When my Wife’s Younger Brother told us he is thinking of buying an apartment in Qingyang, I pictured a decent looking place on the inside with the normal drab appearance on the outside. But “Prepare to be astounded,” he might as well have said as the taxi approached this new housing development for us to take a look.

This vast development has more of an “exclusive gated community” feel to it–one with uniformed Chinese policemen pulling guard duty–with some shops that most Chinese won’t be spending money in soon out front: high end jewelry, high end real estate, high end travel agency…you get the idea.

The more we walked around the grounds, the more I thought this would all look more at home in some nice corner of Europe or well-to-do end of Hong Kong.

Here are some pictures….

Looking at the main entrance area from across the road:

Scenes near the interior courtyard:

Some of the single-family dwellings:

Over the wall at the end of this lane, we see how buildings more typically look in “the rest of China:

Peek over an outer wall and check out the construction debris:

Late one afternoon, I finally gave in to my Wife’s and her Younger Sister’s invitations to visit the massage spa they kept telling me about in Qingyang. They’d been there together a few times already–my Wife’s Younger Sister even had some gift certificates for us to use. But even though that sort of thing just ain’t my cup of tea, I decided to go.

Quite close to “Sunshine Circle” in Qingyang, next to one of the hotels, is a Liangzi Foot Massage Spa outlet. I knew nothing about the place before going, but it looked quite nice, a very “Old Shanghai” feeling to it, I thought, and going up the stairs, we saw pictures of all sorts of allegedly famous or important people who’ve been customers of this business at various locations around China. Seems this spa is part of a chain that’s growing by leaps and bounds both in and out of the PRC.

Anyway, we checked out the “menu” of services and decided to go with the foot bath/foot massage option, and were shown to this room:

Soon, our attendants arrived, and I found out why the gals liked coming here so much: female customers are treated by young male attendants, and male customers by young female attendants.

The employees that came in to attend to my Wife and her Younger Sister, ja, sure, OK, they were handsome young fellows. But the ones that came to attend to me and my Wife’s Younger Brother, well, are probably best described as “sturdy” young women.

As they poured our foot baths for us, we chatted and found out they’re all from Henan Province, just like the owner of the chain. (And I found out that Henan accents are, for me anyway, hard to follow.) So for the next hour we experienced the herbal foot soak, strenuous foot and calf massage, “health” pedicure (removal of dead skin by a fellow who carried his tools from room to room in what looked like a 19th century traveling doctor’s medical bag), and finished up with a brief shoulder massage.

Afterward, my Wife’s Younger Sister asked me how I liked it, and I was frank: they seem well-trained, I said, but I still hated it–darn foot massage was actually quite painful, though they assured me it gets better with each subsequent visit.

More interesting was what I learned while researching the chain online later. And it turns out I’m rather late to the game of discovering this enterprise.

Way back in November of 2004, BusinessWeek wrote:

Quick — what is one of China’s best-known new brands? No, not a low-tar brand of cigarette, a popular candy bar, nor a nifty new digital camera. Believe it or not, it’s Liangzi, a nationwide chain of foot-massage shops. Their often plush interiors feature two-meter stone Buddha heads and curtained “opium beds,” as well as, most important, legions of young foot masseuses who will expertly push your pressure points — and all for a few bucks per hour. Liangzi Foot Bath Health & Fitness has taken the country by storm over the past few years, pulling in revenues of $18 million last year.

When 34-year-old founder Zhu Guofan was young, he certainly had no idea he would one day be a successful entrepreneur. Born to a poor farming family in rural Henan province, he never finished high school. His early career included stints selling ducks and chickens in an open air market in his hometown of Xinxiang, as well as running a roadside stand hawking barbecued meat sticks.

Then he noticed the popularity of the local foot masseuses, who worked in rundown shops, and decided to offer an upscale version of the service. After founding his first shop in February, 1997, he was bowled over by its instant popularity. “Every day, over 100 people came to the shop,” says Zhu, still amazed at his success. “Back then I didn’t understand the concept of a chain store — but my brother-in-law suggested I open another shop,” says Zhu….

For more on Zhu Guofan and his foot-massage empire, check out these articles:

Sturdy attendants massaging customers feet
(Photo courtesy of China Daily)

Zhu Guofan (l) with the president of Malta
(Photo courtesy of Liangzi Foot Massage)

You can also visit the English language section of Liangzi’s company Web site at http://www.liangzi.com.cn/doce/jituan.htm.

More from our visit to “The Panorama of History of Jinjiang” at the Jinjiang Museum in Qingyang, Fujian Provice, China:

A recreation of a section of the “Wu Li Qiao” Anping Bridge, which I visited and wrote about here and here:

From an interpretive narrative:

An Ping bridge (Wu Li bridge) stretches over the bay between Anhai town, Jinjiang, and Shuitou town, Nanan. The bridge which was built from the 8th years (AD 1138) to the 22nd years (AD 1152) of Shao Xing years in Southern Song Dynasty is 2255 meters in length and 5 meters in width and be known as “the longest bridge in the world.” The bridge is the longest one in mediaeval times in the world. The construction of An Ping bridge fully represents the intelligence and technique of ancient Chinese people.

A reproduction of the Buddhist carving at Anhai’s Chao An Temple:

From an interpretive narrative:

Manicheism was founded in Persia in the third century AD by Manes. Manicheism has its unique dualistic and trisiksa religious philosophy. The dualistic philosophy divides the world between good and evil principles or regards matter as intrinsically evil and mind as intrinsically good. The trisiksa philosophy regards the world experiencing past, now and future. Manicheism was introduced to China in Tang Dynasty, prevailed in south-east China in Song and Yuan Dynasties and vanished after Ming Dynasty. The Caoan Temple on Hua Biao Mountain at Luoshan town is a relic site of Manichaeism temple which is conserved in the best condition in the world.

Photos from a recreated “Street” from ancient Jinjiang, with stores, restaurants and a drinking house:


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