After a day walking the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall of China, I wasn’t about to have a Swedish massage or a European foot treatment. I told the therapist that I wanted to experience a traditional Chinese massage. “It’s not about relaxation, and there are no products,” he cautioned. “If you are expecting treatments like you have back home, this isn’t it. There’s no music, scents or candles.” He said that the stretching and kneading I’d experience would be about releasing blocked energy and bringing my body back into balance.

After a few days in Shanghai and Beijing, my asthma-prone lungs were beginning to feel more than a little “blocked,” so I told him to apply his deepest pressure and get started. As he kneaded and pounded my thighs, images of Parmesan-crusted flattened chicken came to mind. (I had unknowingly eaten goose tongue the day before, so I was feeling a little nostalgic for familiar fare.)

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Midway through the treatment – which included the therapist drilling his knuckles mercilessly into the arches of my feet and delivering a few swift karate-like chops to my back – I noticed that my nose had started to drip onto the floor. The room was dimly lit, so at first I thought the dark splotches were blood. My first thought was “Am I having an aneurysm?” I asked for a tissue, wiped my nose and was relieved to see that the tissue wasn’t crimson. An hour later, I returned to my room feeling pleasantly pummelled and ready for bed. By morning, a latent cold had been “unblocked,” but this experience was worth every sniffle. More than just a five-star setting, luxury is about having moments where you’re outside your comfort zone.

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