Perhaps you were unaware, but we live in this particular district. Pink lights illuminate the street starting at dusk and shopkeepers sit at their doors waiting for customers. Activity is often muted, but decisive. Shoppers rarely peruse, but purchase instead, frequently, too eager, pre-sales can be seen through the front windows just beneath the hanging postered product images.
While not every parlor in our neighborhood is apart of this product sector, it may be evident why Dan and I are a bit intimidated to walk straight into any massage shop care blanc. This evening we made a significant attempt to seek out a shop of reputation. While our initial inquiry was unsuccessful, we followed a couple into a brightly lit establishment, about the size of a dozen side-street establishments and were promptly and warmly greeted by several young ladies wearing formal night gowns. We couldn’t necessarily judge the establishment based on our first impression as this could still go either way, however, with the help of Dan’s language skills we determined we’d push over our shoes in exchange for some blue sandals and slide around a small curtain off to the side. I really liked those shoes however after the past week in Ji’nan they could really use a wash, I wondered how full service this place was and if I’d get my shoes back clean as new.
We were handed a small towel and a bracelet with a number on it just before we popped around the curtain where upon we were presented with a small locker room. Dan’s locker was immediately on the left, while I took a bit more time to search for mine. After the first challenge of opening our lockers with the remote sensor located in our bracelets, we then were met with the challenge of determining what to do with our lockers at which point Dan, looking straight into the emptiness of his new cubic property, says, “Now what.. is this a skivvies place?” Where upon I get to reply, “For some reason I don’t think so.” In looking for my locker I had the privilege of noticing the collection of men showering just beyond the curtain, and from my perspective it appeared that nothing else existed. Awaiting a translator to ask the most embarrassing questions of ‘what the hell do we do now?’ I did as the Chinese and used my time to enjoy a hot shower and some fancy shampoo. Where upon Dan followed suit, until we noticed a general flow from individuals. Take a shower then move around the newly discovered corner where you’re greeted by a handful of gentlemen who either point you someplace or hand you a towel, or insist you take a seat on their massage table. Nobody else in the establishment had too big of a grin, so I wasn’t too intimidated, but there’s always that subtle fear when you walk into a situation and can’t communicate with anyone AND you’re not wearing pants… I suppose this was no exception to the rule. In fact, I imagine the individual who wrote that rule probably frequented this place, because, as Dan would agree, I think we collectively defined awkward.
Obeying orders (after all we were paying for this whole getup) we both sat down on side-by-side tables dowsed in comfortably warm water, covered with plastic and then washed again. It was a nice place to catch a nap had the lighting been a bit lower. Once we were down we could see only the simplicity of the ceiling and then the periodic head of our attendant. Then the fellow opened up this package and put it onto his hand. At first I didn’t really know what was coming, how to escape if needed, and weather or not to try and put my pants back on before fleeing or just going to the door. It was about 9:00 PM and the temperature outside was -13’C, I’m not sure how far I, or my loins, would make it out there. I refocused on relaxing and looking at the ceiling.
The massage began. With a coarse sponge glove, my attendant proceeded to exfoliate the ‘bageezes’ out of my skin, back and forth starting at my neck. Like having a straight razor shave, it was delightful to have someone pay attention to such detail however horrifying in the same respect that the slightest mistake would render my neck bloody. In this case the fear wasn’t blood, but my absolute unfamiliarity with exposure at this level.
The exfoliation proceeded as planned, and my anticipation seemed to lag behind just ever so slightly. I don’t know how explicit I’d like to reflect here, but if I were to count, my general feeling is that close to 95% of my body was tended to, 5% of which was a surprise, and the remaining 4.5% was covered with hair (and I have a beard). After turning over once and then getting another splash of warm water Dan and I dried off and were directed to put on some really fancy paper clothes. They were quite stylish. We were then directed upstairs, moseying a bit too much, they found that we were not the most adept at speaking and understanding Chinese and Dan’s hand was grabbed by another attendant and our clip was accelerated, so much that I lost Dan as we wound through the hallways upstairs. My sandals were too big and I had a bear of a time walking in them, especially up stairs, but I seemed to entertain all the female attendants as I practically jogged in my paper clothes and giant sandals, as if I’d put on my dad’s clothes and pretended to go to work that day.
We arrived shortly to a couple of private rooms, Dan in his and I in mine. The beds were soft and they had heaters. I was quite comfortable. However it was clear this wasn’t what we’d signed up for, nor what we were wiling to pay for. But I enjoyed a bit of a nap as I listened to Dan in the other room working through a discussion on why the private super-massage was not within our policy, primarily due to cost. I knew the spit was over when I was ushered out of my room and promptly back the same way we came. I began to recognize art on the wall and could have probably navigated myself there and back several more times. I felt good about this, again, because if I needed to escape I should have a plan. Like being a girl at a frat-party, except my girlfriend was definitely not in control.
Back past the giggling girls and the goofy staircase we found ourselves in a large lounger filled room with a T.V. and a number of male and female attendants. The T.V. was on CCTV4 – national new in Chinese. Along the front of the room Dan and I found extreme comfort in seeing four old women getting their feet massaged. The female attendants all wore mini-skirt school girl outfits, but that didn’t seem to bother the women and I have a suspicion it didn’t bother the men that were their either. Dan and I ordered some hot water and waited for our turn. About an hour later, and deep into a overdubbed Disney live action movie about superhero kids it came to my turn. A young lady dressed in a suit arrived at my lounger and proceeded to bungle the whole operation.
I had been next to Dan as he received his massage, which had started thirty minutes prior, and this lady was nimble. Dan hardly moved. He would lay there watching T.V. as she would climb over and sit behind him to massage his head, then his arms, and then she climbed down to his legs and was really going to town. No funny business. My new friend was clumsy and green and seriously, suit-pants? What, are you from the front desk? sheesh. After about five minutes of fiddling with a pillow I got the weakest head rub, I don’t think she could have combed my hair at that rate. This was followed by the worlds most painful neck stabbing and then a noisy set of movements that may have involved my arms and back. A long bit of stomach gnashing made me wish I had avoided the water earlier so I rolled over onto my stomach and enjoyed a bit of a nap as the rest of what I paid for slipped down to my toes without a trace.
Still in paper pants Dan and I were shuffled back downstairs to our lockers where we dawned our proper clothing, collected our little towel (for what purpose we are still naive) and paid our dues, more than twice that which we anticipated. We dawned our shoes, which still scuffed and smelled of feet, and walked about with a bit of disgust at the price and couple of chuckles at the experience.
It was nice, but we probably won’t return.