Olympic chances elude pro­fes­sion­als

China Daily (USA) - - BUSINESS - By BAI PING Con­tact the writer at dr.baip­ing@hot­mail.com

The other day sev­eral friends and I were chat­ting about cup­ping, a tra­di­tional Chi­nese ther­apy to re­lax leg, back and shoul­der mus­cles, when one of them bent down and showed off red marks from the “fire cup” be­low the back of his neck.

An­other friend pitched in, say­ing that he had also tried it, af­ter the Rio Olympic swim­ming star Michael Phelps touted its ben­e­fits on so­cial media. But he had opted for rub­ber cups with an air pump that would pro­duce less ef­fi­cacy than the “fire cup”, but leave no trace.

When I was a child, I learned frommy mother who was a spe­cial­ist in tra­di­tional Chi­nese medicine about how cup­ping worked. The glass “fire cup” sucked the skin over the ar­eas of dis­com­fort af­ter the heat­ing cre­ated a vac­uum. While such cup­ping might be the most ef­fec­tive with sore­ness or pain, it would cre­ate ob­vi­ous large cir­cles that were of­ten as­so­ci­ated with gang­sters in the old days.

Nowthey could also be the ev­i­dence for re­cent visits to mas­sage par­lors that are most com­mon providers of the ser­vice, but a pro­fes­sional would shun or at least be dis­creet about them amid crack­downs on ex­trav­a­gance and ac­tiv­i­ties with neg­a­tive con­no­ta­tions.

The an­cient cure and the street-cor­ner “ther­a­pists” were poised for a rare, pre­cious boost re­cently af­ter a flurry of media re­ports of Phelps and other sports and Hol­ly­wood stars swear­ing by the treat­ment. Sud­denly, peo­ple have greater re­spect for it and they are more open about the ex­pe­ri­ence.

How­ever, it seems mas­sage par­lor op­er­a­tors have not seen an Olympic-sized busi­ness op­por­tu­nity in the new­found pop­u­lar­ity of cup­ping and other tra­di­tional treat­ments that they of­fer on their premises.

Iron­i­cally, while they work hard to con­vince users about cur­ing ef­fects of their ser­vices, this is of­ten the kind of things they want to do but not to talk about in pub­lic.

One main rea­son is that mas­sage out­lets and their work­ers have op­er­ated in murky ar­eas when they prac­ticed tra­di­tional Chi­nese treat­ments. While Chi­nese reg­u­la­tions re­quire such treat­ments to be given by hos­pi­tals, en­forcers have turned a blind eye to less com­pli­cated ther­a­pies like cup­ping at mas­sage par­lors, although work­ers need to have a li­cense and train­ing.

But with loose mon­i­tor­ing and ris­ing la­bor costs, man­agers are not mo­ti­vated to hire li­censed ther­a­pists and pro­vide proper train­ing. Due to cut­throat com­pe­ti­tion, par­lors have also taken the high-end path, shift­ing from a cheap foot soak and rub to ex­pen­sive mas­sage pack­ages that in­clude cup­ping as a mi­nor item.

At a large foot mas­sage es­tab­lish­ment nearmy home, a pack­age com­plete with foot and hand re­flex­ol­ogy, and a back mas­sage ranges from nearly 200 yuan ($30.3) to al­most 1,000 yuan when it in­volves a herbal steam sauna.

Walk-in vis­i­tors can still or­der cup­ping, a pedi­cure or ear-pick­ing that each costs 58 yuan for a 20-minute ses­sion. But work­ers say that they don’t wel­come cus­tomers who come just for these side dishes without or­der­ing a main course.

With the eco­nomic slow­down lead­ing to cuts to en­ter­tain­ments ex­penses, all par­lors have found their ex­is­tence hing­ing on ca­jol­ing cus­tomers into buy­ing lux­ury pack­ages and pre­paid cards that keep them com­ing back, as well as im­prov­ing cash-flows.

Mas­sage is a se­ri­ous busi­ness in China. Beijing alone boasts about 8,600 mas­sage par­lors em­ploy­ing 200,000 work­ers. Na­tion­wide, the in­dus­try em­ploys many mil­lions of mi­grant farm­ers or re­trenched ur­ban work­ers.

But al­most all are strug­gling to find a solid, longterm busi­ness model. The Olympics-in­duced buzz about cup­ping and other forms of Chi­nese heal­ing could have been a new im­pe­tus to the oc­cu­pa­tion. But, it has turned out to be an op­por­tu­nity squan­dered as the busi­ness con­tin­ues its pur­suit of short-term prof­its.

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