Posts Tagged With: Culture Clash

Adventures with Vouchers: Acupressure Massage

I should really read through voucher offers before I buy them.

This week I got an acupressure massage.

I had just seen the word “massage” and the cheap price and thought, “Sign me up!”

Ordinarily, I would have spaced out the acupuncture and the massage, but please see previous post about procrastinating and facing expiration dates.

I knew I was in for a different kind of experience from the acupuncture as soon as I walked through the door: there was my soothing fountain, resting on a mat of fake turf.

The waiting room was spacious, white walls and melon-colored faux leather armchairs. Expansive and generically inspiring nature shots hung on the walls: a mass of trees in blossom, a clifftop view across misty mountains. A very different vibe from the acupuncture place.

I was gently asked to put on some little white slippers, which these spa-type places should realize is not particularly relaxing, at least if you’re me and wondering who else’s funky feet have tred in these slippers previously.

I was introduced to G., my qi master. The staff wore white gis, which I imagine is a comfy work outfit, even if it did make me think of The Karate Kid.

G. spent a good ten minutes talking to me about qi/chi, or the body’s energy system. It all does make a lot of sense, really. That the body and mind and spirit are actually interconnected and one affects the other. Why is that an Eastern philosophical idea? Why isn’t it just a human philosophical idea? Why are Westerners so cynical about this intermingling, why are we embarrassed by talk about the spirit, why can “New Age” ideas only be considered with irony?

Of course, I couldn’t help but think how disappointed I would be if I ever saw G. in a Starbucks. So I guess I’m just another cynical, overly-ironied Westerner, a revelation which will come as no surprise to anyone.

Acupressure massage is not a medical, physical kind of massage. It’s all about unblocking blocked-up qi. It is performed fully clothed (me – well, and him too), and involved deep fingertip-rubbing over the entire body, head to toe, sternum to butt.

As part of the qi stimulating process, G. made noise while he worked me up. It is supposed to be a cosmic noise, a sound that encourages qi flow from master to client. The best I can do to describe it is as a prolonged “shhhh” except it was “chhhh.” It was the sound an aerosol can makes and it would be really bad for the environment if you continually sprayed a can as long as G. had to make this noise.

I get the meditative qualities of chanting, and I have an album of Tibetan Singing Bowls that is supposed to hit different bodily chakras, and I get that too, I can feel the vibrations in various parts of my body. This just sounded like spraying an aerosol can. I may have mentioned that.

But bless him, G. motored his mouth through my massage and dug his hands so hard into every inch of my body that two days later, my sternum still hurts. There is obviously no way this kind of rubbing can be bad. It might be painful at the time, but it does loosen up all your muscles and tensions, and I felt pretty nice afterward.

We chatted again after my treatment, and G. told me that I have huge blockages in my kidneys, which are the body’s battery packs of energy, as well as my stomach, which blocks energy from getting to my lower half. Maybe that’s why my feet are always cold. (G. repeated several times that he is not a licensed medical professional and there is nothing physically wrong with me. Phew.)

Seriously, I don’t want to be cynical. I want to believe in magic. If we don’t think our own bodies are capable of something mystical and special, it’s really hard to expect it from any other part of the world around us. Qi could just be another part of physics: atoms, protons, neutrons, electrons, it’s all swirling around inside us. The idea of energy, positive and negative, is the best way to describe any sort of spiritual views I have.

I want to believe in qi, I want to get in touch with my qi, but I didn’t have any sense of energy release or free flowing radiance in my body. I enjoyed the treatment, but. Sometimes it’s just nice to get poked and prodded. Realistically, I can’t have expected all my qi to start cheerfully flowing after one forty minute session. (But I probably did expect that because I am not realistic.)

G. did a soft-sell for the center’s holistic chanting/movement/meditation class. And I will really consider it. It’s just sort of a pain in the ass to get to the center from where I live. If I’m going to harness my qi and unblock my energy, which sounds like a lot of work in and of itself, I’m really going to need it to be superconvenient.

G. was too genuine and sweet for me to feel that this voucher was a scam, but I don’t know if I really got all that much out of it either. So here’s the new scorecard: Vouchers – 1, Me – 0, Qi – 1

Categories: Fluff and Philosophical Nonsense, London | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Wilds of London

The first time I saw a fox in London, I was waiting for a bus on a side street in Islington. It shot past, low to the ground and tail streaming, racing toward the Angel Tube station across the street, as if it were desperate to catch a train. It was running toward a highly congested (even at 9pm on a Tuesday night) area of London’s Zone 1. “Was that a fox?” I said out loud to the woman also waiting at the bus stop, who laughed along with me in strange delight.

I have since discovered urban foxes are a “thing;” Mary Poppins wasn’t a scam. I’ve seen them several times in my own neighborhood, and I love it: “View Halloooooo!” I like to think they appear just for me, a good luck charm, a symbol that things are peculiar and wonderful here in London.

2012-10-16 21.29.13

I haven’t seen a fox in a while. Maybe they’re hibernating for the winter. What I am becoming acquainted with in these early-darkening, ceaselessly gray days are the well-known, much-feared poisonous spiders here in the wild jungles of the London metropolis.

Haven’t heard of them? Oh, right that’s because they don’t exist…well, they only exist for me. They are a bit of a bad luck charm, a symbol of something. I just don’t know what.

Since moving into my flat near Stoke Newington, I have been bitten in my sleep four times, presumably by spiders, though I have never seen one in my bedroom. The first three were spread out over three week intervals. Then I got bitten two nights in a row: once on my arm, once on my face. I am not someone prone to allergies; I have never had a bad reaction to food or animals or insect bites. Yet here I sit with a ballooning left arm and a goitery face.

