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In Ottawa, I have a friend who is a reflexologist. We met when she was setting up her business, and I enjoyed many wonderful sessions with her as well as a lovely friendship. Gail would come to my house with her massage chair, lotions and cassette tapes, set up in my living room and work her magic. We would chat through the first leg, catching up with each other’s news, and then I would snooze through the second leg. I have thought of Gail often since being in Hong Kong and especially this week. Here’s why.

Dear Gail,

Today I had a lovely reflexology treatment, and I thought of you. I am currently on vacation in Vietnam with Paul and Ainsleigh, and the hotel we stayed at in Hué, a small city (population 350,000) in central Vietnam, has a lovely spa where Ainsleigh and I treated ourselves a couple of times. You can get spa treatments very inexpensively here, and I swear my stress level has dropped from a high of five out of five to zero out of five over the last few days, thanks in part to these spa treatments.

In Hong Kong, you see signs everywhere for reflexology, foot massage and Thai massage. It is a very popular thing to do for locals. The first time I experienced a foot massage in Hong Kong was with a masseuse who we’ll call Sally but who was referred to as “Number 5” at her shop. We met Sally at the airport our first Christmas in Hong Kong when Ainsleigh lost her passport and we couldn’t take our trip. Sally was sitting at a bank of seats and could see that Ainsleigh was in distress. She was very kind to Ainsleigh, offering her water and telling her about her life in Thailand, her son, mother, and several seemingly concurrent boyfriends. She gave us her card and we looked her up.

The shop where Sally works is on the first floor of an old, run-down highrise in Wan Chai with a sign over the entrance you really have to look for and an intercom you really have to know how to operate before you can get in. The massage “shop”, we’ll call it, has a bank of big lounge chairs against one wall facing a counter covered to within an inch of its life with bejeweled elephants and little fountains, doilies and odd brick-a-brac, although I think everything there has some kind of symbolic significance. The place is run by an older Chinese lady; I couldn’t help but think she was a madame, watching over her girls and guys as they worked on customers in the chairs, taking the money, answering the phone, dealing with the air con repairman. Some customers fall asleep during their session; others watch the TV facing the chairs; others are on their cell phones. There is no privacy except for the beds behind the curtains down the halls. I wonder what happens back there?? The schedule of the massage people is on a whiteboard on the wall and organized by number. Sally was referred to as Number 5, not by name. The session is about an hour plus you can have ten minutes of a neck massage. It’s very, very cheap, like about CDN $12.


The massage people talk amongst themselves, bantering and sometimes enjoying lots of laughs. Perhaps they are laughing at us. Mostly they just massage, for hours and hours each day and they probably take home very little money.

I have been to a more upscale foot massage in Central where I paid a little bit more and had newer, bigger leather lounge chairs, but the banks of seats, the interaction between the workers and the type of massage were all the same.

The massage itself is basically a pummeling of the lower extremities. It really hurts. I swear those women (the masseurs) have thumbs made of steel. They stroke and rub and chop for an hour. I usually have to ask for less pressure and I often have bruises afterwards. I guess it is supposed to be good for you but to be perfectly honest, I don’t find it all that pleasant because it can really hurt.

You can get more Western-style massages and spa treatments in Hong Kong but you pay lots more, at least as much and more than you would in any Canadian or European spa.

My reflexology treatment in Hué was more like what I’m used to in Canada, much more gentle and soothing, peaceful and private. There were lovely fragrances and aromatic therapies and soothing music. The latter was often overwhelmed by the crowing of a rooster and the buzzing of cicadas. Here in this very hot and humid country, the electric noise of the cicadas can be earsplitting. Walking through the pathways of our resort hotel, it sounded like there were thousands of them (maybe there were). The sound awakened Ainsleigh one night who thought it was an alarm.

But none of the treatments I’ve had compare to yours Gail. You were the embodiment of reflexology. You could transfer energy or calming vibes through your hands, depending on what was called for. You understood the connection of all those pressure points in the foot to the organs and glands of the body. You knew how to release tension and reduce inflammation through your sensitivity and connection to the body. Yours is a rare skill, an undervalued skill, a treasured skill among those lucky enough to find it, like I was.

Yours truly.


Here are a few pics from our recent trip to Vietnam.

There are scooters and motorbikes everywhere in Vietnam! They dominate life there. In Saigon, with its population of 12 million people, there are 10 million bikes!!

The bikes are driven into homes, shops and restaurants. Sidewalks are used for bike parking lots, not walking. There is a constant roar of motorbike engines, and yes, the smell too.IMG_4205 The markets were filled with beautiful locally grown fruit, vegetables and herbs. 

From the pool at one of our hotels you looked beyond to a field with water buffalo. I preferred our pool to theirs.

Some typical market streets in Saigon