The slap, slap, slapping resounded through the air, punctuated by screams of pain and slightly hysterical giggling. It sounded like dozens of hands thwacking dozens of bare buttocks.
Several rooms, each with 10 willing sufferers stretched out on chaise longues were being simultaneously tortured by nubile girls and agile boys.
Where was this den of depravity? Were we in some ante room of hell -- or was it heaven? It was neither. It was a respectable establishment in the city of Wuhan devoted to Chinese foot massage.
Our guide suggested that we enjoy(?) this unique form of Chinese therapy before heading off for the flight to Shanghai.
“Afterward,” he enticed us, “you won’t need to ride the bus. You’ll feel like running along behind it.”
“Foot massage” doesn’t begin to describe the experience.
We removed our shoes and socks and relaxed comfortably on the sofas while our feet were soaked in a clear golden liquid that might have been warm tea.
In unison, the young people seated at our feet began their routine. Attention was first devoted to the soles of our feet. I suppose they used acupressure, digging into selected points with what felt like Phillips screwdrivers.
Every time I screamed, the little imp administering the pain grinned with sadistic delight and probed even more deeply with her sharp knuckles.
That torment over, work began on our ankles and calves. Perhaps we were numb from the previous assault, or so grateful for the respite from the intense pressure, but the pummeling that then began felt almost pleasurable.
We were not finished. Gestured to turn and face the backs of the chaises, we folded our legs in front of us and relaxed while our backs, necks and heads were expertly and soothingly manipulated.
I could hear my husband crooning in ecstasy.
In all, the “foot” massage lasted more than an hour, every attendant finishing at the same time, trained to the second. The cost was 12 American dollars, and I wondered how long it would be before some entrepreneur in the States would set up a string of “Chinese foot massage parlors.” The mass production aspect of what is usually an individual treatment would surely be profitable.
Big surprise! In the middle of our local shopping mall in Southern California, on red velvet banners, in golden Chinese characters, I spot the announcement for a service -- $12 for a 10-minute relaxation massage by non-English-speaking Chinese masseurs.
In full public view, people kneel on backless chairs and sink their faces into a padded ring. We had to try it, of course. It wasn’t a “foot massage,” but it was pleasant and restful, a brief escape in a stressful morning.
Oh and by the way -- after our Wuhan massage we didn’t run behind the bus on the way to the airport, as our guide encouraged, but were in such a euphoric mood we felt no pain as we joined the noisy, jostling crowds in the long security lines.
And we smiled all the way to Shanghai.
Monica B. Morris lives in Hollywood. Her books include “Falling in Love Again: The Mature Woman’s Guide to Finding Romantic Fulfillment” and “That Ridiculous Blue Sky: A Novel.”