One Birthday Many Parts, This Is Part Two
It was 11am and as Lezil clandestinely handed the taxi driver directions to our first secret birthday location, I sat there squirming in my seat. Glued to the window, I was paying closer attention than usual on the route we were taking that morning. I wanted to be that detective to have discovered the truth before its time. We whizzed past all the usual landmarks in downtown Shanghai.
Turning into the Tai Kang Lu artsy vicinity we came to an abrupt stop outside a low-key lane entrance. I still didn’t have a clue. We scuttled down the lane and went up four flights of a wooden decking staircase. Each floor gave me absolutely no incline as to where we were headed. Every level was a construction site. I saw one restaurant at the half-way built stage but the rest was just a display of cement, dust, drilling and worker men hollering at each other. Was she about to give me a much needed lesson in household DIY? I know I did a poor job of that bathroom towel railing which in the end I had to call our landlord’s 70 year-old brother to come and sort it out. But surely my better organising and administrative skills make up for my lack of a handy-Andy streak?
“I hope you like this,” said Lezil as we paused to catch our breath in front of what I presumed was our intended destination. The frosted lettering on the glass entrance displayed The Sanctuary. Unless I was going to get a crash course in building an actual sanctuary (‘crash’-ing down being the operative word) – I was relieved to know that we were stepping into a spa. But wait, Lezil does know that I am not a fan of body massages? The foot is as far as I’ll go. I was still reeling from my last session which was a Thai massage in Ecuador (as you do, go to South America to have a South East Asian massage). The masseuse on hand put my body in all sorts of angles, twists and insisted on make these high-pitched shrills when stretching my back to its limit. I was surprised I didn’t come out double jointed. Su Lim, from Singapore, approached us both and welcomed us with warm hugs.
I didn’t have time to ask Lezil what treatments we were having that morning as we were ushered straight into the front lounge area. The venue was stylish, designed with clean lines throughout and bore a combination of earthy colours which gave off a holistic/natural feel. Filling in a registration form, Su consulted me on my skin care regime which went as far as your bog standard shower gel to wash and applying a simple body moisturiser both morning and night. Then Su let the cat out of the bag stating the word “facial” which would involve not only massaging the face area but working the head, shoulders and mid-to-upper back. I gave Lezil a cheesy grin and when Su went to her office momentarily, I silently mouthed to Lezil “my beard and my hair”. I hadn’t lovingly spent time caking gel into my barnet, achieving that classic 60s side-parting look, to then have a beautician dishevel my sculptured master piece to an unrecognizable bird’s nest that wouldn’t even pass as trampish-chic in the fashion world.
Quashing that vanity streak in me, Lezil and I were led to a side pre-prepared room decorated in a calming grey and had two stilted beds with a fluffy warm duvet on each one. Told to change into more comfortable white linen clothing Lezil and I settled into our respective beds when the two ladies in charge to pamper us, commenced to swirl and knead the various parts of our faces. Semi-hypnotic instrumental music loomed in the background as the massage experts quietly took us through the various stages of our treatment. Lotions and oils (both cool and warm) were applied. Our faces were steamed. Mid way, a softly-spoken Su gave us a short feedback on our skin conditions. We then had our blackheads popped which I have to say took me by surprise. With the dreamy sensations felt from our face and head massages, to the feeling of your skin being pinched did take getting used to for a facial-novice like me. 75 blissful minutes later and we were done. I was half-expecting to see a load of stinging red pinch marks on my face from the blackhead treatment, but lo-and-behold not an impression in sight. Our faces looked visible rejuvenated. A job utterly well done. Back in the lounge area, Su introduced us to her business partner Lisa Young who hailed from San Francisco, USA. They both eagerly examined our post-facial skin and gave us the thumbs up on the results. The company has been opened just over a year in that short space of time they have had a number of reviews in the local press including Time Out Shanghai voting it ‘Best Facial’ in town. Apart from the high quality products and setting, the personal approach and individual care given towards their customers is what really makes The Sanctuary a genuinely relaxing experience. The owners were professional yet laid back leaving you in no doubt that truly you were in the best hands.
Moments later Lezil and I jumped into another taxi heading into the west part of Shanghai. Lezil nervously glanced at her watch. “We’re late,” she said flatly. Late for what? There was no use attempting to ask, so I just sat tight. After about 20 minutes we rolled into the Gubei district where the taxi dropped us off outside a Will’s Gym (a Fitness First type chain in the city). Walking past the gym (thank the Lord!) we veered sharply into an abandoned car park with a police station in the distance. We went right to the end and found ourselves in the middle of a compact commercial development area where there was a language school, Japanese Stone Spa, a couple of restaurants and a big blue sign that said Jala Studio. So, we’re doing a photo shoot to mark my special day. How sweet! Or were we?
Walking up the flight of stairs to the top terrace, a young man with an apron covered in every paint colour imaginable was going down. Then I saw two rows of vacant art painting stands inside a brightly lit room. We were going to paint. This was a first. I am a very creative person but that creativity doesn’t exactly extend to brushing strokes of paint on a piece of canvas. Sophie, our art teacher, kitted us out and familiarised us with the tools and paints. She handed us a small photo album each which a wide selection of postcard images from animals and natural scenes to abstract art and contemporary styles. The picture of an African man and woman in traditional wear grabbed my attention (would you expect anything else from me?). Whereas Lezil went with something more unconventional – a trippy looking tree, set in a deep blue backdrop. To start with Sophie guided us on outlining a sketch of our chosen pictures. Vivaldi’s ‘Four Seasons’ punctuated the atmosphere as if to induce the classical artist within us. She patiently instructed on the correct hold and techniques to adopt to get the most out of our artwork. Both Lezil and I were thoroughly enjoying ourselves. Lezil had paint on her face. I managed to get aqua green entrenched in my beard and slowly our paintings were taking shape. My painting was more detailed and technical, requiring me to follow the postcard example more closely. However Lezil’s tree was more like a template with plenty of room to add her own touch. Interestingly Lezil compared our two different art styles to the way we are personality-wise. Her being the more experimental one and me, the more logical systematic mind.
It was surprising how absorbed you felt after three hours of non-stop painting. We didn’t have enough time to complete our work so we left the frames at the art studio to return the following week to wrap things up. We tried our best to clean off all the paint which in the end our 75% alcohol based hand sanitizer came to the rescue. I’m sure The Sanctuary staff would have been in a panic at thought of us applying such harsh chemicals to our face.
Exiting the art studio the enticing smell of what had to be tandoori chicken hooked our nostrils. We spotted an Indian restaurant, Grand Taj. The entrance was where the see-through kitchen was, buzzing with Indian chefs cooking up an Indian spice storm like no other. That had to be a strong indicator of the authenticity of the food. The upstairs reminded us of some of the Indian restaurants we hit in Kuala Lumpur’s Little India district. There was a big flat screen TV with a continual roll of all the latest Bollywood and Bhangra music video hits that got your head and shoulder shaking going. And as Indian food is one of our favourite cuisines, the day couldn’t have ended in a better way. Lezil pulled out all the stops to give her quirky husband, a fun and quirky birthday day-out!