The misadventure of getting a massage in Beijing
The adventure and misadventure of getting a massage in Beijing, China
I love massage almost as much as I love traveling. Perhaps it’s because I carry a monster backpack that at times can leave my body feeling like a stiff corpse. Perhaps it’s because after so much time alone, being touched and caressed is welcoming. Or perhaps it’s just simply my curiosity about how different cultures approach touch in different ways. Whatever it is that lures me into small shanty shacks, open beach cabanas, or dimly lit, and sometimes scented rooms, I always end up having a massage in every new place I visit as part of my journey.
China was no different, and yet, completely different. Arriving in Beijing to meet a friend for a week long birthday trip, a massage for us both was on the list. As we hopped around the various districts trying the local cuisine, strolling through the surprisingly large parks, and dancing in the late night discos, I imagined when we would find the time to get that Chinese massage.
I had heard about cupping, and was curious about that, but not enough apparently to seek it out. Instead I experienced a different kind of cupping in the first “massage parlor” that we found. Located about a block from the Hotel New Otani Chang Fu Gong that we stayed at (which was stunning and highly recommended by the way) was a plain looking building sandwiched between what appeared to be smaller shops on the ground floor and office buildings and apartments above. (Sorry, I didn’t have my camera to snap a photo of this massage place for you! But it can be found literally right around the corner from the hotel)
Entering this space, we were greeted by a woman in a short skirt and high heels. This should have been the first red flag, but the price was right (about $27 an hour) for what we were told would be an hour long, full body massage including a head massage, and she was just the receptionist right?
Wanting a room that we could share, we were told this was not possible. Smiling at each other and excited for the rub down, we parted ways into our own separate rooms. The room I was led to was tiny, with the massage table pushed up against one wall. I wondered how that was going to work out, but not for long as I scanned the walls to find the sign hanging which my friend was yelling from the other room for me to look at. It said in Chinese and in English, No Prostitution, No Drugs, No Gambling. I guess this should have been the second red flag?
Undressing and putting the towel over my backside I laid face down on the table and waited. I heard someone enter the room with the deep click of heavy heels. Possibly the third red flag? It didn’t matter to me at the moment because I was ready and eager for this to begin as my body ached from the long plane ride from Europe and all the miles walked through the city after arriving. I was not however prepared for what came next.
The woman started rubbing my back with what felt like sandpaper gloves, but I soon realized were actually her extremely rough man hands. The massage was quite possibly the worst I had experienced yet (minus the one had in Tunisia at a Hammam where they literally beat me down and actually used a steel glove on my skin) in that it became obvious fairly quickly that this was one of those “happy ending” massage parlors you only hear about. What I didn’t know was apparently the “happy ending” was also available for women.
After rubbing the flesh off my backside, this woman removed the towel that was covering my derrière, and let out a small laugh. For the next ten or so minutes she literally played with my butt cheeks and kept giggling. I personally did not know what she found so amusing and quite honestly was hoping she would soon get to my feet which needed the most help. Yea, that didn’t happen. After she finished playing, she signaled for me to turn over and this is where things went from bad to worse.
She started by massaging my arms and kept letting my hand fall up her skirt repeatedly if you can imagine what that’s like. I kept pulling my hand away hoping that she would understand that I was not in the mood for whatever she might have thought I was, and I just wanted my feet rubbed- honestly!
It didn’t stop there. She then started to drop her breasts into my hands and again, I removed my hands as an attempt to discourage her. Was this the cupping part? I thought that involved glass bottles and fire, not breasts and hands. After that, she sat on my thighs and I could feel her lady bits as she chose to arrive pantyless to this affair. Geez. Really, all I want was a foot massage. After 40 minutes of this, she stood up and walked out. I looked at the clock and was like- wait! I didn’t even get that head rub that we were up sold on, and what about my feet?
Walking out of the room to meet my friend, we both were wondering what the heck happened and why we were not given the head and foot massage which is why we were there to begin with. I asked about his massage and he said nothing out of the ordinary happened (really?!) and that the woman did a great pressure massage mostly on his back right where he wanted it. He could tell by my expression that the experience I had just had was way different, but before we could talk about it, we wanted to know why we didn’t get what we had paid for.
After speaking to the woman at the desk in hand gestures and deciphering her broken English, we were led back to our rooms for the last 15 minutes of what we were promised. I honestly didn’t want to go back in, but the woman told us we would get that head massage after all, and that at this place, there would be no foot massage. Yep. No foot massage. Bummer. Hesitantly I returned to the room where a different woman came in and gave me that head treatment. I would have to say that these last 15 minutes were the closest I got to getting what I was expecting when I first entered this place.
When it was all over, we had a good laugh as we walked back to our hotel still a bit stiff and creaky. Unsatisfied, we made plans to seek out a blind massage parlor. I remembered earlier in the year when I was in Thailand that I had my first ever blind massage. I learned that those who are blind have a natural intuitive ability to really listen to what your body needs and give a great massage. We did find that on our last day in Beijing and stayed for two hours getting the best massage ever. This place was found about 1km away from the Olympic Park and sadly I don’t have any more information about it other than the photo below – which has the phone number on the sign. 😉
I guess the contrast was interesting, and I learned a few things from the experiences – especially to pay closer attention to what I am walking into when seeking a massage, to not just accept something because the price is right, and to not ignore red flags when they are hanging right in my face. I don’t have any regrets, but think I could do without the attempted happy ending massage again.
Have you ever had an unusual massage experience? We would love to hear your story and invite you to share it with us here!