A Chinese Massage Story

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A Small Chinese Spa

A Small Chinese Spa

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.

– Massage?
– Yes.
– 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!


About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.


  1. I love massages! At my previous job I would indulge myself with expensive massages, with massage therapists that would actually questions about my wealth and my preference.

    I love Swedish massage…I need to be fixed, not to be rubbed.

    Then I went to a cheaper massage place, which was relevatively good but they never asked any health questions. I haven’t had a massage for ages but I don’t know if I should go back or not.

    I need a strong man who can do the job properly. Lol.

  2. My last professional massage was an hour long one last January for my birthday. I LOVE massages. I can get the hubby to rub some lotion on my back now & then.

  3. teehee! It sounds…painful! I am apparently good at giving (amateur) massages but when it comes to someone else massaging me I find it near impossible not to laugh and push their hands away! It’s just too tickly!

  4. Hi Zhu!
    In this multi-racial country that I live, there are malay, indian and chinese massage available here. I’ve tried chinese massage once or twice before but the experience was far different from what you’ve written, not as good. Your post is tempting me to go for a massage 🙂

  5. If I only get to walk from the plane to the massage room in Beijing, it will be well worth the trip after what you’ve described here. This post made me laugh and ultimately, relax.

    Let’s hear it for rough massages that leave you walking like you’re on drugs. Woo-hoo!

  6. This post reminded me of a joke I read:

    Masseur: Is the pressure okay?
    Client: How will I know if it’s not “okay”?
    Masseur: If you see dead relatives beckoning you toward a bright light, that would be one clue..haha!

    And then there’s another one for the “like an SM girl” where the massage therapist says, “Let me know if that’s too much pressure. I don’t want to torture you. That would be an added charge”..LOL

  7. ha ha……I am sure it must have been an experience 🙂

    But you are tired/ dead or not but Massage is the best thing in the World………..Ahhhh!

  8. i love your stories, zhu! you have a great sense of humor about yourself and your adventures.
    i’ve had a regular masseuse for almost three years. it’s not rough, and i don’t have to fill out forms or questionaires. we talk until she gets to my feet- then i close my eyes and call it my ‘vacation.’

  9. Hmmm…interesting! Haven’t tried a traditional massage when I was in Beijing. For some reason, I always get a little confused by the comments section of your blog…when I can’t see the comment I just submitted because it goes into another page. 🙂

  10. Massage is… painful indulgence, LOL…

    Have tried Chinese, Thai and Balinese massage. Personally prefer the Thai techniques. The masseuses use not just hands, but elbows, legs and knees.

    It is often said that men do massage better since they are stronger. However, Thai masseuses are actually comparable to Balinese masseurs.

  11. Yo Zhu, you are very brave. I can never attempt a massage session whenever I travelled to China, Thailand or even back home here in Singapore.

    It would be too ticklist for me and hats off to you 🙂 I do hear that it is very therapeutic and can see why my friends are going for body & foot massages all the time.

  12. @Bluefish – You know what, even with a strong man, I think I’d still pay for professional massage! I just wish they were more affordable.

    @Spyder – Oh lucky you! My birthday is only in March though… don’t think I can wait!

    @princesse ecossaise – I’m not too ticklish so I’m lucky. It’s weird at first I guess but soooo relaxing…

    @Brad – Thank you!

    @zunnur – Oh man, I’m moving there! Here in Canada there are mostly Swedish massage…

    @JoAnn’s D Eyes – Hi there, doing well! Thanks for the visit, I’ll make sure I stop by.

    @Scarlet – Well, once you make it to Beijing, a massage is all you want for sure. If airlines could be more uncomfortable…!

    @Diane Scott – Ouch, that’s expensive! Maybe it’s a Vegas thing… it’s not that bad in Ottawa.

    @Celine – Love these jokes and yes, they certainly apply to Chinese massage! 😆

    @Aiglee – You should try one day, I have yet to hear someone who doesn’t like massage.

    @Annie – Definitely. Or at least, the cheap equivalent: a man rubbing your back 😉

    @Seraphine – Oh, so you’re a feet massage person… sorry, it just makes me think of the Pulp Fiction line (have you seen the movie?) where they discuss whether a feet massage is sexual or not. 😆

    @Shantanu – That’s weird… I don’t see anything with the comments. I’m going to play around see if I can spot the mistake.

    @Khengsiong – I have heard really good things about Thai massage, I have to try sometimes. Unfortunately, they are usually more expensive than the regular ones in Canada…

    @shionge – Oh, that’s too bad! I’m not too ticklish, I guess I’m lucky. What is your favorite relaxation trick then?

  13. Hey Zhu,

    Was your boss trying to save some corporate money, or what? What’s up with sleeping at the office?
    “Cantonese dinner (pig intestines and chicken feet)” – it is not totally unheard of. In some cultures in Africa they also eat chicken feet (HELL NO!) and use it for witchcraft too. I don’t eat pork let alone pig intestines; but hey, here in Portugal there is a plate done with pig intestines and its blood…nasty stuff *nodding*…

    Girl, massaged by two men in full clothes? Now, that’s what I call full service LOL…
    Seriously, you had a really nice time back then! But young lady…those ciggies will kill you one day! Anyway, continuing…

    LOL LOL LOL LOL LOL LOL great description of a massage – reminded me the ones my granny gives me!! LOL LOL LOL but in the end it feels rather good!

    Excellent post, cherie! Excellent!


  14. Oh, I love stories like these. And you tell it so well. (I just love this blog!!!) One of my favorite things about some Asian airports (Sri Lanka, the old BKK airport, etc.) is that you can get a massage while waiting for your flight. Genius! And it’s dirt cheap.
    I was LOL about the part when you you were wondering if your boss had sold you to a pimp… I really do know the feeling. I had similar experiences in Thailand and in India, on the one hand the massage was so damn relaxing, on the other hand it was a bit hard to be relaxed when my clothes, shoes and purse were in the care of a total stranger…

  15. Haha! I just had my Chinese massage today! You are right on the money about the roughness! I hadn’t realized that men usually massaged women and vice versa. In the bathhouses it is the same sex who gives the massages, so I guess I made a mistake when I hit the spa today.

  16. Hi there! Came across your site as I was surfing the web for random information on Beijing, as I will be moving there later in the week.
    I live in Ottawa as well, which is a coincidence. I spent a while looking around your site, cool stuff! Take care of yourself!

    • Thank you! I hope you will enjoy your stay in Beijing. It’s my favorite city in China, so much to see and to experience! Keep in touch if you need more information.

  17. Zhu, did you find one in Ottawa? Have just come back from a similarly painful massage in Japan and don’t ever want another wimpy disappointing western massage again! Congrats on gorgeous baby mark 🙂

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