Lost in Translation: The Chinese Scraping Incident

As my friend’s face turned a little white when I entered the room, she simply screamed at me: “OH MY GOD, what HAVE they done to your back?” Looking over my shoulder I couldn’t see a thing, until I ran to the toilet and lifted up my top. I’d been tortured.

I’m normally the one in a group who gets into a few scrapes here and there – watching random bruises appear on my body or generally being a bit clumsy – but I wasn’t expecting a Chinese scraping of this kind when relaxing in the chilled out town of Dali. A scrape that received the most ‘WTF?’ and ‘what have they done to you?’ comments I have ever received on a Facebook and Twitter update, including being likened to ‘The Passion of the Christ’.

My two girlfriends and I decided to have a ‘girly day’ which began by hiring bikes and cycling around the gorgeous paddy fields, the local villages and around parts of the lake outside of Dali’s Old Town. We basked in the glorious sunshine which we had not seen in China for weeks, lunched by the lake and lapped up the beauty of the surroundings which we had to ourselves, or so it felt.

After six hours of cycling, our arses hurt from the crappy bike seats and we were tired, dishevelled, sweaty and ready to wind down. The grand idea at this point was to spend the last hour or so of the day relaxing with some spa-like indulgence.

Presented with a menu of options at the first place we found, the low prices and English translations excited us. This was girly heaven and I eventually opted for a pedicure and a back and shoulder massage. When it came to the pedicure option, two of us wanted to make sure that they would use the skin scraper razor rather than a foot file that does nothing for skanky traveller feet. Next to the Pedicure option it said “Scraping” and so pointing to that and using miming actions on our feet (I deserve an Oscar for my acting skills in China), we were given a swift nod that our pedicure would include this.

Soaking our feet, our Chinese therapists soon asked us to sit on the foot stools with our backs to them, where our massages began. It turns out this was included as part of our pedicures and foot massages and the proceeding 20 minutes were like a mixture of all three of us making sex noises and quiet painful screams, mixed with extreme giggles. Knees, elbows, slapping, poking and bending over like a dog – you name it, it happened, even if some of it felt good.

But it wasn’t over for me. Because that wasn’t the back and shoulder massage I had requested.

Sod’s law, I was the only one with the male therapist the entire time, a Chinese Mr Miyagi look-a-like who was intense and in deep concentration the entire time – a true perfectionist. He also found it slightly amusing when I gave even the slightest gripe of pain. I knew being led into the massage room wasn’t going to be a soft option.

Lying down, my back was cracked and the deep tissue massage took my breath away. It hurt like hell but it wasn’t too different from what I’ve had a home, only harder. I needed it and gritted my teeth for the sake of ridding myself of back pain. That was until the next part of the massage came, where the old Chinese man undid my bra, lifted my top up and started digging his knuckles deep into my back and moving them in every direction.

Except that, alongside the pressure of his knuckles, there was a slight scratching sensation. How and why was he scratching? Was his using his long nails on me at the same time? Yuk! Is this a Chinese speciality? Argh! I spent the next 15 minutes in shock, my face stuck in the head hole contemplating what was happening and feeling the rub of oil, followed by more scratching. Surely this was normal, right?

When the ordeal was over I knew I’d just laugh about it over a few beers. In China, we had a funny story to tell almost every day and today would be mine. Except it wasn’t funny at all. It turns out the scratching wasn’t his fingers, but a plastic card used to bring blood to the surface of my skin in order to help release toxins, and this was the result.

Returning to the room where my friends were finished their foot soaks and after my friend screamed and touched my back, the other was being led away by Mr Miaggi – she had chosen the same pedicure options as me. Returning two minutes later, looking as though she had escaped a near death situation, she simply turned to me, pointed to my scarred back and said: “That’s what scraping is! Let’s pay and get the fuck out of here!”

As with most situations in China, what happened was an example of being lost in translation. Just don’t underestimate Chinese Medicine – stick to what you know, or you might just end up looking like me. My only saving grace is that it will fade… in time.


  1. says

    Oh my god, Becki! I still can’t get over this picture of your back! I hope it heals and doesn’t leave scars. *Note to self: do not have back massage in China.

  2. Jilly says

    Although your request was lost in translation…this is quite a normal procedure here in China. It looks a little nasty…..but only does good things for you! 😉

  3. says

    Eastern “relaxation” treatments are never what they cracked up to be. My Turkish Massage?…Horrific. My Thai Massage? Excruciating. I’m sticking to Swedish Massage everywhere from now on…

  4. says

    Yikes, I’m all for a little pain during a deep tissue massage but that looks horrendous! I think I would have politely excused myself after the first scrape. So glad it went away!

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