A red neon sign so far in the distance it could be a firefly. I too am a fly and it pulls me irresistibly toward it, for it is in the shape of a suspected figure, and like most shop signs that consist of a single character, it is probably zu, meaning “foot.” While zu might resemble a standing or crouching man, the upper square being his head, the image is in fact thought to have originally depicted a footprint. Another theory is that the lower half indeed depicts the foot or lower leg, and the square (which stands for “mouth”), the kneecap. This character has a particular beauty and energy, balanced as if on feet, like a runner poised at the starting line, or a figure skater on landing, or a kneeling masseuse with hands poised over a torso; a charged character. Chinese characters, especially the small class of simple iconographic ones upon which the remaining thousands are built, fuse pictorial representation and abstract stylization in perfect equilibrium. They are both pictures and logos as memorable as the predominant corporate logos of our time. If you understand the ingenuity that goes into a well-designed logo, you’ve had your first lesson in the Chinese script.
Yet even if I did not catch sight of a sign in the distance, I would need to scope out the street anyway, as I do the streets of every city, and as I am now doing in the Fengtai District of southwest Beijing, far from my neighborhood. Many shops are recessed or hidden behind trees. Sometimes lanes running off the street shelter little massage stalls as well, noticed only by the hawk-eyed. Many more shops—the best kind—exist in the labyrinths of residential compounds, again set off from the road. So as I make a beeline toward the sign, I keep an eye out for more tempting logos along the way. Before arriving at my destination, sure enough I come upon two more, adjacent shops, each with the characters baojian in plain white on red, the standard format for non-electric shop signs. An interesting word. It normally appears in the compound baojian pin, or “health care products,” namely a shop that sells either nutritional supplements or dildos and sex toys, “health care” being a traditional euphemism for sex. If however you see a sign only with the characters baojian on it, it’s something quite distinct, namely the abbreviation for baojian anmo, or “therapeutic massage,” where baojian refers indeed to health, and anmo, literally “press and rub,” to massage.
Nonsexual massage, that is. Not that there isn’t more precise terminology for different kinds of massage, including the erotic variety. Chinese is a highly euphemistic language, and you have to think in terms of peeling an onion to get at the meaning of something. There’s no general term for a “handjob,” for instance, apart from the amusing idiom da feiji, “shoot the airplane.” Even this term is rarely uttered, and the closest neutral stand-in expression, such as might be printed on a parlor’s menu of services, is the catch-all tuiyou, “pushing oil,” or an oil massage. When the catch-all “Spa”—which out front designates a ladies beauty or body-care center—appears in Roman letters next to a massage service on the menu, it too denotes the erotic.
An oil massage does not necessarily entail a handjob. You might end up with just a polite Swedish massage in your disposable underwear, and your masseuse will act offended if you hint at having expected more than that. Or it may in fact be more than that, the shorts yanked down, the prostate intensively worked and the genitals folded into the treatment, the penis merely being another limb that gets rubbed as a matter of course, ejaculation or not. The most undesirable outcome, on the other hand, is the indifferent handjob that’s over in five minutes sans rubdown.
As there is no reliable correspondence in China between signifier and signified, I walk up to the first of the two shops expecting to find anything under the sun. At the threshold I see four girls in dyed blond hair and fake eyelashes, garish satin negligees and push-up bras, sitting on a couch. They glance at me without getting up, so I know they are prostitutes rather than the lowest of the low, the scam artists, those who run out to you and try to drag you inside. The con-job parlors tend to operate in tourist areas frequented by foreigners and display a sign for “massage” in English and/or Japanese (though again, the term “massage” in the Chinese context is as slippery as a buttered vagina and can mean anything).
Here’s how the scammers work. A girl takes you to a tiny room with a narrow bed (rather than a dedicated massage table), sits on its edge and tugs your belt buckle loose. Another girl enters and they both offer to massage you for twice the price. Before you can decide, a third girl comes in, and they beg and cajole you into a three-way for triple the price. As soon as you agree, two of the girls leave and the remaining one proceeds to unzip you. “Hey, where did those two go?” you ask. “They’ll be back in a few minutes.” So they did not mean doing you at the same time but one after the other.
