After my dad helped me do a quick Chinese Yelp search that left me more confused than when I started, I set off to find the health spa located walking-distance from my grandparents’ apartment. They don’t live in a very urban area with lots of tourists, so chances of stumbling upon a massage parlor/brothel hybrid were high. The only other nearby option is a Blind People’s Organization, where the blind train and work as physical therapists. I learned that in China, this is a common vocation for them, and I would’ve much better off swallowing my fears and going to these experts.
But back to my ladies of the night.
After entering the unlit and empty “spa,” I was greeted by a cute bookish girl who patiently answered my questions about rates and massage styles. I love the ones that leave me in pain for days afterwards, so deep tissue was the way to go. I chose the shortest massage for that option, 45 minutes. She handed me a shirt and shorts set in matching silk embroidery, like PJs an emperor would wear. They were about three sizes too big. They didn’t smell dirty nor squeaky clean.
The girl led me to through a locker area to a dingy cavernous shower room which I can only assume was co-ed, and instructed me to shower before putting on the getup. I asked if I could skip the showering step. Negative. Then she left.
Not only was it the middle of February in an unheated building, I was pretty sure the moment I stripped down would be the some one where one of the regulars would stroll in for his nooner. So I leapt straight into the pjs, turned the shower on and watched it run for ten minutes. Then a young guy came by and pointed me to a small yellow room with two twin beds and a television playing the news.
After a long wait, a woman wearing a sequin leopard print minidress and house slippers came out to find me. She was yawning and puffy, with wild hair like she just woke up.
When I saw her, I immediately felt awkward and prudish. I hate being awkward and prudish. I was acting like the people I hate–staring, babbling, essentially losing the cool I so pride myself in. But my panic switch was flipped. In broken Chinese, I asked her if I could change my massage to one of the 30 minute ones.
She wasn’t into that. Time to forfeit. It was too late now, so I might as well deal with it the way I handle rollercoasters: pay whatever price they wanted, close my eyes and think of doughnuts.
Obviously she gave one of the worst massages I’ve ever had. For 45 minutes, she chopped my arms, legs and back without rhyme or reason, like I was a chicken that needed tenderizing. And I couldn’t really think about doughnuts because she started talking to me. So I told her the truth about where I was from and how old I was, because it was pretty obvious I wouldn’t pass for a local. And I found out she was older than me, from Southern China, where her husband and children still lived, and had moved to Beijing a year ago to work and live in this massage parlor.
Finally, when she released me, she joked that next time they’ll get me a male masseur. I left the room stressed and in pain, but not in the deep muscley way–in the I’ve been slapped for 45 minutes kind of way. Then I paid the 100RMB and the extra 18RMB they charged for the shower, which they conveniently neglected to mention in the beginning, and I was free to leave.
Literally. The receptionist girl led me to the front doors, which this time, were locked up in chains. There are so many things I wish I’d have said, jokes I’d have made, as I watched her undo the chains. But at the time, I was just focused on getting outside and finally relaxing.
A more adventurous person, a better writer, would have refused to pay her for the wack massage and had a more exciting story. But at least I got to go home and blame my father for sending me to a brothel, and my mother was relieved to see I was alive.