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Treat Your Feet in Chinatown, NYC

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Despite the calendar that indicates that spring is arriving this week, New York is clutching on to winter as tight as Times Square tourist holds on to his wallet.

All this recent slushy snow and ass-whooping wind that bounces off the city’s concrete and creeps through my layers of goose down and wool make me feel old. I wrap my arms closer around myself to combat the wind and tremble violently, and my shivering becomes audible and loud, like someone speaking in tongues (despite growing up smack on the buckle of New York State’s snow belt, I’ve never been good in the cold).

For my warmth and sanity, and to make me feel cared for until the gentler weather arrives, I’ve been indulging in foot massages around Chinatown. So far, I’ve ended up with a decent selection of places in my pocket that I can pop into when I’m in the neighborhood, or recommend to visitors whose feet aren’t as accustomed to smacking the pavement as a sightseeing requirement.

Here are three places I recently visited, from least awesome to why-go-anywhere-else-awesomest.

Relax Foot Spa
The name alone sounded so pleasantly inviting that I asked a couple of friends to join me. Unfortunately only one of us, my friend Kris, had a nice experience. Her guy’s name was Jacky, and she described her 30-minute reflexology session as “good, overall,” which really is not a gushing recommendation or anything. Jacky seemed to sense her pleasure as well as her pain, lightening up just when it started to hurt, and worked through the pressure points on her feet with skill.

Kris’s husband Sebastian, since he was still on crutches from a recent foot surgery, opted for a 20-minute back massage. Sebastian reported that it hurt a little at first, and then felt “just OK.” His lady kind of just rubbed his back for a while like anyone could have done. Worse, she didn’t even put him in a massage chair, leaving him to jerk back and forth like dry-heaving drunkard while she pretend-massaged him. And while I admit the while the cost was fairly low—$20 for 20 minutes—it seems like you could get a mediocre massage for less than that; heck, the guy who gives out free hugs in Times Square probably gives a better back rub than this chick did.

I had to agree with Sebastian when it came to my own foot massage here at Relax. The 5-minute back rub to start with was a nice treat, but my guy just kind of boringly rubbed his thumb up and down the center of my feet, without any noticeable destination or outcome.
Pro: They were able to accommodate three of us without a previous appointment.
Con: The service seems hit or miss.

Relax Foot Spa
202 Hester St.
(212) 226-8288
$20 for a 30-minute foot massage

Yan May Foot Reflexology Center
Here I was tended to by a gentleman named Brain, who spoke only Chinese and whose actual English name I suspect is actually Brian, even though he repeated it twice for me and wrote it down on his business card. Brain sat me down in a comfy recliner and tucked me into a blanket (OK, it was really a towel), in a kind, fatherly move.

As for technique, Brain worked me over like a pro. He was methodical in his touch, and thorough in his execution of everything from my toes to my calves. I’ve had painful Asian-style massages before where I wanted to bite down on a piece of bark until it was over, but Brain’s pain felt just right. Brain worked very hard, even looking up at me every few minutes or so to give me a smile and be sure I wasn’t writhing I pain. Though he didn’t speak any English, the pleasant young man at the counter did.
Pro: Convenient location just off the N,R line
Con: TV’s lined the wall and played a continuous CNN news loop, volume off. Took me out of the moment.

Yan May Foot Reflexology Center
188 Hester St.
(212) 219-9788
$20 for a 30-minute massage

Yuzu Tang Foot Spa
Now these ladies and dudes just blew all the competition out of the water. This time, Kris and I were the only two customers in the place, and the therapists were all business. They got right down to it, not talking to us or each other much during the massages. Kris said she felt like Goldilocks here; everything was just perfectly right. My guy David worked over my feet like he had a map, and the pain, which was slight, felt healing.

The way in which our massages were finished off was really what sealed our devotion. Where the other two places had cleaned the Vaseline off our legs with rough paper towels, which Kris described as a “buzzkill” to the whole experience, the nice folks here used hot towels to gently clean it off. If a girl can request a happy ending to her massage, a rubdown with hot towels is it.
Pro: Skilled, professional reflexologists.
Con: None. Go here.

Yuzu Tang Foot Spa
12-C Pell St.
(212) 227-3685
$20 for a 40-minute massage

The three places above shared many similarities. In addition to foot massages, they offer a range of services. They were all equally clean and pleasant, with dim lighting and soft music playing in the background. Be sure to dress in something besides your skinny jeans when you go; it’s good to have pants that can be rolled up to your knee, because each place layers thick Vaseline up and down your calves and feet. I didn’t make any appointments, and all were able to accommodate me right away.

Finally, a quick note about my knowledge of reflexology: it doesn’t exist. I don’t know what the hell pressure points in my feet correspond to my spleen or uterus, and I don’t much care. My only concern is much more primal and ignorant: feet rub = feel good. If my glands are being stimulated in the process, then good for them. I hope they have a wild time. If you need to know more about the zones and the chi and what corresponds to what, don’t ask me.

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Michele DeBella - Cheap Chick

Michele DeBella - Cheap Chick

Michele enjoys discovering interesting stories in people and places around the world. After many years of living a nomadic lifestyle, funded mostly by teaching English in foreign countries and U.S. cities, she has made New York City her home base. While she loves to travel, she also has to pay rent, so realizes that unique experiences sometimes have to be found close to home.