We received an invitation from the South Africans who work with us and their visiting children, and so we headed out, each with one yuan clutched in our hand.
This time we both paid, all 7 of us finding a seat on the bus. The mood was light and fun. We got off the bus a little later, following the two experienced South Africans, who have lived here for a year. They led us through the Lanzhou streets.
The city was busy, not quieting down after five, but instead seeming to come alive. We passed along streets, passing shops, some of which were a little familiar as we had seen them on our previous excursions.
The air was nippy and people were out, wrapped up in their puffy coats, some emblazoned with English words, not always spelt correctly and often inappropriate, for example – ‘screw you’…
The bare trees and pillars along the arcade which we walked down were strung with strings of lilac lights.
Outside the door to ‘Big Foot Ancestor’ stood a Mongolian looking man playing a large drum which was hanging over his shoulder. We all passed him by and moved into the massage parlour (Big Foot Ancestor) beyond.
It was a plush room, elegantly decorated, with a Buddha lamp (he appeared truly enlightened) and a cluster of small Chinese men and women, dressed in the traditional, button across the chest cotton shirts and trousers. Each person wore a name tag (actually a number tag) pinned to their shirt.
Our South African friends, who had been to ‘Big Foot Ancestor’ a few times before, assured us that a ‘99’ was the massage that we wanted. They organised that all 7 of us would be ‘done’ together in one room.
L looked a little uncertain, but, after a stop at the Chinese loos, which were immaculate and fragrant, we were all led into one big room, with 7 chairs (rather like Lay-z-boys) standing around the room.
We were all shown to a seat. The room was warm. We all took off our jackets, boots and socks and sat down. The women in our group were assigned men (I got no. 022) and the men were assigned, women.
022 was a young man, who seemed almost shy, but for almost an hour he worked on my feet, soaking them in hot water and massaging them with his very strong, very firm hands. Glass mugs were constantly filled with hot water and we were urged to drink it. I struggled to understand but I tried to do everything that I was told to do.
There was much laughter, both from us foreigners and amongst the masseurs. As we were a rather tall, and, well, not a small group of South Africans, I felt for the very dainty group of Chinese youngsters working on us. Together we probably constituted more square centimetres of flesh than they had ever worked on before.
They were sweet, and, as the time passed the group of us lapsed into silence, the masseurs’ hands working their soporific effect on us.
Some details stand out – the extreme heat of the water into which we had to place our feet, the Chinese TV on the large flat screen facing us (we insisted that the sound be switched off) and the little glass bowls which the masseurs stuck to the soles of our feet. The air had first been removed from the little bowls by a large flame, skilfully applied and swirled around by each masseur. The little bowls remained stuck to our feet – by means of a type of suction – until the masseurs removed them.
When 022 removed both my little glass cups he turned the open mouths towards me to show me their contents. I think I saw something floating like a little ghostly fish in each little fishbowl, but I couldn’t be sure…
It was hard to rouse ourselves after 2 hours of feet, back and shoulder pummelling. We put on our coats and boots and headed back out into the cold. I felt very relaxed and would have liked to have been carried through the streets. The freezing air soon woke me up.
Next stop was ‘ Miracle Pizza’ a restaurant that caters to both Western and Eastern pallets. The sign outside said ‘Miracle Pizza – Love and Joy’.
Inside we were seated around a large table and L and I chose to eat pizza (for old times sake). I chose a curried chicken pizza. We ate it with mango flavoured and coloured fruit tea, served in a glass teapot on a warmed stand. It was delicious, sipped from very small glass bowls.
On the opposite wall was the word LOVE, set out in large silver letters.
We left the restaurant, having had both our massages and our meal paid for by our new friends. We walked through the busy night streets and nearly missed the last bus home.
The head of our party sprinted up some stairs and over a bridge and succeeded in persuading the bus driver to wait for us. We all moved as fast as we dared over the icy bridge, climbed aboard the bus and the bus driver took us safely home.