Sundays are a brilliant invention. And even more brilliant when one enjoys a brunch, a neighborhood stroll, and a massage by a guy whose name is Peter and is charming even though he cannot speak a word of English. Our Sunday brunch menu reads as follows: No rice, no curry, no stir fry and no dubious body parts. After a late brunch comprised of eggs, bacon, cheese and baguette, we walked towards Huashan Lu. It was gloriously warm but I was still surprised to see dozens of pink flowers bundled and blooming in their terracotta flower pots across the road. After all, it was only February. I approached the corner to look more closely and found dozens of counterfeit flowers. It lends the question - what is real in this town?
Ignoring the watch-purse-coat vendors who began to loom en masse, we continued to stroll towards the massage center. Andy had been traveling all week negotiating payments with existing clients, haggling over prices with vendors, trying to generate new business, and refusing crocodile tidbits in Taiwan. He was tired, stressed and needed a massage. I, on the other hand, had no just justifiable reason for a massage but skipped along very pleased to be going.
The parlor was new to us. Upon entering, a dour woman grudgingly looked up from her newspaper, sighed heavily, rolled her eyes and stared. I might have foreseen some pleasantries in the form of a welcome but of course, new clients were an obvious imposition. We asked to book two massages and she grunted, waving us towards the chair. Yes, one chair. I had a slight déjà vu of past interactions with postal workers in the United States or bureaucrats in Eastern Europe during Communist times.
A few minutes later another woman came out, exchanged our shoes for slippers and beckoned. We followed her down a dark passageway that was decorated in a flurry of tastes, styles and patterns. A small bridge made of glass had been awkwardly placed in the center of the passageway and we gently traipsed over it, aware that our frames were slightly larger than the Asian woman we followed.
The room was stoic and medicinal but the scattered candles were oddly romantic. As the shadows pounced upon the dusty gray walls, our eyes adjusted to the dim light and we changed into the paper thin white uniforms given to us. The two masseuses marched into the room, halted and saluted. Yes sir, face down I shall go. Chinese opera played softly in the background and my masseuse seemed to synchronize his movements to the rhythm of the music. As such, there were drastic shifts in pace and intensity throughout the session. At one point, when the music reached a crescendo, he was passionately rotating-flipping-twisting my legs in huge circles and I feared they might snap off.
The massage was lovely and I felt my muscles melt under his professional pressure. Although the bottom of the spine (read - top of the bum) has important pressure points, I was not thrilled when he positioned his thumb and pushed. Ouch. Shanghai is one of the lustiest cities on earth, a 1930s missionary said "If God allows Shanghai to endure, he will owe Sodom and Gomorrah an apology.” So I am pleased that when wandering into this potentially dangerous zone he did not take any erotic liberties.
We walked home with a bounce in our step, feeling as though we were significantly younger-lighter-and-more-limber. Interestingly enough, we passed a shop on a main road in the French concession boasting an enormous sign which read “Good Sex Health.” Curiosity overwhelmed and we approached it to find - through the rose colored transparent windows - a gray haired woman playing with her cell phone in a very explicit-raunchy-gauche sex shop.