One advantage of returning to a familiar city is not having to do all the touristy stuff. It gives time for the internal clock to reset. It also helps if there are friends to visit, even if only for coffee. Or a couple of special places to just relax. I had the bounty of both the last two days in Shanghai.
My first real day was spent in the misty, then heavier rain, missed calls and messages – lack of Internet on my phone when out and about – then meeting up for a quick meal at new location of a favoured restaurant I used to go to when in need of a foreign fix, Elements Fresh. My friend and I shared a delicious, modern twist on quesadillas using kimchee and a braised salmon on salad greens. along with catching up. We went our separate ways, splashing in the rain. By the time I got lost for far too long after Leaving the subway, in the dark, I was definitely dripping wet. I did have an umbrella, it helped. I had forgotten just unhelpful people here are when sincerely trying to help. I was on my street, just not sure which way to go – I asked a person in hotel/restaurant and was pointed in the wrong direction. Oh well, newspaper dried out my wet walking sandals.
While at dinner my friend invited me to join her and another person to go to the baths. There are many of these places in Shanghai, all over China too. As the next day was expected to be another one of drizzle I accepted. Everyone should experience going for to the bath at least once in life. I am sure they exist in most parts of the world except for Puritan western countries. It takes time to get places in Shanghai. Two subways and a 30 minute walk in what turned out to be a humid day. I had overcompensated for poor weather and suffered from carrying everything. Finding these places is always interesting, turn into a half demolished, or perhaps half built, parking lot with derelict, or, once again, relatively new half builds, stacked hovels, and alleys that appear to go nowhere to arrive at a nondescript hotel.
Except it is actually a multi-storey bath, massage, swimming pool, all things for treating the body palace, from private rooms to shared facilities – albeit still managing to appear a bit on the seedy side. I should mention the seediness is common in China, something g to do with humidity, poor construction and even questionable upkeep. However, what is kept up are the baths. Mostly. These are relegated to female only and male only. Enter and leave body image behind. These are baths after all. The undressing room is massive, row upon row of narrow closets for probably hundreds of guests although the section we visited was not very big. The only piece of cloth between you and the world is a postage stamp size towel. Think hand towels.
Of course I did not completely leave behind my body image and brought my micro towel along. I soon lost all sense of bashfulness and steeped my body in the waters after a shower, shampoo and conditioner. We went in the late morning – I found out that women often attend late afternoon until the wee hours of the morning for the works – bath, salt scrub or something similar, face mask, massage, foot massage (they are separate), towelling, light meals and attend a show at least once a month. Prices are reasonable, bath, salt scrub and cucumber mask in the shared baths, (178RMB) to astronomical for a chocolate ginger face wrap, the only one I could recall, at about 500RMB. A small fortune can be spent in making the body smooth, free of scales and relaxed without the sex – prostitution remains highly frowned.
I chose the baths and salt scrub. I soaked in the rose water bath, then the milk bath before carefully entering the cooling waters of a simple bath before starting back to the warm baths of varying heat. I do not like steam rooms or saunas which meant at one time I had all the baths to myself. We were three foreigners and saw maybe four Chinese women the nearly two hours we were there.
A cucumber face mask is not for anyone suffering claustrophobia, eyes are covered as well as the face with a wet mass of faintly cucumber scent to relax the senses. This remains on until it is time to turn over from the frontal scrub. The scrub is a refreshing torture that slough of dead skin you may have never known needed removing. The ladies do not stint in the pressure and are quite happy to guide you blindly to feel how much has been removed if there is a sensitive area. She did let up though when I was adamant.
Thirty minutes of scrubbing, a milk wash to soothe the pores, oil applied for a quick massage then head to the showers – again. I was all pink and soft skin, like a new baby, and felt quite soporific. Then off to the towelling room to dry off, except I misunderstood and thought I was being encouraged to have a massage so gave it a pass. My friend had gone ahead and her friend was behind me which meant no translations. Some things are just not understood with gestures.
Pampered, renewed and off to a western grocery with a Chinese twist on the salad bar for lunch where I mastered the art of piling a salad, all you can eat but only one serving. Not quite as adept as my friends, however there is hope for me. Best of all the whole thing can be inverted onto a plate once paid for. I had quite the salad and would not have been able to eat more.
To top off our indulgent day we stopped for coffee at one of the many cafes in the area where foreigners seem to be seeping out of the woodwork. The flat white was strong and quite decent.
As if my day could get any better, lunch and coffee were bought for me. Such a wonderful few hours.
Two subways back, without getting lost, pack and buy some fruit for the train. Being spoiled is tiring!
Tips: if going to the baths ask someone to go with you
Spent: surprisingly little.
- Bath and scrub – 178CNY
- meals and train food – 51CNY
- four days expenditures: 1435CNY = 283CAD which comes to 71CAD per day so still in budget and only missing about 7CAD unaccounted for. Probably a coffee.