My First And Last Ba Guan Treatment

by Dave on April 14, 2008 · 58 comments

Tibetan Spa

After an afternoon sightseeing at DuFu’s cottage, prior home of a famous Chinese poet, I decided to check out a Chinese Tibetan spa near Charlie’s apartment building. I only knew it was a spa because I had asked him about the prayer flags over the front entrance a few days earlier.

I took the elevator up to the top floor, and was happy to see a well-decorated, warm and welcoming reception area. The language barrier was a big issue, however having been to a spa previously with Charlie, I had a sense of the routine.

First, they showed me to a locker where I put away all my clothes. I was standing there buck-naked for a moment until the attendant was kind enough to hand me a towel. I spent about 30 minutes soaking in a wooden tub of hot water and Tibetan medicine. The medicine was red, which gave the water a similar tint. Next, I showered and changed into the supplied pajamas. The attendant brought me to a dark room with lounge chairs, each equipped with a remote and small flat screen TV. I flipped around the channels until boredom set in, and then asked for a massage.

Results of Ba Guan treatmentI was lead to a room where a Chinese masseuse eventually entered. She pointed at a poster on the wall which was written in Chinese. After a minute or two of being completely confused, I pointed to what I thought was the cheapest option (there were numbers like 30, 60 and 90 listed, but I had no sense of whether it was related to cost or time). The initial massage lasted about an hour. And then….

A cart of round glass jars was wheeled into the room. I’d seen what was about to happen on TV once, so I knew what was coming. First, I received Gua Sha, a treatment whereby a piece of metal is scraped across my back. It didn’t hurt, but it did make me wonder what the hell was being done to me. Then, the woman lit cotton balls on fire under the jars, creating smoke which allowed for a vacuum effect when the jar was pressed against my back. My entire back was filled with the jars, and I was left to bear them alone for 10 minutes. It felt strange, like an octopus was slapped on my back, in no hurry to release itself. I decided to grin and bear it.

Eventually the jars were slowly peeled off of me, and when they were all gone, I sat upright. The woman pointed at my left shoulder, and I was horrified to see a giant purple circle. When I got back to my locker to change, I looked in the mirror and was aghast at the results of what was suppose to be a relaxing massage!

Aftermath of a Ba Guan treatment

Once I got back to Charlie’s apartment, I found out that the ancient Chinese medical treatment I had just unknowingly requested was called Ba Guan (aka fire-cupping). It is meant to cleanse the body of toxins and treat certain ailments. And it would take up to a week for the bruising to disappear. In actuality, as I write this more than 3 weeks later, I can still see the outlines of circles on my back and shoulders, making me wonder if I’ll never see them completely fade.

You can see a few more photos of the actual process on Ben’s Blog.

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is the author of 1721 posts on Go Backpacking.

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Categories: China

58 Comments

Mike April 15, 2008 at 5:12 am

Oh my gosh. :shock: That looks painful! I guess I should bring a translation book when I visit China.

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Dave April 16, 2008 at 1:43 am

or your sense of adventure!

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Mike April 15, 2008 at 12:12 am

Oh my gosh. :shock: That looks painful! I guess I should bring a translation book when I visit China.

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Dave April 15, 2008 at 8:43 pm

or your sense of adventure!

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Vickie April 15, 2008 at 5:33 am

That looks too painful. My Dad also did that once. I didn’t ask him how long it took for the bruises to completely fade; but I seriously didn’t expect it to take more than 3 weeks… We’re actually Chinese, by the way, so my Dad was fully aware of what’s going to happen to him. :P

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Vickie April 15, 2008 at 12:33 am

That looks too painful. My Dad also did that once. I didn’t ask him how long it took for the bruises to completely fade; but I seriously didn’t expect it to take more than 3 weeks… We’re actually Chinese, by the way, so my Dad was fully aware of what’s going to happen to him. :P

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Christina Briegleb April 15, 2008 at 5:43 am

Holy cow! That looks awful and yet amusingly funny. I’m not surprised it’s taken 3 weeks to heal! Imagine if they had done your whole body. As always, good stories Dave.

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Dave April 16, 2008 at 1:55 am

This was one good story which was completely unintentional! ;)

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Christina Briegleb April 15, 2008 at 12:43 am

Holy cow! That looks awful and yet amusingly funny. I’m not surprised it’s taken 3 weeks to heal! Imagine if they had done your whole body. As always, good stories Dave.

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Dave April 15, 2008 at 8:55 pm

This was one good story which was completely unintentional! ;)

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Overland Travel April 15, 2008 at 7:41 am

Erk! Can’t beat a bit of unscientific medical quackery now and then. Seems like this treatment is only good for great blog stories :lol:

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Overland Travel April 15, 2008 at 2:41 am

Erk! Can’t beat a bit of unscientific medical quackery now and then. Seems like this treatment is only good for great blog stories :lol:

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charlie April 15, 2008 at 6:30 pm

oh sweet, I didn’t realize that you’d gone to the place right outside of my house. I should check that out someday.