Moreover, you discover, the girl won’t pull your dick out until you fork over more money, since anything extra is extra and the base fee is for a regular massage. “What massage?!” you protest. One of them reenters to help smooth your feathers, but now she wants the surcharge too, just for being in the room it seems. Once that’s agreed to (you’ll be amazed at what you agree to in vulnerable situations), she applies oil to your dick while the previous one leaves. When you ask for her back, she returns and takes over, and the other leaves again in turn.
By now you’ve lost your erection and buckle your pants back up to get the hell out. You also realize the whole point is to get you angry and out the door as soon as possible so they can make way for the next idiot. But not until you’ve paid up. The negotiating gets ugly as you only want to pay for what you’ve received, which amounts to nothing. Meanwhile some male friends of theirs are now on hand who were not there when you entered the shop. You could make a break for it but decide to shell out. You almost feel they deserve to be paid, after witnessing the finesse with which they expedited the transfer of your money to their safekeeping.
No, the neighborhood I am now exploring is as local as they get; people see right past me, not even recognizing the foreign apparition in their midst, something inconceivable to be lurking their neck of the woods. As I have zero interest in prostitutes, I leave without stepping inside.
The shop next door also advertises baojian. I go in. They charge a typical 200 yuan for a one-hour oil massage. The sole woman present, in her twenties with beguiling eyes, leads me to a room partitioned into cubicles each the exact size of the beds they are built around and hands me a pair of disposable shorts.
“Can you just drape a towel over me instead of these shorts? They are uncomfortable and I don’t like to wear them.”
“No way,” she says.
It’s true there is some kind of a law or policy requiring their use, yet quite a few places dispense with them nonetheless, often the older masseuses who are more relaxed about male nudity. She leaves while I get undressed. The mattress on the floor is a real mattress with springs, not a plywood board and a blanket for padding; the customer’s comfort is being taken into account. So I should be getting something for my money. I lay face down and the girl returns. Xiaoyun, or Little Rue, is from Sichuan and has a gruff, unsmiling manner, yet the feel of her hands is friendly. After doing my back and legs, she has me turn over.
Though I prefer the intensity of nakedness or the drama of a precariously draped towel, disposable shorts can be highly erotic. They are made of a translucent blue, durable paper-like material. There is also a thinner, more frangible variety—the kind I am now wearing—that tears with the slightest pressure. It’s quite transparent and the penis is visible through the surface in sharp relief. The more fastidious girls roll up the cuffs of the shorts to seal off the ass when doing your thighs. Others stick their hands inside from above or below to cover more territory. Others yet simply pull the shorts down and back up again when you turn over.
Little Rue chooses a fourth method, ripping open the shorts at the legs to give her hands easy access, but wants another 100 yuan to tuichulai me, “squeeze it out.” I generally don’t go for handjobs, especially when there’s an extra charge, but those eyes….I give in. At this point another masseuse shows up at the shop and walks into our cubicle to ask Little Rue a question. The new girl scrutinizes me and reaches down to give my cock a squeeze of approval before departing.
Little Rue oils up my cock. She lacks technique and pumps me too quickly. I need to train her. But then she does something unexpected. She leans close and stares into my eyes, lips parted, shirt hanging open at the neck and boobs dangling. I mash both breasts over her shirt. She pulls it and her bra up and her pants down. I squash the breasts with one hand while masturbating her with the other. She clamps her hand on mine over her tits. I maul them harder. Her face is scrunched in concentration and she soon orgasms. I don’t want her to finish me off; that’s for another encounter.
On my way out, the girl who barged in on us catches my eye. I may be back one day to give her a shot—if she’s still around. If the place is still around.
