I realize this deserves some context so here you are:
I've been working out at the school's swimming pool for about half a year and especially enjoying their public showers. The shower in our dorm has many problems I won't get into, and while it can do the job, I'd prefer that it doesn't.
Being in the wide-open locker-room shower means I have a chance to observe cultural differences in even this seemingly-universal act. You can take for granted that many things about bathing are the same in China. They use soap and water, for example. Toddlers here also put up a fight when the sponge gets too close. Chinese women don't shave their armpits but then again, neither do I. But the most noticeable difference is the back scrubbing.
Everyone, young and old, women and (Donald informs me) men, scrubs each others backs. I didn't pay it much attention until today. I was just starting to soap up when an old lady comes over to me and starts speaking too quickly for me to understand. I realize from her gestures that she is offering to scrub my back, and I tell her, "Mei shi," "That's okay," but she insists, so I bend over, put my hands on the ledge and brace myself.
First, she squeezes all the soap and most of the water out of my rag. Then she starts scrubbing, bearing down with all her weight and rubbing until my skin turns pink. I'd heard from other expats that you can go to the spa for this service and that it hurts. But it actually felt quite nice. My arms and legs, especially, felt tingly and refreshed afterwards. I thanked her and offered to return the favor, but she wouldn't hear of it. Certainly she knew I had no idea how to do it proper. In fact I wonder what was going through her head before she offered to scrub me?
"That poor foreign girl. Doesn't she know she needs to scrub her skin harder if she wants it to be _____ (insert your favorite Chinese Skin Virtue, ex: smooth, white, elastic)."
Another day, another adventure. You can even have adventures in the shower, it seems.