U.S.-China Institute at Bryant University

China Experience Blog: Summer Internship 2011

Jason Fortin

June 20-25

Massage and Liver 

Friday night I took my first trip to Sanlitun (via subway which was packed—see picture) in the Chaoyang District. Sanlitun is famous for being the foreign area of Beijing, and is must if you are craving a cheeseburger, burrito or anything western. I’ll be honest, this area is also littered with bars and clubs. Now enjoying a little bit of home sounds great and all, but it also costs a ton.

Saturday I met up with a friend and fellow Bryant student Sam Davidowitz, who just arrived in Beijing and is interning near Shanghai this summer. He previously studied Chinese at Beijing Language and Cultural University in the fall of 2010 and is quite familiar with the area. We moseyed on over to his favorite restaurant from his study abroad time. The food was pretty decent; he noted that the menu and food had completely changed since his last time in Beijing. The cool part was that DVD store located in the back of the restaurant. It looked highly illegal, but I may venture back to purchase some DVDs for a very low price. After we ate, he and I went on a search for this massage place which he frequented during his schooling at BLCU. I had never been to a massage before, and I had no idea what to expect. The only perception I had grew out of was those movie scenes where someone is walking on your back, or the scenes on a beach in a hut, or that scene from rush hour—so let’s just say I had mixed expectations. We walked around for about 45 minutes in search of this place and ended up down an alley that smelled awful, was trashed and reminded me of the saddening gap still ever so present in China. It’s interesting comparing ‘sketchy’ or downtrodden places in America, to what is sketchy in Beijing. The gap is so incredibly large. One minute you are in NYC, the next walking down a back alley in the outskirts of Dakar.

We finally arrived at the massage place, which was not what I had pictured. Sam described the parlor as a hole-in-the-wall place located in a basement. The one thing that I have noticed about being abroad is that it is quite easy to get accustomed to and even expect various things to be incredibly cheap and lower in quality. So when you encounter a place that is moderately price for a relatively similar service, you feel cheated and refuse to pay a cheap price (by western standards) for a product or service you can acquire elsewhere at a lower cost. In this theme, things in Beijing are not always as cheap as you would expect. Yes the subway costs 35 cents, but do not expect to find a gas at cheaper prices than the states. You can pay $1-2 for each meal, but you can easily spend $10 on a meal, depending on where you go, what kind of food you want, and how clean you expect the kitchen to be. Needless to say, all stories about China being “so incredibly cheap” do not apply to all industries or areas. Back to the massage place, it was actually pretty nice, at least nicer than what I expected. The massage was relaxing, and definitely worth the RMB 88 I paid for a half hour.

Because this was not a healing massage I was partially disappointed. Everyone had told me that Chinese massages are really hurtful for the first day, but the next day will make you back feel better. My back has been hurting me a bit and I wish it was one of the healing massages, but oh well maybe next time. In addition to showing me a massage and a new restaurant, Sam also brought me contacts from the states. My prescription had expired and I could not get a new set of contact lens before I left for china. As a result I was forced to wear my glasses everyday, which is something I seriously try to avoid. It feels good to have contacts in again.

On Sunday I had planned to get up early and go to Sanlitun in the Chaoyang district, but I slept until 11:30 and went to grab lunch at the local restaurant in my compound. This was one of the few times I went out and grabbed a bite alone. The best part about popular Chinese restaurants in the city is they have pictures with most of their food items. (Most have two menus, one for Chinese—which is just text—and one for foreigners which has pictures and text.) Chinese food is primarily served ‘Italian style’ meaning you have a bunch of plates that are shared around the table. These are the items pictured on the menu and they rarely picture an individual plate that combines rice, vegetable and meat. From my experience, food for one is primarily on a sheet of paper in characters (which I have trouble reading). I was tempted to order a few larger plates and take home leftovers, but I decided to be adventurous and ordered what the gentleman next to me was eating—it looked good at least. 

After I ordered it, the man next to me, pulled out his phone and typed in a character and translated it to English. Turned out that I had just ordered liver. This was my first liver experience and quite honestly I was not expecting it to be a rundown Chinese restaurant. Most of the time I hear about people eating liver it’s at a fancy dinner.  Well, I sampled liver, onions, peppers and rice for $2, and it was not half bad. The best part about travelling to China, from a fiscally responsible westerner at least, is the incredibly cheap service industry. For example, I just found out my boss has a personal driver. Not because he is rich but because it’s worth having a driver so you do not buy a car, go through the hassle of obtaining a license, get gas, or find a place to park. Plus you do not have to deal with the horrendous traffic in Beijing. The traffic is so bad, there have actually been a few tests done that prove travelling by Bicycle is the fastest way to commute around Beijing—beating out mopeds, running, buses, the subway, a taxi and even driving on  your own car.

Return To Blog Home