Adventures in East Asia

Back scraping cure for illnesses

This photo looks worse than it really is! This is the visual manifestation for a kind of cure for when you have a general illness. I'm not sure if its strictly a Vietnamese thing, but I've never come across this in Chinese culture.


I was feeling a little run down when we first arrived in Vietnam. Nothing serious, just a head cold with a bit of tiredness. Dropping into a plus thirties climate really didn't help at all. By the next day, Linh's father suggested this "cure" ("kwak saa") which would involve scraping my back with some ointment. He mentioned it might "hurt" a little, but what the hell, I gave it a go.

In the photo above he's almost finished, but basically, the treatment involves applying some ointment onto the person's back starting at the top and then scraping outwards in lines, with a blunt piece of metal until you get to the bottom of the spine. (He used a dog tag - not sure if it was a genuine one of his as he used to fight for the Americans during the Vietnam war.)

It felt literally like the skin was being scrapped off my back but with the menthol freshness of the ointment, it at least distracted me from my headache. The resulting pattern looks a bit like an impression of my rib cage.

Apparently, if you're ill, then the redness occurs. If you're not ill, scraping doesn't bring up the redness. To me, with the kind of scraping I endured, I wouldn't be surprised if I was fit and healthy and still displayed these marks!

Anyway, I did recover, albeit a few days later, but at least when I subsequently saw these marks on people's backs, I knew it wasn't because they were a bit kinky the previous night.

This entry posted in : Culture. Vietnam.

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17/04/09  at  03:40 PM
Update: I found this link:

Seems this treatment is common in China and is called "Gua Sha".

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