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Dave April 16, 2008 at 1:56 am

Yeah, it was quite nice. Beware the Ba Guan!

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charlie April 15, 2008 at 1:30 pm

oh sweet, I didn’t realize that you’d gone to the place right outside of my house. I should check that out someday.

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Dave April 15, 2008 at 8:56 pm

Yeah, it was quite nice. Beware the Ba Guan!

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TheVinylVillager April 16, 2008 at 12:34 am

um…OUCH!

did it hurt as much as it looks like it did??

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Dave April 16, 2008 at 1:58 am

Surprisingly, it didn’t hurt much. Some of the purple spots were sore to the touch for a day or two afterwards, however the actual treatment was just awkward at first (though I sort of got use to it the longer the jars were stuck to me).

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TheVinylVillager April 15, 2008 at 7:34 pm

um…OUCH!

did it hurt as much as it looks like it did??

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Dave April 15, 2008 at 8:58 pm

Surprisingly, it didn’t hurt much. Some of the purple spots were sore to the touch for a day or two afterwards, however the actual treatment was just awkward at first (though I sort of got use to it the longer the jars were stuck to me).

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Chris June 26, 2009 at 7:38 am

Wow! I am definitely going to try that! It looks like an octopus cuddled with you for a whole night…

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Chris June 26, 2009 at 12:38 pm

Wow! I am definitely going to try that! It looks like an octopus cuddled with you for a whole night…

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William Taylor June 26, 2009 at 12:48 pm

My wife and I tried that in Laos once. It did eventually heal completely for us both. Though it felt kind of good actually.

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William Taylor June 26, 2009 at 7:48 am

My wife and I tried that in Laos once. It did eventually heal completely for us both. Though it felt kind of good actually.

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Chinamatt June 26, 2009 at 8:41 pm

I get this treatment all the time. When the circles are dark it means you’re unhealthy for one reason or another. Hurts quite a bit, but feels great afterward.

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Chinamatt June 26, 2009 at 3:41 pm

I get this treatment all the time. When the circles are dark it means you’re unhealthy for one reason or another. Hurts quite a bit, but feels great afterward.

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Dave June 27, 2009 at 2:34 pm

I must’ve been close to death because the circles were VERY dark on me! But yea, it looked a lot worse than it felt. :)

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Dave June 27, 2009 at 9:34 am

I must’ve been close to death because the circles were VERY dark on me! But yea, it looked a lot worse than it felt. :)

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Crystal June 27, 2009 at 9:50 am

Dave,

Those purple circles look awful! But for some reason it looks really funny as well ‘coz it reminds me of pepperoni! :D

This story proves that taking risks and being adventurous yields very interesting outcomes. Which makes for good material. I hope one day soon you’ll compile all these stories – together with the wackiest and wildest dares you’ve completed so far – and turn them into a book.

Pinaybackpacker

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Crystal June 27, 2009 at 2:50 pm

Dave,

Those purple circles look awful! But for some reason it looks really funny as well ‘coz it reminds me of pepperoni! :D

This story proves that taking risks and being adventurous yields very interesting outcomes. Which makes for good material. I hope one day soon you’ll compile all these stories – together with the wackiest and wildest dares you’ve completed so far – and turn them into a book.

Pinaybackpacker

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Mik June 27, 2009 at 6:36 pm

I’m with Crystal, you do like a bit like a pepperoni pizza, apart from the circles did you feel any healthy effects of the treatment?

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Mik June 27, 2009 at 11:36 pm

I’m with Crystal, you do like a bit like a pepperoni pizza, apart from the circles did you feel any healthy effects of the treatment?

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Erik June 29, 2009 at 2:49 am

Ah…massage is so luxurious.

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Erik June 28, 2009 at 9:49 pm

Ah…massage is so luxurious.

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Dave July 1, 2009 at 4:24 pm

Thanks! I do think there is a book lurking in all my experiences, but for now I’m not sure when I’d take on such a project!

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Dave July 1, 2009 at 11:24 am

Thanks! I do think there is a book lurking in all my experiences, but for now I’m not sure when I’d take on such a project!

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Dave July 1, 2009 at 4:25 pm

It didn’t feel particularly bad when the glass jars were attached to me, but a little uncomfortable. And nope, I didn’t feel especially better afterwards, not that I was sick when I got the treatment.

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Dave July 1, 2009 at 11:25 am

It didn’t feel particularly bad when the glass jars were attached to me, but a little uncomfortable. And nope, I didn’t feel especially better afterwards, not that I was sick when I got the treatment.

