My First And Last Ba Guan Treatment

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.

Comments

  1. says

    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

  2. says

    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

  3. Christina Briegleb says

    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.

  4. Christina Briegleb says

    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.

  5. Overland Travel says

    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:

    • says

      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).

    • says

      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).

  6. Chris says

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

  7. says

    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.

  8. says

    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.

  9. Crystal says

    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

  10. Crystal says

    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

  11. Mik says

    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?

  12. Mik says

    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?

  13. says

    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!

  14. says

    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!

  15. says

    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.

  16. says

    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.

  17. David says

    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?

  18. David says

    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?

  19. David says

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

  20. David says

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

  21. Chinesli says

    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? :)

  22. says

    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.

  23. says

    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!! :)

  24. says

    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.

  25. says

    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.

  26. Michele says

    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!!!

    • says

      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!

  27. Eric says

    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.

    • says

      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!

  28. maria paz cornejo ordoñez says

    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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