March 15-20. For this post, I must start on the 20th, for the days beforehand were as continuous as ever, although I do need to explain why I never followed through with my taekwondo lessons. When I consulted with Erik on the subject, he explained that 5 days of this trip are dedicated to learning either Kung Fu or Tai Chi at a Buddhist temple. Therefore, I decided that since I had already paid for martial arts lessons I might as well not spend my money learning an entirely separate martial art. It was, however, the loss of another unique experience, but I’m sure the time spent in the temple will make up for it.
So the 20th was our last full, free day before the monastery, and I made sure it was worthwhile. Waking up to the bustle of the Saturday crowd, I awoke Christen and David and had a scrumptious breakfast at The Sweet Tooth. Breakfast consisted of savory blackberry pancakes and an enormous blackberry muffin. I was also able to stomach some coffee, which I have grown fond of since New Zealand, although plenty of sugar is a necessity.
Afterwards, our plan was to meet Erik and Leung at some stables a few blocks away from The Sweet Tooth. Leung, Erik, a raggedy, old man, and 4 small horses met us at the stables. Only Leung wanted to join on this ride, for it was his first time riding and Erik was busy with other demands. The old man greeted us with a toothless grin and, wasting no time, ushered us onto the horses. The horse stood no taller than my shoulder and I swung myself easily into the saddle. The “saddle” was a crude impression of a seat. It was made of wood and cushioned with a thick layer of Styrofoam. I felt that it would be cruel for the horse to have to bear my weight with only wood to comfort it. When I looked down I saw a layer of Styrofoam between the horse and the saddle, though it looked worn enough to be of barely any use.
When we were all situated on our horses and the toothless old man had comfortably loosened the stirrups, we set out on a leisurely walk towards the mountain. It was soon apparent that the horses weren’t bred for riding and I suspected they were mainly used as packhorses. The horses were hard to control as a rider, but the toothless old man barked orders every few seconds and they obediently followed them. Only David seemed to have full control of his horse, though he has been riding for 6 years.
We walked until we came to a dirt road. Then the toothless old man bellowed a command in Chinese and the horses sped off in a steady gallop. It caught me by surprise, but I had ridden before and I switched my rhythm without hesitation. Leung, however, was thrown off balance and nearly toppled over his horse’s neck. He screamed and tried to reign in his horse. The horse didn’t even respond and kept at its ground eating speed. The toothless old man boomed with laughter and ran to keep up with us. When he stopped the horses Leung was in a towering rage and almost walked home from there, but we were too far from home.
Contrary to what I believed, we only rode to the base of the mountain and then veered back towards the way we came. The entire ride took only an hour, but it was fun nonetheless. We passed through much of what we had seen when we had hiked the mountain with our teacher, but riding atop a horse made the journey much more exciting. We soon came back to the stables and patted our horses down before setting out to our next destination. From there we met Erik at a massage parlor. Our original plan was to relax and enjoy cheap oil massages, but that was until Erik pointed out their special on cupping.
Cupping is when a masseuse takes an ordinary, glass cup and, with the cup upside down, fills the cup with a flame. This in turn consumes all the oxygen inside and the masseuse quickly places the now flameless cup on your back, giving it a slight twist. As the suction causes your skin to try and fill every inch of the deoxygenated void, your body supposedly expels all its toxins through that suction. After 30 minutes of the hot cup sucking on your skin, the masseuse takes the cup off, leaving large, circular bruises that refuse to fade for days, or even weeks.
This special was only 25 yen per person. Erik suggested the idea, to which I responded “Party.” When else will I have the opportunity? Besides it was my last full day before the monastery. So our group, excluding Christen, was led to a room consisting of 3 lounges. Christen was led to a separate room for her cupping, for obvious reasons. The 3 of us, Leung didn’t want to try it, lay shirtless on the lounges. We talked excitedly, eager for the cupping to begin. 3 masseuses walked inside and lay 12 cups on the table beside me. I watched with slight apprehension as the masseuse grabbed the first cup and lit the inner air. He shoved it on so suddenly, I let out a groan of surprise and pain. The hot cup felt unpleasant and my skin immediately was taken up into the cup. He repeated the process 12 times until my skin was stretched so tight over my back, I thought it might split open. Then he laid a blanket over me and walked away, leaving me to squirm uncomfortably for the next 30 minutes.
As I lay in throbbing pain, I thought how uncomfortable it must be for someone to have an itch while they were feeling the sting of the suction. No sooner had the thought entered my mind when I yearned to scratch every part of my back. It was torturous to lay there unmoving, for if you moved, your back would change its posture and the suction would cease. Finally, after I had tried everything to distract myself from the irritation, the masseuse came back in and took the cups off my back. Afterwards, I sprang up and shook around, though I felt different than I had before. I felt full of energy and felt no pain anywhere on my body. I believe the sensation was caused by the pain I had felt earlier and not because my body was suddenly toxin free, but it was a pleasant feeling.
Erik and David stood up and shook themselves, but neither had expressions of relief on their faces. On the contrary, they both seemed disappointed. When I asked them how they felt, Erik replied “Well that was a rip-off.” Neither had felt anything during the cupping, yet both their backs looked as if they had been beaten. Pulling our shirts back on, we left the parlor. With sullen faces, the pair of them walked out towards the town and flagged down a taxi. David, for one, was eager to wash down his disappointment with the next scheduled event.
Last Saturday we had signed up for a baking lesson at the café. It was being taught by the American family that ran the place so it was easy to relay directions back and forth. We made the dough, kneaded the bread and churned out several dozen cinnamon rolls. It was a welcome change to laugh and joke with kids you are barely acquainted with. I had grown so accustomed to the presence of Erik, Leung, David and Christen and only then did I realize that it had been almost 3 weeks since I had met an English speaking person, save last Saturday. We again played cards and Apples to Apples while we enjoyed our cinnamon rolls.
As I licked the icing from my fingers, I pondered the happenings of today. I replayed everything that had happened and, subconsciously, I ordered them from favorite to least favorite. Surprisingly, my top choice was the present moment. I realized that I had forgotten to enjoy the small things in life and I was bent on enjoying momentous events. Of course, the last 2 months have been fun and momentous, but if you look back at all you can remember it’s the jokes you tell, the emotions you feel, and the people you share your life with that make those memories extraordinary. Sometimes, there is nothing better than enjoying your friends’ company while biting into a freshly baked cinnamon roll.