I head back up the street toward my original target, the red neon sign. Like the characters baojian, zu too is an abbreviation, for zuliao, “foot treatment” or zudao, “foot reflexology.” The shop advertises the former, but the words are interchangeable: all foot massage parlors offer the same set of foot and body massage services, zu being the ubiquitous signifier of massage in China.
A madam welcomes me and summons a masseuse, Xuelin, Snowy Jade, a plain-faced but cheery young Chongqing native. Once again I ask if I can use a towel instead of the disposable shorts she hands me. No problem, she says. She goes to fetch a towel. She arrives back with the madam a moment later to explain that I have to use the shorts after all.
I lay down on the low massage divan with a hole to rest the head in when prone. Snowy Jade seems to like me and clamps her thighs provocatively over my head as she leans over and reaches down over my ass to slip her hands under the paper shorts. The house oil is olive (gone are the days when baby oil was it), velvety smooth and gorgeous on the flesh.
More crucially, she has the “touch.” Love in her hands. Only a minority of massage workers have the touch, but those who do, it’s incomparably delicious, the electrically charged layer of oil separating their warm hands from incipient attack, hovering and jiggling over the flesh. Even when the massage is wholly nonsexual, it’s more than worth it to find someone with the touch, to have your neck or your feet stroked like the shaft of your penis, and if you’re lucky, to then have your balls spread apart like your ass and foot reflexology performed on your cock.
Snowy Jade exposes my ass and applies oil between my legs. She’s not shy about it. She kneads my butt cheeks and works her way between them, digging her fingers down to the anus and perineum, though without scooping up my testicles. That’s okay; she’s pacing the suspense. She replaces the shorts and turns me over. She slips her hands underneath with sufficient oil to saturate the pubic hair, while her fingers snake around the base and reach to the root of the erect cock, as if digging it out of the soil. I want her to grab my shaft below the balls like the handle of a gun but refrain from verbal directives. She seems to be enjoying my torment, and I suspect the session will end in a cliffhanger. I could ask her to extend it another half hour, at a 50% hike in the price, as I sometimes do on the off chance they bring me off, but I actually prefer the fraught ambivalence of the scene. It leaves me energized. I exit the shop explosively fired up and bloated with anticipation of the long evening ahead.
I continue down the street in the same direction for two hours, determined to slice a line across this section of the grid. The stretch soon empties out into a dusty industrial zone of car repair shops, corporate buildings, undeveloped plots strewn with rubbish, and huge construction sites sprouting residential towers that will in turn attract a slew of fresh massage parlors when the new communities spring to life a year or two down the line.
Local businesses start reappearing and life resumes.I pass dozens of the most plentiful type of shop to offer massage, the meirong, or beauty salon. They run the gamut from filthy makeshift shacks to large chain operations. Body massage is usually offered, but the hairdressers are seldom very practiced at it, devoting their energies instead to a bit of head and neck massage while shampooing you. Many of the seedier affairs are salons only in name but actually brothels with washed-up prostitutes milking the last few years they can out of their trade. It’s the rare salon—an attractive woman catching my eye from inside or a sharply designed sign in the window listing massage services—that causes me to halt and have a closer look. Needless to say none this evening entices me and I suspect none will.
You can go five minutes in any direction in a Chinese city and come upon some sort of massage service. But as I have grown pickier over time (it’s not so much the awful encounters as the mind-blowing ones that have raised my standards), I find myself walking for hours before finding a place my intuition allows me to take a chance on. Some days turn up nothing. Either way, I gain. The more I get massaged, the more fun I have. But the more I prowl, the more exercise I get. After scouring most of the neighborhoods of this vast metropolis, and large swaths of other Chinese cities as well on my frequent business trips, I have lost much weight. I am no longer pre-diabetic, in my middle age, or have a fatty liver condition. For the first time in years, women glance my way on the street. Women who had long been one tier above and just out of reach are now signaling their availability, though I can scarcely fit them into my busy schedule anymore with so much more territory yet to cover in order to cross off all the grids on the map of every city (something I will never be able to do in any case since new massage places pop up at a faster rate than I am able to track them down).
