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I went back home to San Diego a few weekends ago to celebrate my mom’s birthday and spend some quality time with the fam. It was a nice break from my life in LA; riding on the wave of a birthday weekend means fun outings, nice dinners, and birthday cake. The recipe for an awesome weekend. One of the items on the birthday agenda was that we all go get our feet massaged at this reflexology massage place called Happy Buddha, which my mom commonly refers to as “the foot-slappers.” As you may have guessed, at Happy Buddha you pay a relatively cheap rate to get your feet (and body) slapped around for an hour. I’m not a huge fan of massages (I’m too ticklish) but my mom swears by the place, so I figured I should give it a shot.

We drove up to the storefront and attempted to find a parking spot in the ridiculously crowded Asian mini-mall parking lot. Apparently the place to be on a Saturday afternoon in Kearny Mesa. It’s right next door to a noisy dumpling joint with a line out the door and an Asian market with the faint smell of durian wafting into the air. Not exactly my vision of an ideal spot to get a relaxing massage, but again I’m taking my mom’s word for it. So we wandered into the little storefront into a dark, cool, temperature controlled room, with soothing music playing faintly in the background and some really good soundproofing going on, as you couldn’t hear any of the clanking from the dumpling restaurant next door. There’s a couple finishing up their massage in the front room, so we whispered to the receptionist about our reservation for four massages. She directed us to four chairs and disappeared briefly  to go rustle up four Asian men in scrubs from the back room to come massage us for the next hour. They delivered little Dixie cups of hot tea for us to sip while they brought out tubs, lined in plastic trash bags (so sanitary!), filled with warm essential oil-y water for us to soak our feet in while they massage the rest of our body before they get to the feet slappin.  So after they got all set up, we reclined our seats and the Happy Buddha experience started to get real.

Now, I was expecting a little back rub, maybe some shoulders, legs and feet, but no way was I expecting a face massage. At first I thought it was a joke, that my masseuse just wanted a laugh at the expense of my roundy face and squishy cheeks. But after ten minutes of face massaging, it was past the point of being funny. He wiggled my cheeks in alternating circles, then moved to my temples and forehead, then just for kicks, back to my cheeks. Already self conscious about the chubbiness of my cheeks, this whole experience did nothing to boost my self-esteem. It was such a strange experience, I couldn’t really relax, I was too focused on the absurdity of my face massage and the sound of my lips and cheeks getting pulled and smashed around. Thankfully after a good ten minutes he moved on to my head, straight up grabbing my cranium and squeezing. I was finally able to relax a little bit as he moved on to my shoulders, neck, and back. After stressing out with school and work   I could feel my strong Asian masseuse working out the knots in my neck and shoulders. I seriously think I may have gotten bruises on my neck and shoulders from the intensity of this massage experience. Happy Buddha is not for the weak. They adhere to the “no pain, no gain” method of massage. Only go here expecting some discomfort, with the goal of eventual relaxation.

So next he moved on to my arms and hands. I tend to get kind of tense in massages, and this was no exception. Mid arm massage my arms spazzed out and were like locked, muscles tensed, ready for a boxing match or something, completely incapable of massaging. I can’t help it, I’m ticklish and just a tense person in general. After multiple scolding’s from my masseuse, “relax!” he whisper yelled to me while trying to wiggle my arms from their tensed position, I think he just gave up and moved on to my feet.

Now the foot slapping experience really began. Taking my feet out of the warm water soak, massaging them, cracking toes, and pressing on reflexology points.  At this point we were nearing the end of our hour massage and my feet hadn’t been slapped yet, nor had I heard any other slapping coming from my parent’s or brother’s stations. I began to worry, was this whole Happy Buddha experience a fraud, was there in fact, no foot slapping at the foot slappers?

Thankfully Happy Buddha did not disappoint, they only saved the best -and most entertaining- for last, a grand finale of sorts. My masseuse started, only to be joined by the three other masseuses, in a quartet of cacophonous slapping. Starting with the feet and then onto the legs. Open fist slapping/punching, it was a veritable slap factory up in there. I couldn’t help but bust out laughing, laying there listening to the four of us get our legs get beaten up. The next appointment had walked in to check in with the receptionist just as we were starting the grand finale of slap, strangers witnessing the absurdity of the massage experience that they were about to embark on, just adding to the hilarity of the experience. They even started giggling at the sight and sound of us. As the clock struck 3, the slapping ceased and with the final gravity drop of our legs onto the footstool our Happy Buddha experience was complete.

In conclusion, Happy Buddha completely lived up to its name, a strange, slightly uncomfortable, awkward at times, hilarious first foray in the world of Asian reflexology massage.  I walked out into the Asian mini-mall parking lot that day much more relaxed, a Happy Buddha convert. I’ll definitely be back.

Check it out: http://hbreflexologyspa.com/

And yelp reviews too: http://www.yelp.com/biz/happy-buddha-foot-reflexology-spa-san-diego