From Prof. Glen Taylor - Reflections on China and Foot Massage
Thursday November 29th, 2012
After I preached at the English service at St Paul's church in downtown Nanjing on Sunday October 28th (see photo), my doctoral student Meng Yanling offered to give me (and a few students from the seminary here) a tour of the town. We first visited the mausoleum of Dr Sun Yat Sing, who is honored for his humanitarian ideals and philanthropic contributions to the Chinese people. (See photo.) Afterwards, we went to the memorial for the estimated 300,000 citizens(!) who were massacred by the Japanese army after its occupation of Nanjing and the surrounding area in 1937. The exhibit, which includes enormous sculptures of distraught men, women and children, was deeply moving (so much so I chose not to take photographs out of respect). Then, before dinner, Meng Yanling took us to the historic location of the Emporer's examination centre. Here 20,000 aspirants at time could attempt the long and difficult Emporer's examinations, success at which guaranteed a prominent position in society. (I was reminded of the theory that a similar sort of training background might have existed during the time of the monarchy in Israel, as it did in Egypt, for which much of Old Testament wisdom literature might have served as part of the curriculum.) The tour ended, or so I thought ,with an all-you-can-eat buffet dinner in a new Chinese restaurant. However, on the way back to the seminary Yanling tells me there is one more stop on tour that is vital to Chinese culture: a foot massage! Despite my immediate protests that I try to ignore feet in life as much as possible, and that the mere thought of someone handling my feet makes me feel very uncomfortable, not least because feet can be dirty and sweaty (and mine were after hiking to the mausoleum) I soon find myself being led down an alley in Yanling's old neighborhood. I philosophically ponder whether now is an ideal time for need a foot-massage, but Yanling quickens her step and issues me into a parlor she knows well. I offer to wait while she and others enjoy this cultural experience, but no; Yanling has already purchased a book of tickets that need to be used and all will be well. My worst fear is soon realized when the people in the parlor are normal and nice. (I was thinking I would mind less if people I couldn't relate to were manipulating my not-long ago-dirty toes and feet) Oh, well, at least I don't have corns I thought. There is much chatter in Chinese about the reluctant foreigner as my shoes and socks are removed. Soon a small half barrel of hot water appears with a plastic liner in it. The painful look on my face as I dip my toes into the barrel leads to a summons for colder water. A small glass of coolish water is brought to ease the temperature by what seems to me to be an insignificant amount. But then I think: if the water is so hot that I lose the feeling in my feet, I won't know they are being rubbed. Not so. But soon after the initial embarrassment is over, I'm sitting back and enjoying it. Why? Feet are important in Chinese medicine; soon zones of sensitivity under my arches are being pinched and rubbed in ways that are soothing and relaxing. The next twenty minutes is pure heaven! The only problem is that after the massage is over my feet are so relaxed that I don't feel them. But this is the time one is expected to say thanks and leave. Sensing my anesthetic bewilderment, socks are put on for me. Soon shoes are found and placed at my feet. The staff are likely thinking: we could hardly get this guy in here and now he won't go ! It is hard to walk on what you can't feel. I tighten my brogues to the point where they pinch and hurt. With a small bit of feeling below my ankles I limber out of the parlor, admitting to my host that she was right. A foot massage will prove to be among the most memorable of experiences in China.