I’m writing this painfully, my shoulders feel beaten raw. The source of my pain is a little open fronted store on the Huang Jie Ping main road, which is staffed mainly by people with visual impairments. It is a massage parlour that Wang Jun goes to every week. This time he suggested I come along – the previous English artist at 501 had blissed out with the relaxing massages.
Ten minutes after arriving, I’m facedown on a massage table squirming with pain. The masseuse working me over is supposedly the best here. He certainly has a way of finding the least mobile parts of me, then grinding them together with enormous force. Wang Jun waves to me from the next bench and Deng Chuan who is behind me calls over: “He thinks your shoulder is a little sick.”
My right shoulder got damaged over a decade ago when I tried to chop down a sapling with an axe. I’ve never had much luck with axes, I get a bit crazed by them and start swinging around. I hit the sapling both hard and inexpertly and have spent many hours with physiotherapists since, regretting it and trying to patch the damage. My only consolation is that the tree is good and dead.
This massage isn’t like any I’ve come across before. I actually sweat with the pain of it. The masseuse checks with me, via Deng Chuan – am I OK? He knows that this hurts a lot but says that my shoulder muscles have stiffened so much he can hear them crack as he works into them. If I stick thru the pain I will feel better later.
I try reciting childhood poems to distract myself – Owl and the Pussycat, Lady of Shallot, Lake Isle of Innisfree, attempt to remember Bob Cobbing’s Alphabet of Fishes – but the pain volume dims out my words. I resort to counting in Chinese, then in English, then I simply endure it as best I can, crying out at the worst.
He works on me for 45 minutes or so, by which time I’m punchdrunk, dizzy with endomorphs. When he’s finished I tell him if I come again it’ll be in a suit of armour. I sit on a chair and shakily eat some of the local grapefruit (they come from Dan Dan’s hometown) dropping the pieces into a newspaper on my lap. Wang Jun is having his arm pulled vigorously and Deng Chuan has her face scrunched with discomfort.
But the star turn is a man at the back who has a vacuum suction jar placed onto his back – a big fold of skin and muscle is drawn up into the jar and the masseuse moves it rapidly back and forth across his back. The patient cries out over and over and the skin reddens as I watch. Another jar is added and another until there are maybe a dozen. Part-hidden under a sheet, he looks like a man who is morphing into a weird beast, a glass alligator perhaps.
I watch it numbly and eat my segments of grapefruit. I intended to work the rest of the day and into the evening but instead when we get back to wu ling yao I sit on a sofa in the studio and watch the walls tangoing round me as I crash from my body’s painkillers.