A word of advice to those considering my method of weight loss. You can’t just exercise and expect to lose weight. The body doesn’t work that way. The more you exercise, the more calories your body demands you consume to restore lost energy; caloric expenditure and gain remain constant, canceling each other out (and leaving so many confused as to why they never lose weight). Dieting may win battles but always loses the war as you inexorably spring back to your default weight. So what’s the secret? To break the cycle, you need to exercise to the point where you so thoroughly exhaust yourself that you lose your appetite. It won’t do to walk for a mere one or two hours; you need to go on for four or five hours. You need to keep walking till your legs become so rubbery you start stumbling. Obviously, this isn’t exercise in the usual sense. Rather, we’re back in the Stone Age, when the number of miles racked up was dictated by the hunt.
In the eight or so free hours available to me after I get off work, I can rack up as many as twenty miles and still squeeze in a few massages—if I’m not passed out on the massage table from exhaustion, as if anesthetized on the operating table. I aim on average for 100 miles per week, which I calculate can enable me to traverse every street of urban China in five more years. By that time, admittedly, new establishments will have replaced most of the ones I have visited, and I will have to start all over again.
Back to Fengtai in Beijing. I come across a new prospect, a zhongyi clinic, the characters standing for traditional Chinese massage, a type I don’t like. Done over the clothes with rough pinching, pushing and pounding, it has to be the most unsensual massage ever invented. But oil massage tends to be offered to supplement business, and the emphasis on the acupressure points occasionally makes for satisfying results: several of these points are located in the pubis close to the genitals. Moreover, of all the different types of massage establishment, it’s the ones of a puritanical mien that intrigue and excite me, at the possibility, given human weakness, they will slip up.
The shop has a glaring, hospital-style interior, a poster on one wall with a meridian map of the human body, framed stolid-faced photos of the therapists and their credentials on another, and the matching persons standing around in white smocks. They have a variety of remedies for different ailments. Every square inch of my body is always in need of attention and only full-body oil massage can cure this. Binghui, Ice Flower, from Hebei and in her forties, leads me to a bare fluorescent-lit room. She has no objection to my request to replace the disposable shorts with a towel.
If the body is a landscape, the mountains and valleys are considered by some masseuses to be scenery best viewed at a distance. Others rush to explore nature at its most riotous. Ice Flower is completely stymied by this choice and doesn’t know what to do, lurching back and forth in a paralysis of confusion. As she works my belly, her jerky stroking causes the edge of the towel to slip over the tip of my flaccid penis. I suppose the sight of a turtle’s head emerging from its shell is equally distressing to certain people. Yet she digs her fingers in closer until I get hard and it stands free. Mind you, at no point am I doing anything to encourage her.
“Cover yourself up,” she chides.
The person being massaged is normally not required to have to engage in any motor activity. “Why don’t you cover me up?”
“Cover yourself up,” she repeats, before replacing the towel herself.
The same transpires when she bunches the towel around my groin to access the thighs. As she works one inner leg and approaches my balls, she manipulates my perineum quite deliberately just under them, quickly making me hard again. Her shaky fingers cause the towel to fall off, and she proceeds to stroke upward along my erection short of actually grabbing it.
“Cover yourself up,” she says again.
“I don’t mind. Cover me up yourself if you have to.”
Once more she replaces the towel, and once more, while doing the other thigh, she stimulates me to exquisite unveiled hardness.
“Cover yourself up.”
“Cover yourself up!” she exclaims.
“That’s enough.” I get up and dressed and pay the full price for the aborted session, which is only 160 yuan anyway. And oddly worth it. I’ve never had anyone quite like her before, as exasperating as it was for both of us.