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Traveler September 1, 2009 at 2:22 pm

Hee hee I got that done once in Australia.. I lovingly referred to them as my pot hickies. :)

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Traveler September 1, 2009 at 9:22 am

Hee hee I got that done once in Australia.. I lovingly referred to them as my pot hickies. :)

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David September 1, 2009 at 4:33 pm

Yeah, I think Dave is lying! Here I agree with Traveler, in actuality these are hickeys and Dave doesn’t want to admit he got assaulted by 50 women that gave him hickeys ;-) Right Dave?

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David September 1, 2009 at 11:33 am

Yeah, I think Dave is lying! Here I agree with Traveler, in actuality these are hickeys and Dave doesn’t want to admit he got assaulted by 50 women that gave him hickeys ;-) Right Dave?

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Dave September 1, 2009 at 5:28 pm

Sounds like you had a better sense of humor about the purple marks than me!!!

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Dave September 1, 2009 at 5:28 pm

Actually, I was mugged by a giant octupus! lol

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Dave September 1, 2009 at 12:28 pm

Sounds like you had a better sense of humor about the purple marks than me!!!

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Dave September 1, 2009 at 12:28 pm

Actually, I was mugged by a giant octupus! lol

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David September 1, 2009 at 7:35 pm

There you go Dave, that’s better. “Mugged by a giant octopus” is definitely more believable than “Ba Guan” ;-)

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David September 1, 2009 at 2:35 pm

There you go Dave, that’s better. “Mugged by a giant octopus” is definitely more believable than “Ba Guan” ;-)

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Chinesli October 20, 2009 at 11:03 am

1. this is how it is supposed to look like! it detoxes the body and it doesnt really hurt… (ok, maybe a little bit!)

2. how long the “bruising” stays depends how fast your recovery abbility is – my bruisings usually dont stay longer than 1 week, unless i really had a bad ass flu going through my system!

3. the “sicker” you are the more and serious “bruising”. very healthy people usually dont show any “bruisings”. Or depending where you're sick or having a problem, only some of the cups create “bruising”.

4. you did feel much better after that cupping didnt you? :)

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Dave October 21, 2009 at 1:25 am

Thanks for the information.

I have to admit I wasn't sick when I had the services done, however based on the bruising, I must not have been too well. Did I feel better? No, I can't say I did. I was preoccupied with the markings, and there was a little soreness in some spots for the first 24 hours or so.

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Pet December 15, 2009 at 8:23 am

hahhahaha
I love this post.
I happen to love Ba Guan (probably helps that I'm Chinese.) Chinese believe that if you are experience backaches and stuff, you have some bad Qi (Wind) in your body and should be rid of them. It's really quite relaxing but those Ba Guan treatments I go to tend to be followed by a 5 min massage which really loosens me up.

Well I think it isn't so bad… If you had one of those twisting-turning sort of massages where they straighten your backbone it could be a lot worse!! :)

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Dave December 15, 2009 at 4:48 pm

Hi Pet, thanks for stopping by. Ba Guan was certainly an interesting experience, though I'm not sure I could do it again, given the marks were still on my body months later. It didn't hurt physically, but mentally it was a little unsettling to see my skin so purple.

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Dave December 15, 2009 at 10:48 pm

Hi Pet, thanks for stopping by. Ba Guan was certainly an interesting experience, though I'm not sure I could do it again, given the marks were still on my body months later. It didn't hurt physically, but mentally it was a little unsettling to see my skin so purple.

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Michele December 2, 2010 at 1:21 am

Wow! I am a massage student and now I know NEVER to get a massage with a language barrier. I thought those were burns. I also thought the cupping glass was supposed to be gently moved about the body, not left in place to cause a mass of hickies all over your client. Sorry, dude! That sucks!!!

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Dave December 3, 2010 at 2:12 am

I’ve gotten quite a few massages with a language barrier, but at least I usually could point to a rate card that was understandable. Not so much in a lot of Chinese spas!

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Eric October 10, 2011 at 7:26 pm

this treatment actually works very well if you are in fact injured or something like that. Take a swollen knee for example, what happened was my doctor poked a few holes with needles on the side of my knee, and put the suction cup on it, and it quite literally sucked the “bad blood” as my doctor put it (the blood was black, ew.), out through the holes, which gets rid of the swollen knee. but if there’s nothing wrong with you, nothing really happens LOL. but i gotta admit, it felt really weird when i did it.

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Dave October 10, 2011 at 11:40 pm

I wasn’t aware that it was used to treat injuries…..I just thought it was for ailments like the flue, etc. Interesting, but still not something I intend to do again!

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maria paz cornejo ordoñez August 18, 2013 at 2:24 pm

hola! que experiencia mas buena viviste, que pena que no hayas podido recobir informacion de lo que te estaban haciendo por que de ser asi, no hubieras tomado a mal como quedo tu espalda, el masaje es asi, tiene efectos buenísimos, la medicina tradicional china tiene 4000 años, lamentable que a veces por ignorancia se desprestigie esta ciencia milenaria….

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