Curious Onlooker


vietnamese tiger balmvietnam_10_dong_1964

When I travel there is one thing I miss…. a comfortable bed. Saying that, I can sleep almost anywhere, including sitting upright on a 48 hour train ride from one side of China to the other. Ok, I can say I have that experience under my belt,  but i’ll never do a repeat performance.

In 2011 my travel buddy Claudia and I decided that our next adventure would be overland from Bangkok to Shanghai by train, bus, car, boat, bicycle, scooter…. whatever form of transportation we could find to get from A to B or B to S.

About halfway through our adventure, we found ourselves in a hostel in downtown Nha Trang, Vietnam. I don’t know if I had nightmares or we had drunk too much the night before, but I woke up with my neck and shoulders so tense and out of place that I couldn’t focus. Not even a fresh fruit smoothie from our favourite stall was going to take my mind off the pain.

But perhaps a coffee would, since we both love our coffee. So, we took a walk down towards the beach and a small bar caught our eye in a laneway parallel to the sea. We ordered a typical Vietnamese coffee and took a seat outside on the ‘footpath’ aka. the road.

I must have been complaining too much about the pain because Claudia started to give me a massage. Now I must admit, she is a good travel partner if you are prone to aches and pains because she has both a Shiatsu and Reiki certificate. Of course 2 foreigners in the middle of the street, one massaging the other got quite a few odd  looks from people walking by. However, there was one onlooker  who happened to catch our eye. A little old lady was peeping from behind her front door watching Claudia work her magic. We acknowledged her with a smile and she continued to watch. Who knows what she must have been thinking? Crazy tourists….

It must have been 5 minutes into the massage when the lady walked over to us with a little bottle of what smelt like Tiger Balm in hand. She gave Claudia the bottle and using gestures  told Claudia to use the liquid on my neck and shoulders. Claudia gave it a go but you could see the little Vietnamese lady thought she could do better. So what did she do? She pushed Claudia out the way, took a silver coin from her pocket, applied the liquid on the area in need and with the ridged side of the coin, she began to stroke my neck relatively firm. Up and down, up and down.

The massage seemed to go on forever, but it must have been about 20 minutes. We couldn’t believe her kindness and sincere want to help and make the pain go away. My neck and shoulders were red at the end of it but by early afternoon most of the pain had passed.

We later discovered that this type of ‘massage’ is referred to in English as ‘coining’ and originates from China. It is a traditional Chinese medicine treatment called Gua Sha that involves the use of ceramic, water buffalo horns or bones to scrape the skin to stimulate healing and blood flow from injured areas.  Using an old, metal coin is an easier alternative which can be found in everyday households. Bruising can last up to a week.

It’s so lovely to know that there are genuine, caring people out there who want to lend a hand, teach an old dog new tricks and aren’t afraid of foreigners. Afterall, we are all humans. Maybe our skin colour is different, our language and our culture too, but at the end of the day we all are living on this planet together. I like to think that she helped me and I in return gave her money, even though she refused it which helped her. Her good deed inspired me to do a good deed and so the domino effect spirals.

Even to this day I am still amazed at how kind she was and relieved that the pain went away quickly so we could get on with the rest of our trip.

Thank you sweet, Vietnamese lady.


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