I have always been ticklish. Make the mistake of fondling the soles of my feet in my sleep, and you will surely get an involuntary kick. Or perhaps, you just accidentally touched my love handles, and I’d be sure to give you a smack.
That’s why I cannot reconcile my love for massages with my ticklish nature. Nothing compares with getting the knots on my back and shoulders straightened out to give me relaxing bliss. The therapist’s choice of massage and essential oils adds to the comfort I get at the end of a session. (Make mine sweet orange and lemongrass, signature scent of spas in Thailand.)
That’s why when I was asked to try a Xiamen foot massage one time, I had misgivings whether I would enjoy it. My feet are my weakness, and the beating my soles would be getting drove me to fear the process.
A Xiamen foot massage focuses solely on your feet — from the soles to the ankles and up to the calves. The only thing I knew about the whole process was that my little piggies would get pummeled to the therapist’s content.
After I introduced myself for my appointment, an attendant gave me a homespun outfit — loose-fitting jacket and shorts — and a pair of slippers. After I had changed, I was taken into a room that was comfortably warm.
The men who were there ahead of me had dozed off to sleep. It seemed like they already have had their treatment. I wonder if they were still breathing considering the pounding their feet got.
The woman motioned me to pull up my pants’ legs high as I settled in my seat. Then she brought in a wooden bucket where I was told to place my feet. A few moments later, she returned with a kettle of hot water that was fragrant with medicinal herbs. As she slowly poured the water into the bucket, I instinctively pulled out my feet.
“It’s too hot,” I told her.
She reached out for another kettle of water, this time cold, and she proceeded to temper the heat to the hottest that I could stand it. Afterwards, she went out, and let me soak my feet for about half an hour.
I no longer remember what crossed my mind in that 30 minutes. There wasn’t any music in that room, and iPods were still a few years away from being invented. I know I bore the hot water fairly well.
When the therapist returned, she took my feet out of the bucket and wiped them dry. Then she massaged the length of my leg down to the soles of my feet with a scented balm; it was mildly reminiscent of eucalyptus. Afterwards, she wrapped them in a warm towel and left me alone for a few more minutes.
When she came back, she grabbed one leg, unwrapped it and proceeded to knead the sole of my foot. It wasn’t that intimidating until she pulled it and started flexing it to the left, to the right and around.
And then she started beating my foot, the hallmark of a Xiamen foot massage. As I squirmed in my seat from the pain — the ticklish sensation flew out of the window — she would my grab my leg forward and started all over again.
“Sir, relax your leg,” she uttered.
“But it’s painful,” I answered. For the next 15 minutes, she proceeded to squeeze my foot and my leg.
Afterwards, she wrapped it again in a towel as she reached for my other foot. She did the entire thing all over again.
I remember when she was done, she left me alone and I nodded off to sleep. It must have been a while when she nudged me awake.
“Sir, we’re done,” she said.
She slipped my feet into the pair of slippers as she took me back to the changing room. I was still lightheaded from her ministrations as I slipped back into my clothes.
When I stepped out of that spa, it felt as if a weight had been lifted from my shoulders. I felt weightless as I took my steps back w into the world outside.
It was an unforgettable experience, one that I’ve never had a chance to try again.