Sight Unseen: Harbin’s Blind Masseurs
看不见:哈尔滨的盲人按摩师

Massage (anmo, 按摩) has been long been used as a treatment in Traditional Chinese Medicine, and in Mainland China it’s both accessible and affordable.

按摩是一种在中国常用和付得起的中医治疗方法。

Some of China’s best masseurs are blind. China’s cities lack handicapped-accessible infrastructure and social support services for the disabled, yet blind masseurs are able to earn a living wage and support themselves, taking the burden off their families who would otherwise be their only financial resource. 

盲人被视为中国最好的按摩师之一。虽然中国城市一般缺乏残疾人专用基础设施,为残疾人社会支持,但盲按摩师也能谋生,减少对家庭的经济负担。

The masseurs at the Blind Xuewei Massage Center in the Nangang neighborhood of Harbin are all legally blind or visually impaired.

在哈尔滨南岗区的盲人穴位按摩总店,按摩师都是盲人或视障人。

They live onsite, sleeping on the massage beds at night. “It’s very convenient for us. We just go upstairs after work,” says Zhao Shengquan, 32, known as Little Quan among his colleagues and regulars.

按摩师都住在按摩院,在按摩床上睡觉。”就是很方便。我们下班之后就上去,”小泉说。

He’s been working at Blind Xuewei Massage Center for three years, which was preceded by stints in northern Heilongjiang province and Liaoning province. “I worked in a lot of places before here, but my family is in Harbin; I have three older sisters here who look out for me.” 

他在盲人穴位按摩总店已经工作了三年,以前他在黑龙江省的北部和辽宁省按摩了。”我在好几个总店按摩了,不过我的家庭在哈尔滨;我有三个姐姐保护我。”

Despite the long hours and laborious work, there’s a visible camaraderie at Blind Xuewei Massage Clinic. With classical Chinese music on the radio in the background, and exchanges between masseurs and regulars on everything from China’s gender imbalance to the best street food around, it’s a lively atmosphere. 

尽管工作日是很漫长的,工作是很幸苦的,按摩师都有看得见的友情。在听中国古典音乐的同时,以在一切从中国的性别失衡到最好街头食品的交流,这是一个热闹的氛围。

Massage (anmo, 按摩) has been long been used as a treatment in Traditional Chinese Medicine, and in Mainland China it’s both accessible and affordable.

按摩是一种在中国常用和付得起的中医治疗方法。

Some of China’s best masseurs are blind. China’s cities lack handicapped-accessible infrastructure and social support services for the disabled, yet blind masseurs are able to earn a living wage and support themselves, taking the burden off their families who would otherwise be their only financial resource. 

盲人被视为中国最好的按摩师之一。虽然中国城市一般缺乏残疾人专用基础设施,为残疾人社会支持,但盲按摩师也能谋生,减少对家庭的经济负担。

The masseurs at the Blind Xuewei Massage Center in the Nangang neighborhood of Harbin are all legally blind or visually impaired.

在哈尔滨南岗区的盲人穴位按摩总店,按摩师都是盲人或视障人。

They live onsite, sleeping on the massage beds at night. “It’s very convenient for us. We just go upstairs after work,” says Zhao Shengquan, 32, known as Little Quan among his colleagues and regulars.

按摩师都住在按摩院,在按摩床上睡觉。”就是很方便。我们下班之后就上去,”小泉说。

He’s been working at Blind Xuewei Massage Center for three years, which was preceded by stints in northern Heilongjiang province and Liaoning province. “I worked in a lot of places before here, but my family is in Harbin; I have three older sisters here who look out for me.” 

他在盲人穴位按摩总店已经工作了三年,以前他在黑龙江省的北部和辽宁省按摩了。”我在好几个总店按摩了,不过我的家庭在哈尔滨;我有三个姐姐保护我。”

Despite the long hours and laborious work, there’s a visible camaraderie at Blind Xuewei Massage Clinic. With classical Chinese music on the radio in the background, and exchanges between masseurs and regulars on everything from China’s gender imbalance to the best street food around, it’s a lively atmosphere. 

尽管工作日是很漫长的,工作是很幸苦的,按摩师都有看得见的友情。在听中国古典音乐的同时,以在一切从中国的性别失衡到最好街头食品的交流,这是一个热闹的氛围。


“… But you really should see this place in the summer.”

Inner Mongolia’s windswept grasslands are vast, unspoiled and forbidding. 

A world away from China’s densely-packed urban centers, Inner Mongolia’s northeastern landscape varies between prehistoric-looking natural formations and pristine boreal birch forests (albeit state-planned and controlled).

In late October there are still a few felt-wrapped yurts that dot the Hulunbuir grasslands. Used for centuries by Mongol (and more recently Han) herdsmen, the yurts are often arranged in a campground-like setting, primed for Chinese tourists eager to experience ‘authentic Mongol life.’ 

In the off-season– which spans most of the year–, the frames are disassembled or simply left to weather the conditions. Against the barren hills, it’s an eerie site that could be from centuries ago.

The grasslands are now a moonscape– in stark contrast to the summer months of lush vegetation and warm temperatures (and tourist buses jamming the towns).

Inner Mongolians are rugged, resilient and patient– qualities necessary to survive the harsh and unrelenting winters and repeated invasions over the centuries. It’s because of these invasions that this is one of China’s more ethnically diverse areas, with Russian, Evenk and Mongol townships saddling the Russian border (although Han Chinese still account for two-thirds of the population). 

Russian cultural influence is strong: the breads and blueberry jams served at meals, the ethnic Russian villages, the Chinese-speaking Caucasians. But Mongol culture holds its own; the prevalence of Genghis Khan portraits and public statues rivals those of Mao Zedong in other provinces.

At the same time, any historical evidence of Japan’s military occupation, which began in 1931, has essentially been wiped clean. The locals proudly talk about Genghis Khan’s legacy and the history of the Trans-Siberian railway which passes through here, but they have all but tried to forget the conquest.

More often, they’ll turn the conversation to how beautiful the Inner Mongolia landscape is. “… But you really should see this place in the summer.” 

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