Work a mas­sage into your hol­i­day agenda

Outlook - - HOME TURF - By Nguyeãn Myõ Haø

W in­ter in Haø Noäi and the north­ern part of the coun­try is get­ting to its height as 2014 ap­proaches its end. As ev­ery­one strug­gles to meet tight year-end dead­lines or sales tar­gets, you are stretched to the limit and beyond as you hus­tle to get work done ahead of a long-awaited hol­i­day.

Though Christ­mas is not a pub­lic hol­i­day in Vieät Nam, more and more Viet­namese are en­joy­ing the happy spirit of this Christian tra­di­tion and cel­e­brat­ing it with their fam­i­lies and friends.

But be­fore all those good things hap­pen, we have to face the re­al­ity: too much work and we catch a cold or worse.

Just be­fore this story got edited, one of my col­leagues was not able to meet a dead­line be­cause he was suf­fer­ing from such a bad si­nusi­tis in­fec­tion that he could not even think straight. In such a sit­u­a­tion, pills may or may not pro­vide some re­lief, but Viet­namese have a healthy way to treat a cold: a steam­ing hot herbal sauna. Well, not ev­ery­one can af­ford a sauna, you would say. That might be, but in the past, this is what we did: Boil some medic­i­nal herbs in a big pot, pull a big bed sheet or blan­ket all over you and the pot, cre­at­ing an im­promptu tent. Lift the lid of the pot and use a long chop­stick to stir the herbal mix, and in­hale deeply and ex­hale deeply for as long as you can stand the heat. There is no doubt that you will feel bet­ter.

Now that there are any num­ber of sa­lons of­fer­ing herbal saunas and dif­fer­ent kinds of mas­sages, we don't have to spend so much time pre­par­ing the home-style rem­edy.

If you're in Haø Noäi, chances are that you have heard about the Höông Sen Health Cen­tre.

First opened at the In­sti­tute of Tra­di­tional Medicine in Thaùi Thònh Ward, Ñoáng Ña Dis­trict, for treat­ing pa­tients, the ser­vice pro­vided such good re­sults that it spread its wings and moved out­side the in­sti­tute, at­tract­ing many peo­ple who want to get the herbal sauna and mas­sage when­ever they feel tired.

In beauty sa­lons, the masseuses use many beauty prod­ucts that are ex­pen­sive, and not many peo­ple can af­ford them. At Höông Sen, they use the common herb, ngaûi cöùu, mug­wort, which means “sav­ing scent.” And it does live up to its name, help­ing re­vive the im­mune sys­tem. Stir-fry the dried herb with rock salt in a thick pan, wrap it in a thick cot­ton cloth and the bun can be placed at ac­cupun- ture points be­hind the neck or on the back or tummy to re­lieve fa­tigue and pains.

The ngaûi cöùu leaves, when cooked as a hot soup, help women ease their men­strual pains. Its bit­ter taste may put you off for the first time, but the lin­ger­ing sweet taste on your palate will make you want to have it again. A chicken egg om­lette with finely chopped ngaûi cöùu is a healthy snack. If you get around town at around 5pm and see peo­ple gath­er­ing around a sign that says, "Tröùng gaø

ngaûi cöùu", it means they are hav­ing this snack as an ap­pe­tizer be­fore din­ner.

One of my friends used to go to the Thaùi Thònh cen­tre one ev­ery week be­cause she suf­fered from a pro­longed headache prob­lem for which painkillers pro­vided lit­tle re­lief.

She said she felt much bet­ter after a big hot bun of ngaûi cöùu was placed un­der her neck. The herb was a real lifesaver, she said, be­cause the qual­ity of her life im­proved sig­nif­i­cantly when she got re­lief from the blind­ing headache.

The Höông Sen, an af­fil­i­ate with the Thaùi Thònh cen­tre, seems to take care of its cus­tomers from the minute they walk in. Ev­ery­one gets a shoeshine and ev­ery ticket also in­cludes a hot mother-of-pearl rice por­ridge after the mas­sage. At VNÑ250,000 for a 90minute pack­age that in­cludes a hot herbal bath, dry and steam sauna, and a full body mas­sage, many cus­tomers feel they get real value for money.

There has been some neg­a­tive feed­back as well. A western over­sized woman was angry that the peo­ple in the large mas­sage room would not stop talk­ing about her body. A woman even pinched her, she said. She did not file a com­plaint with the cen­tre's man­ager, but I think that she should have let the cen­tre know if she did not feel wel­come there.

Touch­ing a per­son un­con­sciously or in­ten­tion­ally is not so much of a prob­lem in the East as it is in the West. But with more and more Viet­namese trav­el­ingl abroad, peo­ple here will un­der­stand the un­easi­ness of western­ers when they are pinched or touched by strangers in pub­lic.

Some Viet­namese cus­tomers have also com­plained that the masseuses chat too much while do­ing their jobs. Well, if you're used to hav­ing a mas­sage in a salon with dim light and soft mu­sic and the masseuse speaks very softly when they have to ask you some- thing, you will find Höông Sen some­what jar­ring. So I have a sug­ges­tion.

Leave all other im­pres­sions at the door when you visit Höông Sen. The mas­sage room is big, ac­com­mo­dat­ing nine or ten peo­ple at the same time. And the fe­male masseuses are all from Thanh Hoùa Prov­ince. They know ev­ery­thing about each other and their fam­i­lies, and this gives rise to lively chat­ter.

The ser­vice at Höông Sen may not be the most re­fined, but it will still give you a cosy and friendly feel. If you feel tired, or want to give your­self a health boost, spare a cou­ple of hours for the bath and mas­sage and get back in shape for the up­com­ing week, which is fully booked with work and so­cial events.

In a big city of six to seven mil­lion peo­ple, health cen­tres like Höông Sen are not a lux­ury, they are a ne­ces­sity.

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