I was introduced to massage by my former boss in Hong Kong, Ning. Now don’t imagine inappropriate work incentives: Ning may have paid me a ridiculous wage and asked me to work on weekends too often, but he wasn’t this kind of man. Besides, he was anything but attractive to me. He was in his fifties, bald, and he tucked his shirt into his pants. He was also married to my very bitchy manager Jojo. All that also somehow explains why when Ning asked me to come with him for a massage, I didn’t bat an eyelash.
We were then on a business trip in Shenzhen, across the border. The whole weekend had been kind of crazy: I had just discovered we would be sleeping at our small office instead of at the hotel (and by “at the office”, I mean we literally slept on the waiting room sofa) and I had been introduced to about 50 people over a very Cantonese diner (pig intestines and chicken feet).
After the terrifying diner experience mentioned above, Ning and I had rushed into a taxi. It was close to midnight and I thought we were heading back to the office/ hotel. But we had stopped in front of a tall building. “Relax time”, had said Ning. For a second, a lot of things crossed my mind. But I shrugged and followed him. Eh, I was 18.
We were greeted at the front of the building by two Chinese women who fussed around us. One led Ning away and the other one motioned me to a different door which opened on a small bathroom with a shower. “Please, take off your clothes and make yourself comfortable”. “Great”, I thought, “Ning actually sold me to a pimp. I guess I should have finished the report that was due two weeks ago…”.
I did what I was told. I took off my clothes and took a warm shower. I changed into loose cotton clothes that were provided and waited at the door. Soon enough, the woman came back and led me to another room, where I found my boss similarly dressed and already lying on a massage table.
A light bulb switched in my head. Massage? Fully clothed? Sure! After a couple of minutes, Ning was snoring and I was being massaged by two guys. “Quite surreal”, I thought, “but nice….” The massage itself lasted for a couple of hours. All in all, we spent the night there. After the massage, we relaxed for a while in comfortable chairs sipping cold tea and smoking cigarettes (well, at least, I did. Ning was still sleeping). And then, I had a feet massage, followed by more tea and cigarettes. I never had a better time with my boss.
And so I was introduced to body massage. In fact, I became quite addicted to it. I sometimes indulge myself in Canada, but massages are quite expensive… so I figured I’d get one in Beijing, where they are much cheaper.
A few days after we arrived, I found my way to a small Spa near the Worker Stadium in Dongzhimen: Bodhi (not a chinglish name!). It was well past 8 p.m., a perfect time for massage in China: most spa open late, and unlike in the West, it is common to be pampered at night. I climbed a few stairs and walked to the reception. The lights were dim, the voices were soft and hushed, and four Chinese women wearing traditional qipao were fussing over clients.
– Follow me.
I was led to a small room at the end of a hallway. She closed the door behind me. Clean clothes were on the chair as well as a pair of slippers. I changed—hoping the Chinese-sized clothes would fit—and laid on my stomach on the massage table. Candles were lighting the room with a warm yellow glow which complimented the wooden floor. I yawned. Long day.
It is custom in China to be massaged by the opposite sex and so a few second later, my masseur entered the room. I asked for a traditional Chinese massage, hoping to live my experience in Hong Kong again. I closed my eyes and started to relax, my arms loose. He started working on my back, gently pressing in between my collarbones.
Now, I don’t know if you ever had a massage in North America, but if you had, you must have noticed that everything is done to make you feel comfortable. You fill up a sheet with your medical history and must mention any condition that may affect your experience. You are sometimes asked to circle the body parts to massage on an anatomy chart. The masseur will then double-check and ask questions like “is that okay if I massage your lower back/ collarbone etc.?”. And you are strongly encourage to let the masseur know if anything makes you feel uncomfortable or hurts. In short, you are given a lot of privacy and massages are very gentle since most people want to relax.
Well, let me tell you, traditional Chinese massages are quite different. Two minutes after I had closed my eyes, the masseur was kneeling on my butt, twisting my left arm in a way I didn’t think it could or should be twisted. He then proceed to pinch my back (I didn’t even know I had fat in that part of my body!) and pull my fingers. Almost simultaneously. He stretched my back, my legs and pull my ears. He pressed, he tapped, he kneaded, he stroked. I did close my eyes but I didn’t sleep.
The whole experience was surprising to say the least but I wasn’t in pain. I could feel my blood flowing throughout my body and I was breathing regularly. It felt good. An hour later, I left feeling light and happy. How could such a rough massage do that, I wondered.
I went back for another traditional massage before we left. This time, it wasn’t in a Spa but in a small hutong behind the hostel. The masseur was waiting outside. He was a young guy from Hunan who didn’t like Beijing that much, because it was crowded and it didn’t have mountains and lakes, something that Hunan apparently had. He gasped when I told him how much massages cost in Canada. He massaged me with as much zeal as the previous time but this time, I was expecting it and enjoy it thoroughly. I walked out feeling so good, almost like if I was on drugs.
I haven’t had a massage since I came back to Ottawa. I’m not sure I’d enjoy the “western-style” massage now… and I have to pay about $70, while in Beijing my two massages averaged $15. I may have to go to Chinatown… Like an SM girl, I’m now addicted to rough massages!