Talking with a female massage worker in Changsha, Hunan
I tried to take a break from writing field notes by getting a massage, but as usual the stories find me.
27 year old female, grew up in a town in the mountains 5 hours outside of Guilin, Guizhou.
She went to a vocational school near Wuhan with an older cousin to learn construction management but the school lied to them & didn't teach them anything. But she was too afraid to tell her parents that their money was being wasted so she stayed silent and finished the program and got her certificate.
7 years ago, she visited her friend's village and she met her cousin. She ended up marrying him, his village is 7 hours from her town. Her husband gave her family only 10,000rmb, which is considered a low marriage payment, but her dad approved of the their wedding because he "was not in the business of selling his daughter, as long as he was good to her he approved."
Her husband works as a miner in Guizhou, she works as a masseuse in Changsha, Hunan. They see each other 1 time a year and have a 1 and half year old daughter who they have seen once since she was born. Her husband's mom takes care of her. When they went home during Chinese New Years, her mother-in-law told her daughter to call her, "mommy." Though, when her baby cried or smiled, she looked to her mother-in-law, and not her or her husband. I asked if this made her feel sad, she said,
"what does it matter? sure I feel sad, but back in our town this is normal. Everyone has their parents raise their baby. We all work in cities far away."
She uses a feature Nokia phone & only texts on it. She bought a laptop so that she could chat with her husband when he goes to the Internet cafe. She uses wifi from another office downstairs. The massage boss has wifi but put a password on it when he saw workers streaming movies when they were resting. During breaks, everyone does their laptop out and they joke that they could open up an internet cafe. She locks her computer up downstairs when working and sleeps with it next to her in the dorms because things get stolen all the time.
She could make more money working as a masseuse Guangzhou but then she would have to sleep or do other "stuff" with her clients. She chose to work in Changsha because she says it is a stable place to "get my next meal for a conservative person like me who doesn't want to do stuff with men." She has been working here for 1 year and found the job through a friend. She likes is here because her boss supports his workers when customers ask for sex services. Every time men try to sleep with her or asks for a penis massage, she says no and if they insist she stops.
One time, a customer got really mad and refused to pay the bill when she walked out mid-way through the 1 hour massage after he wouldn't take "no" for an answer. He went to the counter and told them that she was a bad masseuse and he would not pay for such horrible service. Her night manager called her out to understad the situation. After the customer yelled at her for again, she got really frustrated and screamed, "I wanted to finish your massage, but you wanted me to do stuff that we don't do here. You are dog shit," and walked away.
I asked her how it was resolved, and she sighed, "I came back out to said sorry and then he paid and left." I was shocked and aksed why she apologized when he clearly was in the wrong. She explained,
"Oh you know, it's just how it goes, I called him a very dirty word so I had to apologize. Sometimes, you have to give people some face to get what you want. He paid, and that is all that matters. We didn't want to make it a bigger deal, our boss wasn't there, and we didn't want him to find out."
She tells me that it's only the young males try to sleep with the workers. We both started laughing and said almost at the same time, "that's because the older ones know where to get sex." She then added, "the young guys just want to save money and try to sneak a service in."
I asked her what her plans were next. She said
"I don't know, I can only do this until I'm 30 years old and then I'll see when the time comes. It's just good to not starve, so we take it one day at a time."
She then told me that her parents told her that when they were young, they were always looking for food and hungry. Their story always stays with her and reminds her to work hard before her body is too old. She said,
"all I can do is work, I don't know how to do anything else, but the jobs I know of all require us to look young, and one day, I'll be too old for anyone to hire."