Tag Archives: asian

Massage, Asian Style

Chinese Tui Na Massage

Tui Na Massage. Image via City College of Acupuncture.

There are not a lot of bliss-inducing activities that would equal a good massage. The cares and worries fade away and the world is reduced to the another human’s touch.

We all need to be touched — and it isn’t just a psychological need, but a deep-seated biological need. Babies need it to flourish, and grown-ups are no different. Asian cultures accept this and have embraced massage not as a relaxation technique, but as a healing tool.  It was considered part of health care in China as far back as 3,000 BC. Massage is said to unclog or unknot the body’s life force, or Qi (chi), thus restoring health and well-being.

Massage, the way Asians do it, is a product of centuries, even millennia, of learning and developing. No wonder it feels so good. And there’s a certain simplicity and unfussiness about it — no special beds or tools, no oils are applied to the skin, and you stay fully clothed.

Chinese painting depicting Tui Na massage. Image via Lands of Wisdom.

Tui na (“push”, “grasp”), is part of the arsenal of traditional Chinese medicine, and involves touching and kneading key points in the body, using a similar anatomical road map as acupuncture.

Japanese doctor giving anma massage. Image via Yotsume Dojo.


Shiatsu massage. Image via Zen Shiatsu.

These Chinese techniques eventually found their way to Japan, which is geographically a stone’s throw away. Japanese an ma (“press”, “rub”) which later gave birth to shiatsu (which translates to “finger pressing”) massage, is largely derived from the Chinese way.

Thai Massage. Image via Worldwide Health.

Illustration of Thai massage points. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Thai massage is locally referred to as nuat phaen boran, which means “ancient-manner massage”. This one’s my favorite — mostly because it feels like doing yoga, only somebody else is doing it for you. It is sometimes called “yoga massage”. Thai massage draws on different massage traditions from different parts of Asia, but its Chinese and Indian origins are the ones most clearly felt.

The interior of a Thai massage spa. Image via Trip Advisor.

Giving a Massage

If you want to try giving a massage, there’s no reason why you can’t be good at it. Touch is a universal language, and you only need practice in order to speak it well.

I am by no means a professional masseuse, but in my family, I am the go-to girl for massages. So here are a few pointers I’d like to offer for a successful first try:

  • Set the atmosphere. Get help where you can. The recipient of your massage will more likely not notice your inexperience if their other senses are involved. Create a spa-like ambiance. Dim the lights, light up a scented candle or incense stick, play some soft music.
  • Get a few massages yourself. They’ll familiarize you with what feels good.
  • Massage muscles, not bone — this is wisdom from my Dad. Muscles appreciate a massage more. Concentrate on fleshy parts — butt, calves, shoulders. Don’t press on the shoulder blades, but rather the muscles around it; not on the spine, but on the parts on either side of it.
  • Remember that pressure is distributed equally in the area of contact. So use more when using your palms or the length of your forearm. Ease up when using smaller points, such as thumbs, fingertips or knuckles.
  • Look out for reactions. They’ll give you hints on whether what you’re doing feels good or not.
  • Read up and watch videos. Whatever massage style you’d like to try doing, there are tons of how-to vids and articles out there.

So that’s my two cents’ worth on this. Good luck and enjoy your massage! I had a blast “researching” for this post!

Posted in Culture | Tagged , , ,

The Bam in Bamboo

Bamboo by Hsu Wei, Ming Dynasty. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

I talked a little bit about bamboo last week’s Foodie Tuesday post. But it would deprive us all if I were to wax poetic about bamboo shoots as a food source and miss out on the wonder and beauty of this plant’s fully grown glory, which punctuates just about every patch of green in many Asian countries, that it has defined a great part of Asian culture and design.

Bamboo Grove in Orto Botanico. Via Jeffrey Gardens.

For millennia, bamboo has been integral to the mundane, the marvelous, the mystical. It has been used in medicine and in made into utilitarian objects — basic tools, cannons, spears, kitchen implements, carts, and rafts. But it has also been made into musical instruments, dance props, and provided inspiration to countless poets and painters.

Here’s a video of a musical performance in Vietnam using bamboo instruments.

Bamboo is one of the “Four Gentlemen” (a.k.a., the Four Seasons) depicted in Asian art, along with the orchid, chrysanthemum, and plum blossom. Bamboo represents summer, and symbolizes strength, uprightness, and open-heartedness — all ideal qualities in a gentlemen.

An antique Japanese screen depicting bamboo plants. Via Midori Gallery.

Many Asian cultures incorporate bamboo in their dance. In the Philippines, there is a traditional dance called tinikling (so named after a small bird’s hopping movements) which is characterized a lively, playful, and quick-footed movements that dodge pairs of rhythmically clapping bamboo poles. It’s sort of like double-dutch, but with bamboo poles.

Tinikling Dance. Via Likha.

Bamboo has long been a familiar feature in Asian landscape and it has been  an indispensable building material for eons. And now the world is rediscovering and appreciating more fully the durability, versatility, and sustainability of this plant.