Nearby I espy another common type of shop, with the characters mangren, “blind person” or massage by the blind. The only form of employment for China’s blind millions, it’s a big industry. They have a reputation for being quite effective at massage, and many people make use of their services; they are also among the least expensive. The reality, however, is that the run of blind masseurs and masseuses aren’t up to the job. Just because you have high tactile sensitivity doesn’t mean you will be good at massage. Many of these poor folk are from the countryside and are naturally grateful to find any kind of work, but it doesn’t follow that they are into touching people’s bodies. You can’t be accomplished at massage unless you enjoy touching people. Few do, and most massages I have received by the blind were perfunctory and disappointing. I suppose there must be some outstanding blind masseurs out there, but they must compete with a large number of outstanding seeing masseurs who are into their work.
I’m in the mood for a hassle-free oil massage. The place is decked out pseudo-hospital style like the previous clinic, though it’s just a small converted apartment with reclinable chairs in the main area for foot treatment and a side room for body work, where I am led by the male proprietor, the sole person on hand. I have no problem being massaged naked by men, even when they go for my private parts, as they occasionally do even in blind massage joints. To clear up a major point of confusion about this, and after long experience I cannot emphasize it enough, it’s not who massages you but his or her skill that counts. I would rather be erotically stimulated by a randy old fart than a young beauty if he happens to be better at it. Sure, all things being equal, I’ll take the beauty, especially if she’s into mutual stimulation (most aren’t), but on the other hand I crave variety, and the contrasting dynamics of being manhandled nicely punctuates the interminable series of masseuses.
From the Hebei countryside, Junyi, Handsome Righteous, is partially blind and at ease making his way around the shop. He persuades me to buy for 100 yuan a little bottle of jasmine-scented oil instead of the regular oil, assuring me I can keep whatever is left. He slaps the oil over my back, buttocks, testicles, and legs. What he fails to communicate (not sure whether it’s his thick accent or he doesn’t know the difference) is that it’s not oil at all but 100% jasmine essence.
“What the hell are you doing!” I yell. “Are you crazy? You can’t use pure essence directly on the flesh!”
He thinks it’s hilarious and roars a belly laugh. More insane than blind, there seems to be something wrong with Handsome Righteous. Not only is concentrated aroma essence injurious to the skin (being normally diluted in a much larger portion of carrier oil), it can be toxic in high doses. My scrotum begins to burn. I make him wipe it off with a wet towel and neutralize the rest of my flesh with copious amounts of plain oil. He’s awful at massage, incapable of modulating his violent stroking no matter how many times I tell him to slow down and lighten up. I grimly decide to go through with it. When he turns me over, he reaches for my cock. This wouldn’t be so bad if the burning stopped, but it’s getting worse, all over my body now, and I need to get to a shower fast. I flee the shop.
I backtrack down the street some twenty minutes to a large xiyu zhongxin, or “bathing center.” The entrance fee is steep at 200 yuan (20 yuan only a decade ago), though this includes an elaborate buffet dinner along with the option to stay overnight in the shared resting room. Annoyingly, these former oases for transients now make you register with your ID or passport, and it’s one of the reasons I no longer patronize bathhouses.
A female hostess in a silk cheongsam begs me to try out the personally assisted “deluxe” wash-down for 398 kuai and promises I won’t be disappointed. That’s a lot and things are starting to get out of hand but I’m a sucker for the potential new experience—there aren’t too many left—and go for it. I follow her to a room partitioned into cubicles with a massage table, a shower apparatus, and a curtain.
A shapely Heilongjiang woman named Chenxi, Morning Sun, enters and strips off her bikini. She has long pendulous breasts. I lay face up on the table as she hoses me down. She’s good and telescopes her movements like a professional nurse.
“Stop!” I say, as she starts applying a salt paste to my burning flesh.
When she spreads a creamy soap over me, with particular thoroughness in the anus, I spring an erection. Adding more soap, she slides her breasts over my cock for a good ten seconds. This is so intense that another second or two and I would have shot. She repeats the procedure with milk, pumping me yet closer to the brink and again knowing exactly when to stop, and follows this by coating my body in honey, with more tit-fucking, and a final rinsing off with the hose. We dry off. She asks me to go with her into another room. As this likely involves several more hundred yuan, I’ve seen all I need to see and get back on the road.
