. My calcium deposits produced knots are loosened by a pair of 60 kg concentrated feet. My readily bruised epidermis is also symptomatic of my fibromyalgia condition, I suspect. The masseuse call this, according to Chinese traditional medicine (TCM), I have too much fire. I guess I do, in other ways, too. We may disagree on the terminology (bruise or fire), but not that something has gone awry with this body.

Of course, you don't have to be walked all over to enjoy the massage. The masseuses always ask if you prefer to be massaged by hands instead of feet as not everyone would like their backs to be squashed like grapes in the process of turning them into vino in a vineyard in Bordeaux. Some prefer to have their backs kneaded like dough in the process of turning them into a pizza base like pizzerias in Naples. FYI, any form of massage is only a management of fibromyalgia pain and not a cure. The only cure is treating the cause of a dysfunctional immune system.

Deep tissue massage is just one of the many management tools (all natural) in my arsenal in combating my fibromyalgia - PMR (Progressive Muscle Relaxation), meditation, rest, jacuzzi, mineral baths, magnesium supplement, and stretches all play a part, and have their pluses and minuses. None of above is an end to end all, or an substitute to another. In terms of fast 'recovery rate', I find massage is the most effective in relieving pains, and with all kinds of wonderful positive side effects like lifting energy level, mood, and deepen sleep. And of course, it's the most costly and inconvenient of them all. Meditation is the cheapest (free) and most convenient.

This place is more than a couple of spas with massages. It provided a galaxy of services. A customer sat across me on the lounge was worked on by an army of manicurists and pedicurists like tentacles of an octopus. Another had his ears being cleaned, and swept. The Korean guy whose ear being serviced lying on his lounge, tilting his head and his eyes closed with an expression that I saw in a Chinese opium smoker in a movie once. It goes without saying that you can also get the sole of your feet poked and squeezed until you squeal or are driven to tears in agony by a reflexologist, begging them to stop. Of course, they won't. You pay them to inflict maximum pain on you. Fantastic stuff! You should try it. Typically, you can also get your back scrubbed by stiff and rough sponge. From what I can see (just a sidewards glance as I walked past the scrub room), every nook and cranny in your body will be scrubbed by a fat old topless man. Every crack and crevice. Pass!

Not that HK is the only place where I can find this barefoot deep tissue massage, they are also available whenever health spas with HK management are operated. Combining a massage with a spa is like having Vietnamese food with fish sauce, the sauce simply enhance the experience.

To my surprise, this type of barefoot massage is not at all common in Singapore, while the day spas scene that especially catered for women with a alot of attention on good ambiance are quite popular. At least more visible, you shouldn't have problem come across one in some shopping malls or hotels, or just about everywhere. These girlie spas do very little hard massage for me except hitting my hip pocket hard. Somebody has to pay for those posh decor. These day spa doesn't actually has a singular spa in sight (what a jacussi is usually referred to). I have visited these places a few times to keep Atta's company (very few men come to these places alone, I imagine. I could be wrong). Packages start with foot bath, followed by massages and facials in a relaxing aromatherapy scents and slow instrumental music. It may not be ideal for me as I only dig heavy-duty industrial strength masseuse with minimum packaging, but this day spa can provide a very relaxing experience overall. Great for de-stressing. Fitness/Health centres in Singapore, on the other hand, provide spas despite the missing 'spa' in its name. Depending on the health centres, its facilities can range from cold/hot spas, shower, even gym in the bigger ones. I think they all provide massages. The hard-working (Chinese) Malaysian dominates this trade (before the invasion of PRC Chinese) in Singapore and they work in both day spas and fitness/health centres as masseuse.

In my search for a place to deflate my rubber-tyre muscle, I came across only one walk-on-your-back massage joint in Singapore, but have yet to try it.

After the visit to the Paradise, I felt like a new old man. She had put the spring back into my steps with her magic feet. And I can sleep like a 30 year old tonight ('baby' would have been an overly exaggeration). Guilin, I'm ready for ye.

P.S. 25 Oct 2009. I have finally tried out Kafuyu Reflexology Clinic in Jurong East in Singapore for the HK style barefoot massage. The footwork is almost identical to that of HK, right down to the odd custom of insisting to call a 45 minute massage an hour massage. In other words, if you say you ask for a 2 hour massage, you end up getting 1.5 hours. Noone has yet able to explain to me this twilight zone logic. The masseuse is a little lightweight for my liking though, and there is no spa pools here.

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