Even when the architecture becomes more modern, more sophisticated, bamboo brings the same warmth and charm that one would experience even from a simple bamboo hut.

Origami-inspired bamboo huts. Image via Inhabitat.

Mason Lane Farm. Via Design Boom.

House by Tonji University Team

Bamboo House at the 2010 Solar Decathlon. Image via Design Boom.

Bamboo House detail. Via Design Boom.

Bamboo schoolhouse in Bali, Indonesia. via Green School.


Bamboo is said to be ideal for kitchen use because of it doesn’t breed germs. There is still some debate as to whether it retains its antibacterial properties after it has been processed, but they make such lovely and durable utensils.

Bamboo Cutting Board

Chopping board made of bamboo. Via Chef's Catalog

Bamboo Steamer

Steamer set by JIA. Image via Design Milk

Bamboo Fabric

Bamboo could be the new cotton. It’s soft, highly absorbent, hypoallergenic, and earth-friendly. Some time ago I had the chance to hold and feel in my hands a towel made from bamboo fibers, and oh myyyyy… I have never felt anything so soft and decadent. It was delicious! It’s a tad pricey, but it felt sooo good!

Bamboo Towels. Via Bamboo KI.

Posted in Culture, Design | Tagged , , , ,

Bamboo Shoots

It’s Foodie Tuesday!

Ready to cook bamboo shoots. Image via Lands of Wisdom.

Bamboo is one super plant. Its beauty, strength, and grace is the stuff of romantic legends and constantly depicted in different forms of Asian art. It is actually a species of grass, one that grows tall and abundantly, and really, really fast, so fast that you can actually watch it grow, as fast as 3 feet in 24 hours! It is inexpensive and hardly needs any help at all to flourish, and is such a valuable and sustainable resource.

Image via Wikimedia Commons

Freshly harvested bamboo shoots. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Bamboo is used extensively all throughout Asia and other parts of the world where it grows not only as an extremely versatile construction material, but also as a food source. Bamboo shoots are found in a lot of different dishes from different Asian countries. They have an earthy fragrance, a mildly bitter taste, and a slight crunchy bite that adds a delightful texture to dishes. I would normally see it sold sliced or shredded and par-broiled, but they’re also available canned.

It is a humble ingredient, usually playing a supporting role or bit part in countless curries, spring rolls, broths, and stir-fries, and top-billed in but a few salads and soups. I grew up eating it in a simple peasant-style vegetable dish that my Mom liked to make —  dinengdeng (a. k. a. throw-a-bunch-of-vegetables-in-a-pot) which is flavored with ginger, a piece of fried fish, and a few splashes of fish sauce or salted anchovies. It’s my favorite way to enjoy bamboo shoots, but I also love it in Chinese-style stir-fries.

Dinengdeng vegetable dish. Image from Adobong Blog.

Cashew Chicken Stir-Fry includes snow peas and bamboo shoots. Image and recipe via The Letter 4.

A couple of weeks ago, I was having a late supper at a friend’s home, and I found bamboo shoots incorporated in the traditional Filipino nilagang baka (slow-cooked beef in broth), which is essentially chunks of beef left on the stove to boil until fork tender, then adding some potatoes and/or leafy vegetables in the end. It is very unusual to find bamboo shoots in this dish, but its addition made for a novel and flavorful variation.

A couple of recipes I’d like to try is this beautiful Bamboo Shoot Salad, and, someday when I’m in the mood to put in the work, these potstickers from Steamy Kitchen.

Bamboo shoot salad

Bamboo Shoot Salad. Image and recipe from Gourmet Fury.

Pan Fried Shrimp and Pork Potstickers by Steamy Kitchen

Posted in Food | Tagged ,

A Love of All Things Asian: The Freer Gallery’s Peacock Room

I tend to think of the influence of Asian art on Western design as being a recent trend but in fact it has had a significant impact for over 150 years.

by Japanese painter Katsushika Hokusai

Katsushika Hokusai, South Wind, Clear Sky (1830-1833)
Photo: The British Museum

In the 1860’s, Japan opened up to international trade, which provided Europe with greater access to the Ukiyo-e woodblock prints that were gaining popularity in France. The style of artists like Katsushika Hokusai was completely different from the realism found in traditional European painting at the time.

Painting by Mary Cassatt

Mary Cassatt, Maternal Caress (1891)
Photo: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Artists of the Impressionist and later movements emulated the clean lines and bold colours of the Japanese masters, as well as the scenes of everyday life and landscapes.

Japanese inspired Van Gogh painting

Vincent Van Gogh (after Eisen), La Courtisane (1887)
Photo: Hokusai Online

People in Paris and London went crazy for all things Japanese, including ceramics, bronzes, and clothing items like kimonos and fans. As interest in the East grew, so too did an interest in the art of other cultures, like China.

