5-Week Sublet

Central Urumqi
April 22, 2008

Is having a massage each of the last three days excessive? Bourgeoisie or no, I am back in my comfort-zone. After eight months away, I've come full circle back to Urumqi.

Though I did go regularly for foot-washes and full-body work while living here, I actually hadn't planned to go on this massage-binge. The first day, it was Meenday who suggested that we go for the foot wash. Our old haunt downtown, Kang Yi Zu Liao 康怡足疗 still has the discount price of 100 minutes for 23 yuan ($3.28 USD). That includes not just a long foot soak in hot brew of Chinese herbs, but massage of feet, head, and upper-body. I always pay the extra 10 yuan to have a specialist use a scalpel to shave the calluses and dead skin from my heels and toes.

Meenday prefers the foot wash, and while I agree that it is a better value, I prefer the full-body massage. Yesterday, we went crosstown to Xian Ren Zhang 仙人掌 for the service. They've upped the price since we were regulars last year. It's now 40 kuai ($5.71 USD) for 80 minutes. For me, it's the backwalk that makes the difference. Rails are mounted on the ceiling above the massage table to distribute the weight of the masseuse. For somebody of my size, the rails aren't necessary: most masseuses in China weigh about half of what I do.

Meenday Reads
the Paper
The service of both Kang Yi Zu Liao and Xian Ren Zhang includes rubbing hot sandbags about the exposed back. Massage at Xian Ren Zhang also includes other techniques unused in western massage, but common across China. This includes the masseuse twisting fingers round inside the ear canal, flicking earlobes, and cutting off blood circulation to the hand. That last one is the best. The masseuse first squeezes from fingertips downward, draining blood from the hand. She then grips just below the wrist for a minute. Upon releasing this improvised tourniquet, she either blows gently across the palm or draws a line from palm to fingertip with the end of her hair. Combined with blood flowing back into the hand, this gives an indescribable, tingly sensation.

Just yesterday I went for my third massage. My main aim was actually not massage, but to get my hair cut. However, most hair salons around China will include shampoo service and twenty-or-so-minutes of head rubbing under water flowing from a warm tap. Over my last year in Urumqi I began going to New Sense 新感觉创作, just around the corner from the foot-wash place. They too have jacked their prices up recently: 49 yuan ($7 USD) today for the works. No, I'm not complaining. I do realize what such services would go for in most any other country. However, the same service went for the equivalent of $2.50 USD when I first settled in Urumqi four years ago.

I'll be in China for a total of five weeks this time. Here in Urumqi I could have stayed with any number of people for free. Nisagul now has her own flat in which she invited me to stay. Meenday seemed genuinely befuddled as to why I wouldn't just crash with her the entire time. I just felt it was better to have my own space. When I stay with any one person, I tend to socialize with that person at the expense of seeing other friends.

To find a place, I spammed several friends about a month ago, asking if any knew of a sublet over my time here. I hit paydirt with one of my favorite Uighur-language teachers. One of her friends just happened to leave her flat last week to go spend a year teaching abroad. I now have a large, furnished place in the heart of the Xinjiang University campus. It's not as cozy as the place I lived in last, but it will do for this brief visit. To sublet for five weeks I'm paying 1,000 yuan ($143 USD). When friends ask where I'm staying and how much I'm paying, most of the locals do let me know that's a bit steeper than it really should be.

Five weeks sounds like a long time, but I know that it will go by well too quickly. There are so many friends living here in Urumqi who I want to see more than once. Also, I've just booked tickets for a trip to Beijing over the Mayday holiday: I also know so many people living there.

Coming here from Kazakhstan wasn't as much of the Altai adventure I was hoping it would be. The only buses going from Ust-Kamenogorosk to the Chinese border were through buses coming here to Urumqi. To get to Altai, I'd have to pay the full fare to Urumqi, but get off at the midway point--Gemini--then find a taxi to take me to Altai. Given that I'd already paid for the ticket, I figured that I was more eager to see people here and will perhaps spend time exploring Altai sometime later--either this or another year.

Gemini Border Post
At least I did enter China through that Gemini 吉木乃 crossing. I can't say what it is that fascinates me about remote border crossings, but even if I didn't stick around to see much, I'm glad that I made it through. To one side, the Kazakhstan steppe; to the other side, the Gobi desert. There were no ethnic Chinese on the bus: most of the other passengers were Russian traders.

Of note to people who read the travelogue regularly: I've managed to get some photographs up from time spent with brother Ben around Morocco. My camera did break on that trip, but Ben had a mobile phone with built-in camera. The phone was several years old--even when new it took grainy photos at low resolution. I figure something is better than nothing, though. Here in Urumqi, I bought a cable to connect that phone to a computer and managed to download what we shot there. So, I've associated photos with the entries I wrote in Morocco: Communicating and Hostile Touts.

The main page for entries written over that time is at: Winter 2008

Massage parlors mentioned in this entry:

Kang Yi Zu Liao 8th Floor Shuang Yin Mansions Xin Hua Nan Lu, Urumqi +86 (991) 583-7308
Xian Ren Zhang 133 Dongfeng Lu, Urumqi +86 (991) 887-7115
New Sense Da Xi Men, Ha Xin Mansions, Urumqi +86 (991) 281-3039