Ah, the xiyu, the bathhouse. They used to be on every block in the ’80s, shabby little affairs called yuchi, built exclusively for showering purposes at a time when most urban Chinese still didn’t have running hot water in their homes. The luxury bathing revolution began in earnest in the ’90s when bathhouses were enlarged and outfitted with ornate Greco-Roman decor and statuary, mosaic-tiled or gold-plated pools, theatrical entertainment, licentious variety shows, private party rooms, tiered massage services and sex workers of all stripes. Unfortunately the masseuses, though on occasion spectacularly good, were mostly poorly trained and blasé, and after visits to hundreds of bathhouses the novelty wore off and I grew bored. The familiar ones have all been torn down anyway. The offspring stepping in their place are the monstrous pleasure palaces known by such monikers as xiuxian or shangwu, “rest and relaxation” or “business” halls. They are at once more inclusive and family-friendly than the old bathhouse and exclusive and priced increasingly out of people’s reach.
Yu remains the prominent signifier for “bathing,” and like zu is often seen gracing the neon sign by itself, logo-like, its molten gleam beckoning from afar. The water radical’s three droplets on the left; the character for valley on the right: to wash in the water of the valley. The character is said to have originally depicted a bathing figure standing in a basin. There is general consensus that the four sloping strokes of “valley” represent flowing or spraying water. A highly emotive character, seven of its ten strokes expressing water, yu today evokes not just water’s allure but the venue itself where one can both bask in water and be massaged, whereas zu evokes the smaller type of venue where one’s feet can bask in water as one is being massaged.
Upon exiting the bathhouse my eyes laser onto a neon sign in a second-floor apartment window of an adjacent residential complex, a meirong offering anmo. Massage businesses in residential buildings are often a good bet. Their comparative inaccessibility—you have to circle all the way round to the gate of the complex and then find your way up to the shop—makes them eager to please customers and expand beyond the pool of aging ladies they serve in their building.
I open the salon door to the smell of women’s bodies and accoutrements. No one flinches at the improbable male foreigner. I’m ushered into a room with a massage table. The stunning masseuse who walks in is wearing not the usual uniform but a gauzy sleeveless summer dress. She has the jacked-up jaws and butt of the classic female form, complemented by eyes so exotically slanted she looks almost alien. I wonder what someone so hot is doing holed up in a place like this.
We’re attracted to each other. She stares as I undress and mount the table naked and fully erect. Her hands soon make their way up my leg between my thigh and my balls. The massage is out of control. When she turns me over, I pull her dress down off her shoulders and tits. We start smooching. Cautioning me with finger on mouth, she locks the door and lodges the massage table up against it. She pulls her panties off and we fuck right on the tiled floor in sitting position. It’s highly awkward and we stop after a minute or two, vowing to meet in a more comfortable environment (though she’ll have to cross the city over to my place if she wants to meet soon).
She stretches out the rest of the session with more stroking and chatting. Yeqiuzi, Autumn Leaf, is 32, married with a kid living with her mother back home in Lanzhou, Gansu Province, and is separated from her husband. She wants to finish me off but I hold back and get dressed. We exchange numbers. She doesn’t want any extra money. I pay the 180-yuan massage fee to the boss, as if nothing out of the ordinary took place. Autumn Leaf disappears into the back of the salon winking at me, a surprised wink, suggesting she found developments not only fun but funny.
While exhausted from walking, I’m not yet ready to call it quits for the night. In the taxi to home I text a woman named Teri who advertises 24-hour “supremely satisfying” house calls for 200 yuan in a local online English zine. She responds immediately and is already on her way before I’m back.
I quickly shower and go to meet her at the gate of my complex. To my acute disappointment, I recognize her. About a year ago I made the acquaintance of a woman online named Tina who had posted a salaciously worded ad for dating foreign men. We met at a bar. In her late thirties, she was lanky and gaunt; a face of hard edges and shaved penciled-in eyebrows drawn too close together and extending across her temples. Her neat blouse and white slacks weren’t quite as tacky as the rest of her, yet it was pretty evident she was a prostitute. When I failed to show enough interest to ask her price, she began mocking my lack of manhood. We parted a few minutes later in mutual contempt.
