Along with the travel, dumplings, and noodles, massages are for sure one of the highlights of living in China. Around every corner are signs advertising foot reflexology and body massage – and they’re crazy cheap. Even 10 bucks can buy a pretty awesome foot massage, and body work doesn’t run you much more. Now that we’re approaching the end of our sojourn here, I’m taking full advantage by getting at least one a week (as well as weekly hot pot and dim sum).

But this year of pampering has definitely had its awkward moments. Like that one Sunday night back in November when I decided to switch it up and try a new spot, only to realize that I was probably the only guy to ever walk in the door who wasn’t looking for a happy ending. I’ve since learned that you can tell these places by the absence of male employees and the ridiculously short skirts on the “masseuses.” As it turns out, this is also a good technique for determining which bars to avoid (or frequent, if that’s what you’re looking for).

Even at my regular place, where I always get the same foot massage – and have often been with my wife – the creepy gal at the door constantly tries to upsell me beyond my comfort zone. The scene unfolds as follows:

Me: “Ni hao, I’d like this foot massage, please.” I point to my usual item on the menu.

Her: “Why you no try body massage today? This one very good.” She turns the page, indicating their most expensive (and extensive) body massage.

Me: “No, thank you. Just feet today.” I smile graciously, hoping that it will end there. But I know that it won’t.

Her: “This one very good. Back, shoulders, neck, arms, legs… even mysterious parts!” In case I’m not sure what she means, she leans towards me and gestures vaguely in the direction of my crotch.

I cringe, and take a step back. “No thank you, just feet today…”

And this is only one of the pitfalls of Chinese massage.

Here, you see, massage is medicine. In the West, it’s also meant to be relaxing. But in China, they’ll beat the shit out of you in order to get rid of your knots. You’ll be bruised when you walk out the door. But you sleep like a rock afterwards, and it’s amazing. There’s nothing I’ll miss more when we get back to California.

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