Hot Cupping

So it’s been a (long) while since I’ve written anything, so why not get right back into it. Let’s cover something super Chinese, something that garnered crazy notoriety during the Olympics. No, not Chinese swimmer, Fu Yuanhui’s, blasé attitude toward menstruation. I’m talking about Michael Phelps’ hot cupping.

It’s a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) technique used to draw “wetness” from the body, and has an array of possible effects, from simply making athletes less sore to the holy grail of curing cancer. In the realm of TCM, it has millennia of history, while in Western biomedicine, some doctors have declared it a borderline hoax.

In any case, I wasn’t concerned with winning gold for my country (I’ll work on that later) but simply enjoying the perks of living in the Middle Kingdom. To meet that goal, I headed over to a TCM clinic to put orange-sized bumps all over my back.

Cups Off

I was quite possibly the first foreigner to have ever set foot in there, or in any case the total was definitely not a particularly high double-digit number. I first had to lay on my back, lift up my shirt a little ways and lay over a bed that warmed up my back. My midriff showed a bit, so the doc ran over and threw a sheet on me for privacy. (This would be the last smidgeon of modesty they proffered from then on.)

Afterwards, it was to the bed, face down through the hole and in the wholly disorienting position of having your ears picking up sound through very different airwaves than from where your mouth and the rest of your face is delivering them for. It’s difficult to respond in a reasonable manner, as someone pummels you with questions in Chinese in a different plane.

The “massage” first consists of scraping skin off your back, presumably just for fun, followed by trying to slowly force his fist through your tailbone. (Fortunately because of the aggressive Got Milk? commercials in the US, it held up.) Next he ignores your plea to go easy on your shoulders, attempting to dislodge the right one for the third time in your life, and the left one for the second.

And to conclude, he goes right for your butt. Without warning, the doctor’s hands simply slip your jeans halfway down your butt, and starts massaging. With other (female) doctors in the room. And patients. And anyone who opened the door. The rapid acceleration from covering up my humble belly-button to rubbing down the buttocks, is something Ferraris dream of. It was around this time they started to get curious and ask about American customs.

Hey never mind my fingers, do you usually eat toast for breakfast or steamed buns? How many brothers do you have? Are you a teacher?

So after he so graciously slipped my jeans up to cover my butt this time, we got to hot cupping. It consists of him throwing a hot flame in a jar, heating up the air to expand it, and when it cools quickly on your back, will suction up your skin into little maroon mounds. I don’t think it hurts particularly bad (this coming from a person who you can guess is a total bitch based on this account.) But the worst one is definitely on your neck, which feels like it’s tugging at your spine and makes it kinda difficult to breath.

After 10 minutes, and the quick fwwp, fwwp, fwwp of the cups ripping off your back, you’re done! You’ve undergone an ancient process that helped you…well, I’m not really sure how it helped. That’ll come a later day. But for now, I got 17 circles on my back to show the world.


Like what you’re reading on China? Check out some other related articles in: The China Chronicles!

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