Here Tina is again, or rather Teri, or Tingzi to be exact, her untranslatable Chinese name clear in my memory, with its resemblance to dingzi, the word for “nail,” as in the thing you hammer. I have no explanation for why I now let things proceed instead of calling an immediate halt. She could raise a ruckus at having come all the way over here for nothing, even if I pay for her taxi. She could refuse to leave and follow me to my apartment. Not wishing to aggravate things, I bring her up.
“How much you pay for that?” she asks, pointing to a Chinese scroll on my wall.
“You were cheated.”
“I don’t think so. I bought it directly from the artist, and it’s very good.”
“Why you spend so much money?”
She’s the kind of Chinese who refuses to speak her language with me, though my ability in it is perfectly adequate. I regret telling her how much the painting is worth. “I only want an oil massage,” I reiterate. “Nothing else. 200 plus taxi equals 250.”
“250? No! 300. Taxi 50 each way.”
“Where do you live?”
“Very far. You have oil?”
“You didn’t bring any?”
“Why I should bring oil?”
I pour some olive oil in a bowl. We go into my bedroom and I take my clothes off.
“Hey!” she says. “You want me touch you there is more money. No underwear I charge you 400.”
“You can’t even massage my ass?”
“Okay, 400. I want you to be very thorough everywhere on my body.”
What follows is a rubdown so incompetent I wonder if she’s ever massaged anyone in her life. Her limp hands make a few passes over my backside, buttocks and legs before she has me turn over.
“That’s it? You haven’t spent five minutes on me and I have to turn over already? How is this going to last an hour?”
“An hour, you kidding? You think I have so much time?”
Massages normally last an hour but it occurs to me she had not in fact specified the duration of the session in her ad. A regrettable oversight on my part. Things are not getting off to a good start. “If I’m paying 300 yuan I should at least get a proper—”
“What you mean 300? We agreed 400!”
“Yeah, 300 plus 100 for taxi.”
“No, 400 plus taxi! That’s 500.”
“What are you talking about? Of course, I assume you meant 300 plus taxi. Now you want 400 for a lousy massage that only lasts a couple minutes? That’s cheating me!”
“Cheating you? No, you cheat me!”
“I will not continue with this unless you give good and fair service.”
“Where’s your toilet?”
“Over there, by the kitchen,” I point.
A minute later she returns and places a knife grabbed from the kitchen against my throat. “You difficult customer for me, I don’t have time for you. Nobody ever cheat me! What’s this?” she says, flipping up my cock on the blade of the knife. “Why you can’t get hard? What kind of man you are? I know what kind you are. You ask women come over give you massage but don’t want pay. You cheap. You think you can fool me? I can see you cheap first time I meet you. I don’t let you sleep with me because you don’t want pay. Now you don’t want pay again. You have so much money but you don’t want spend on women. You want me massage this thing?” she says with disgust, as she lifts up my scrotum on the tip of the knife and stretches it until it snaps back.
“No. I want you to leave.”
“Tell you what. You give me 400 total, I leave now. I have busy night with other customers, much better than you.”
I pull my pants on and go into the hallway, where I hand her the money. She’s still pointing the knife at me.
“Would you please put the knife down and leave?”
“Why, you scared?” She throws it at me. I step out of the way and it lands on the floor.
“Get the fuck out before I call the police!”
As I push her out the door, she scratches my neck, drawing blood.
It’s not a serious cut but I need a few minutes to stanch the flow. Once patched up, I throw on a shirt and go down to check that she’s not hanging around outside the building. With the coast clear, I head back up.
I open a bottle of wine and contemplate the adventures of the day. Though things ended on a less than satisfactory note, I would have to call it, on balance, a good day.
# # #
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The Exact Unknown and Other Tales of Modern China