After walking around the Summer Palace and buying lots of stuff at Yaxiu Market at Sanlitun, my friend was in a dire need of a massage.
We went to my usual spot, Bodhi, but it was already busy at 9pm and we'd have to wait an hour.
So we decided to check out a massage place near where I live, which on the outside looks a bit sketchy despite listing its prices at the door.
Also, all the female staff seem to wear the same orange form-fitting jumpsuit paired with heels. Doesn't that send mixed messages about the place?
In any event we soaked our feet in the hot medicinal concoction and one of the women massaging us who wasn't wearing the orange outfit told us she was from northern Guangdong Province. She had tried to set up a business here selling beauty products, but after she signed the lease she found out she was cheated out of 200,000RMB ($29,267) and hinted this was why she was doing this job.
She told us she already learned how to massage clients when she worked at the White Swan Hotel in Guangzhou, where it opened her eyes to the shady world of the massage industry in China. She worked at the hotel as a manager, but someone wanted to hire her as a "mamma-san"; she declined even though she wouldn't have to do anything except manage the girls.
One time, she said, a rich client wanted two girls to go with him and when they got back to his place there were over 10 people there. The two girls cried, both under 20 years old. They didn't know what they were getting themselves into.
Another time a rich client from Hong Kong looked at my masseuse and wanted her to be his mistress. He already had three girls and wanted a boy and thought this woman would bear him a son. He tried to get her friend to trick her, by saying she had a job for her in Hong Kong managing a store. She wised-up and declined.
She said even though we are in the 21st century, women in China are still treated with no respect. Her parents didn't encourage her to study too hard and thus was ineligible for the gaokao or college entrance exams. They expect her to save her wages to give them and that hard-earned money is passed onto the sons in the family for them to play with girls or go out and have fun.
That's not all -- after women are married, they have no place, as they live with their new family and have to look after their in-laws.
Then she said the other day a man in his 70s came in to get a massage. While she massaged his legs, he kept asking her to massage him higher and higher up his leg... it got to the point where it was obvious he wanted an extra service not listed on the menu at the door.
She tried to diffuse the situation by saying he should get his wife to massage him there, but he said she had passed away already. Then she suggested he get a prostitute instead, but he kept trying to get her to massage him there and she refused.
Which is why, she said, she was going to get out of the business altogether and head to Shanghai to start a cha can ting or a Hong Kong-style diner.
After listening to her long string of stories for two hours, we wish her luck in her new endeavour and she finds the happiness she deserves.