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What We Use in China


Section II: Living in China continued

Personal Care

Most Asian countries are well-known for their excellence in personal care services such as body and foot massage, and China is certainly among the top of the list. This chapter will provide an overview of personal care services available in China including body and foot massage, bath houses, and what you can expect at barber shops and beauty salons.

Massage Parlors

As is true across all of Asia, the Chinese are very talented at both foot and full body massage and offer a vast array in quality of establishments to choose from, ranging from streetside providers with inclined chairs to luxurious spas where you can easily spend the entire day in relaxation.

Shenzhen Bathhouse

A 45-minute to full hour legitimate (non-sexual) body or foot massage, depending on location and the quality of the establishment, can cost anywhere from 15 to 30 yuan (less than USD $4.38). The larger establishments offer a full-range of services, including a beauty salon, buffet meals, full-body massage, and foot massage and you will usually have a choice of massage type limited to Chinese (45-minute) or Thai (one hour). The Thai massage costs a little more than a 45-minute Chinese massage and is similar in technique to a Swedish massage and to what most Westerners are accustomed to, i.e., more kneading and rubbing as opposed to squeezing and pounding. Intuitively, the best massages are only available at "straight" establishments, where sexual favors cannot be purchased. You should check with other foreign teachers for the best legitimate establishment in your vicinity.

Bath Houses

Bathtubs are not very popular or common in China and, as a result—especially in the northern regions—many bath houses can be found. These establishments range enormously in quality, from very low-end and utilitarian to extravagantly plush 5-star resorts, and are typically very pleasant and comfortable places to frequent where one can easily spend an entire day relaxing. You enter into the lobby, are given a key to a locker and then are escorted into a locker room where you will disrobe and shower. You then enter a large tub area and, depending on the establishment, there may be anywhere from one to three hot tubs (of varying degrees of temperature) and—in some cases—even a small rectangular swimming pool, as well as a sauna. You can spend as much time in there as you care to.

Generally, there will be male attendants around next to massage tables who can offer a treatment approximating dermabrasion (they scrub your skin with a course aloofa-like material that removes all dead skin). Then, when you are ready, you can put on a loose shirt and pants garment (that will be provided to you) and then walk upstairs for a buffet lunch or dinner. After lunch or dinner, you can also treat yourself to a foot and/or body massage and then make your way to a very comfortable lounge, where you will sit on soft divans while you watch TV and drink wine or baijiu (the national drink of China—a potent white grain alcohol made usually from sorghum and sometimes other grains) while young, pretty attendants wait on and chat with you. Or, you can just fall asleep, and stay there for as long as you like. It's a wonderful way to spend the day and, depending on the services you have engaged, should not cost more than a total of 300 to 400 yuan (in many cases, considerably less, if you only go to soak in the hot tub. That alone should cost no more than 80 yuan).

Barber Shops and Beauty Salons

Street Barber in Hong Kong

There is a wide range of barber shops and beauty parlors available in China, depending on your particular location, as well as something you'll never see back home: barbers practicing their trade on the street. The skill of these barbers and beauticians seems to parallel those of their Western counterparts. A typical man's haircut can range in price from 15 to 60 yuan, and typically includes a 10 to 15 minute head and scalp massage. In some establishments, they will even clean the inside of your ears for the same price. In China, they wash your hair both prior to and after the haircut. Female Westerners have reported favorable results with their beauty salon needs, including special services such as hair straightening and coloring: Although prices for these extra services tend to approximate what one would expect to pay back home, they still tend to be less overall. For example, one female foreign teacher recently paid 400 yuan (about USD $56.40) for a haircut and to have her hair straightened. Prices for hair coloring seem to range between 500 to 800 yuan, depending on location and the quality of the establishment (although, in this particular case, paying less does not necessarily mean poorer results).

Keep in mind, though, that the likelihood is that you will not find anyone in these establishments who can speak enough English for you to be able to communicate precisely what you want, unless you are in one of three international cities and at a shop frequented by foreigners. You will either have to bring an interpreter with you or memorize a few key words, e.g., length, short, long, shave, etc. Be careful, though, because there was one foreigner we know of, who, thinking he had asked for his beard to be trimmed, had half of it shaved off before he realized what was happening.


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Middle Kingdom Life is the premier award-winning educational website for foreign teachers and Western expats in China. It was founded by an American professor in psychology and sociology for the purpose of disseminating valid and reliable information about living and teaching in China. The site's mission is to protect and enhance the interests and social welfare of foreign teachers and Western expats in China.

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