I have friends in actual exotic places like Australia and South Africa and Japan who aren’t experiencing this kind of wildlife.

Right now my arm is swollen and red from my wrist to my bicep. It’s sore and I’m experiencing waves of intense itching.  The texture of my skin has changed to sandpaper, oddly tacky and firm. It’s like my arm isn’t my arm. When I touch it I can’t believe it’s part of me.

IMG_8361

Last time I went to the hospital, when I was bitten on my right wrist, smack dab in the middle of my cherry blossom tattoo. They gave me antibiotics, but I don’t think they sped up the recovery. I just have to wait this out. I will survive it, it’s not that big a deal in the grand scheme.

But in my current state of my mind, these bites are a perfect metaphor for how I feel about London: like it is rejecting me, attacking me, needling me to give up and leave. What if somehow I’m allergic to London, a city I have longed to live in?

I know this is homesickness talking. I’ve arrived at that point where the adrenalin and novelty of figuring out a new place have worn off, the bleakness of winter has settled in, and I have learned that even more than New York, London is a distant city. It’s not a great big friendly invitation to a “cuppa” tea. It is a jungle, a space overcrowded but hidden. It’s hard to meet people and make connections.

I suppose it’s a byproduct of that polite British aloofness. No one will be rude to you here…they just won’t talk to you at all.  I’ve done an informal study of pub culture compared to American bar culture. English people go to pubs, with their friends, to drink. Heavily. Period. There aren’t men leering at women, trying to chat you up. They are too immersed in their mates and cups.

I almost miss the unwanted attention. It was nice to at least feel visible. The grass is always greener, right?

These, my friends, are first world problems, though who has ever classified a poisonous spider bite that way. I’m trying to look at my life patterns, the time of year, and recognize that I’m just in that wistful slump after the initial romantic has mellowed. I’ve only been here four months. Is it surprising that I don’t feel completely settled, that this isn’t quite “home” yet? I’m at a low point that aligns with the winter solstice. As the days slowly (so slowly) get longer again, so too will my desire to get out and explore come out of dormancy.

As with these treacherous spider bites: I just have to wait this out. I will survive it, it’s not that big a deal in the grand scheme.

I look forward to seeing another fox, though. Those are pretty cool.

Categories: London, Travel Musings | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Controversy: The Great “XO” Debate

As I have dedicated this blog to the serious, reflective, and thought-provoking study of subtle and significant cultural differences, it’s about time I took on the most controversial topic of all: xogate.

In the interest of thorough, hard-hitting journalism I’ll briefly explain that in the generally accepted American parlance, “x”s stand for kisses, and “o”s for hugs. Because I’m not that interested in thorough, hard-hitting journalism, I’m not going to bother looking on Wikipedia right now to discover the genesis of this strange custom, though I believe “o”s have the encircling nature of a hug, and when you kiss someone your mouth puckers into an “x,” lips crossed as if disembodied from your face. At least if you’re doing it right.

Before I moved to London, I had some friends who spent time in England who tended to sign messages and letters with an “x.” I don’t mean as a signature like they were illiterate, I mean in place of “Love,” the way most Americans would use “xo” (times however many are appropriate to your level of affection for the recipient of said message or letter.) I didn’t put two-and-two together until I met some actual British people and almost from the first Facebook comment or message they sent me, I got “x”-ed. It seemed a bit forward, but it made me feel good, like I was special, significant, that these people sought my “x” back.

Then I came to England and discovered EVERYONE “x”s EVERYONE over here.

Basically from the first message from a British person, you’re likely to get an “x.” I imagine they sign their inquiries to customer service and government representatives this way. Sometimes you even get an “xxx,” but I don’t honestly believe this has any emotional significance, it’s more like a tic. Maybe that button on their keyboard is stuck pressed down.

I’ve never seen an English person “o.” All this is rather amusing to me, given the standoff-ish nature of the Brits, who would never “x” or “o” you in the world of physical contact. This isn’t Europe with double and triple-cheek kisses for your postman. You’re lucky to get a curt nod from the English, let alone a hug, God forbid a kiss.

So perhaps it’s all rather hypocritical of British people to hand out written “x”s like they are a warm, physical people with a lot of extra love to give. In any case, I didn’t want to get involved. Before I got here, I was determined to continue signing my emails and messages with the patriotic “xoxo” formula my American breeding dictated. I considered “x”-ing the transcribed equivalent of a Madonna-level faux-English accent. I didn’t want to be a poser. I’m not British and I still say trashcan and bathroom and zucchini and comforter. I want to hold on to the all-encompassing generosity of the “o.”

But now I find myself seduced by the “x” alone. There is something sleek and sophisticated about it. It’s just more grown-up than that desperate reach of the “o,” which begs “LIKE ME!” The “o”s roundness makes it too inclusive. The “x” is sharp. Its slashes say “no.” The “x” doesn’t care. It is exclusive. The “x” kisses you – an intimate gesture, but only on paper. It actually is the perfect English symbol. It’s aloof, easily withheld through deletion, but still, it’s cooler than you are, like how a kiss would sound if kisses had hot Northern accents.

So sometimes I just use the “x” to sign off. Just one, simple and elegant, not trying too hard. Not screaming for acceptance in a country where I speak the language but don’t understand the customs. Every time I end an email, I’m tortured by a sense of betrayal for my native land, which opens its arms to envelop me in infinite roundness, no edges or hard, definitive lines to hurt me. It hugs me and lets me known I belong.

I blow America an “x” and turn my back.

Categories: Fluff and Philosophical Nonsense, London | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments

Blog at WordPress.com.