Kimono fabric in European dress

19th Century Dress Made from a Kimono
Photo: The Dreamtress

Perhaps the greatest example of this fascination with incorporating elements of Asian culture in 19th century design is The Peacock Room. Originally created for British shipping magnate Frederick Leyland to showcase his Chinese porcelain collection, it was redecorated in blue and gold by James McNeill Whistler in the 1870’s to reflect the patterns of Leyland’s ceramics. Whistler even installed one of his Japanisme paintings, The Princess from the Land of Porcelain, above the mantle.

The Peacock Room

The Peacock Room
Photo: Picturing AmericaMIAC

In 1908, Charles Lang Freer purchased the room and it shipped to America and installed in his house in Detroit. Like Leyland, he used the space to display his collection of Asian and Islamic ceramics.

The Peacock Room
Photo: The Freer Gallery

The room has once again been transported, this time to the Freer Gallery in Washington, D.C., complete with its ceramics just as it stood in Detroit. I recently visited the Freer to view its collection of Islamic art but ended up spending almost an hour in this room. I was mesmerized by the rich gold and bluish-green colour scheme; it was both overwhelming and comforting and if I didn’t have a train to catch, I could have spent the rest of the day there taking in the many wondrous details.

The Peacock Room
Photo: Smithsonian Studio Art Blog

Since then, I have found myself a little obsessed with this space, wondering if a modernized version might be possible. Peacock blue has been a popular paint colour in recent years, and that would be the easiest fix, with added touches of gold and a few Asian accessories.

Photo: House of Turquoise via Vignette Design

If you want to go really bold, you could use vintage-style wallpaper, like this damask print.

Photo: Kaboodle

I think the Victorian horror vacui wallpaper/painting is a little much (and who can afford to have someone like Whistler come and paint their living room?) but a screen with a peacock design would help to evoke its spirit.

Photo: Whitehaven Interiors

Perhaps the easiest way to replicate the Japanisme décor of the original room is with groupings of Asian ceramics or other collectables.

Photo: Greentea Design

These don’t need to be precious antiques and in fact I think it would be far more interesting to use modern items, perhaps set on gold lacquered shelves against a bold blue background.

Photo: Greentea Design

If you are in Washington, I urge you to visit The Peacock Room at the Freer Gallery. If you can’t, you can at least take a virtual tour online. But what I would really like to see is your interpretation of this Western take on Eastern style. Have you mixed East and West in your décor?

Vietnamese Crafts

Image via Gone Thrifting

I visited Vietnam a couple of years ago, and I had no idea what incredibly beautiful pieces of artistry I would encounter there. I made so many memories in this beautiful country, but there are a couple of them that I live with. One of them is a lacquered wine bottle holder, and the other is an embroidered shoe bag that I take with me when I travel.

Embroidery and lacquer, it turns out, are two of the crafts that the Vietnamese excel in. The skills needed to create beautiful objects out of thread or tree sap are not learned in art schools, seminars, or workshops, but are ingrained in village culture. Different villages specialize in different crafts, and these crafts are passed on in unending streams that have been gushing forth for many hundreds of years.

And the world has gladly embraced these fruits of Vietnamese creativity. Anybody can partake of this bounty, whether with a budget of a few dollars or a few hundred.


From afar they look like paintings, and it is only when one draws near that the texture of the thread becomes visible. The skill and intricacy of these museum-worthy works are heart-stopping and thrilling.

Girl embroidering

Vietnamese girl practicing her craft. Photo by Nathalie Mariano.

Gallery of embroidery

Gallery of embroidery. Image by Nathalie Mariano.

Embroidered trees

Image from XQ Vietnam

Set of 3 hand embroidered works

Image from XQ Vietnam

Sometimes the embroidery is done on sheer silk, and the transparency of the material gives the piece a wondrous ethereal quality.

Transparent piece

Image via XQ Vietnam

If framed art pieces are too much commitment, there are a lot of functional objects that are embellished with lovely hand embroidery — tablecloths, table runners bed covers, handbags, underwear travel pouches and shoe bags, just to name a few.

Shoe bag from Vietnam

Shoe bag from Vietnam. Image by Nathalie Mariano.

A stall in a Vietnam market

A stall in Benh Tanh Market selling embroidered items. Image by Nathalie Mariano.


The Vietnamese artisans also express their skills in the “high-brow” and “low-brow”, with the ones that venture into the realm of fine art definitely take more time, skill, and artistry, and therefore cost quite a bit more.

Lacquer artwork

A lacquered art work with an eggshell mosaic depicting a fishing scene. Image via Vietnamese Artwork.

Lacquer art

Image via Tudo Art

Villagers creating lacquered vases

Image via News Hopper at Sulekha.com

Shop selling Lacquerware

Lacquerware shop. Photo by Nathalie Mariano.

And Vietnam has beautiful lacquer products whose functionality do not diminish their status as beautiful art.

Image via Geoff James

The aforementioned wine bottle holder. Image by Nathalie Mariano.

Another bottle holder, this time with mother of pearl and eggshell inlays. Image via Nathalie Mariano.

For more about lacquerware, check out Midori’s post from the previous month.

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