Ran out of time for a Doctor’s appointment the other day, did a quick change into a suit for my evening Masonic Lodge function, stuffed everything into my bag and out the door of the flat ASAP, just after the Sri Lankan amah arrived (she does the flat from top to bottom in about an hour, including bed linen).
The right bus was at the stop 20 yards from the door (public transport really really works here) and I leapt aboard and was 3 minutes late at the Government clinic near the good old Charterhouse Hotel – HK Families Clinic where I have received free medical care including free prescriptions for over thirty years.
An hour later (prescription filled in about 10 minutes) I was off for a wander around, killing time before my 18:30 hours Lodge do, with what would be in Canada about CAD$350 worth of stomach pills (4 months worth) in my bag. I bought an umbrella. This turned out to be a bad idea as after the Lodge do I was forced to buy another umbrella with the Lodge logo on it and proceeds going to Charity.
On the way home on the tram just before midnight I saw a foot massage sign – flashing foot shaped LED lit outlines – and on a whim jumped off the tram to investigate. Up a filthy flight of tenement stairs, another LED sign pointing at an anonymous steel door with an ‘open’ sign on it, hit the buzzer and was immediately let into a grotty little massage parlor by a tired and worn out masseuse, I guess pushing late thirties and obviously had a long hard day, orange short shorts, red off-the-shoulder sheer silk top and blue bra showing through and a pretty good figure. Hair tied up and looking a bit careworn and sweaty from a long day.
Despite her pleadings that I should have a 90 minute full body aromatherapy massage, I got started into a one hour foot massage. Jacket and shoes and socks off, cuffs and collar loosened and into the cleanest looking of four towel-covered loungers facing the TV, four numbered doors and the rest of the walls covered in faded posters advertising services in English and Chinese. No smoking sign on the wall and I asked the girl to remove the nasty plastic cup with cigarette butts in it that was on the armchair next to me.
No sooner had she got my feet washed and out of the hot water tub than the door buzzer went. A hard looking slim, lined-face mainlander looking for more than a foot massage, clearly a regular. She ushered him into one of the four grotty little private rooms, turned to me to tell me in mainland accented Cantonese to “dang yat jan” (wait one minute) then got onto the phone behind the reception counter and disappeared into the mainlander’s room.
‘Now what the fuck’, I thought, pantlegs rolled up over my knees and clean feet under a towel, staring at a 46 inch TV showing some Cantonese talk show where a long-haired very fit (and crazy-looking) Kung Fu guy was pulling red hot chains out of a blazing charcoal brazier with his bare hands.
There was another girl in the back of the parlor – a really skanky-looking strung out skinny one with lank dark hair, heavily lined and made-up tired face and dressed in a similar outfit to her colleague, but she did not appear inclined to deal with my feet.
I was thinking about putting my shoes on and dropping HK$20 and leaving, but got interested in the talk show where the Kung Fu guy had given way to a Chi Gong Master who was getting the hosts one after the other, standing with their eyes closed, to lose their balance and fall over by massaging their energy fields with his hands no closer than about two feet from them. Pretty cool, or maybe pretty faked (but more likely pretty cool).
Just as I was getting irked again, the front door was flung open and this tired looking late 40s or 50s woman dashed in, pulled off her coat, settled into the stool in front of me and started in on my tootsies. She was clearly past the “you want happy ending, Sir?” stage of her career and therefore was not dressed like the other two, comfortable black shorts and tee shirt.
Right after she slipped the latex gloves on and started in with the lotion on my feet, the doorbell went, she jumped up to open the door, girl number one stuck her head out of the mainlander’s room and another slim, happy-looking (probably half-pissed) guy in a leather jacket strolled in.
Foot girl gets back to me, number one dives back into the mainlander’s room and number two ushers leather jacket into the room at the other end of the row, handing him a towel and a little blue plastic bag containing god knows what.
Footgirl gets into her work (a pretty good sort of reflexology massage) and we strike up a conversation in Cantonese, me getting maybe a third or half of what she’s trying to tell me. We establish my history in HK, that I am divorced from an English woman and currently don’t have a wife and don’t want one, that I have a brother in California and a sister in Canada and have been in Hong Kong a long time, that we’re both tired and the massage job is a hard one.
The door buzzer goes again, footgirl and number one both dive to answer – this time another half-pissed looking guy in another leather jacket looking for action. I get that he and two friends are hoping to be accommodated.
‘My my,’ I think, ‘what a busy little knocking shop.’
Number one regretfully indicates a lack of resources and he (together with his two invisible pals) is sent away disappointed.
Next doorbell, a single customer, number one shows him into the room next to the mainlander, with the towel and mysterious blue plastic kit and dives back in with the mainlander. New guy starts inquiring loudly a few minutes later about what’s happening “Wei Wei, diu-lei jo mat-ye a?” (Hey hello, what are you fucking doing?) and number one dives out of the mainlander’s room and in with new guy.
Mainlander comes out, dressed, satisfied smile and obviously enjoyed his happy ending, nods at me, goes to leave some money on the desk near the door and turns to leave, number two girl pops out of far end room to make sure he leaves the cash then goes back in with leather jacket. Total elapsed time for the mainlander about 20 minutes. It was about this time that footgirl and I were discussing the difficulties associated with her chosen profession. All through this, footgirl keeps craning her head at the TV and every few minutes picks up the remote and changes channels.
Next at the door, a Westerner! Mid-forties maybe, casually dressed, short dark hair, glasses, slim, very surprised and somewhat uneasy at seeing me.
“Good evening,” I nod gravely and say to him.
“Ja, gooten night,” he replies – German or Austrian accent – ushered into the room the mainlander has just vacated by number one. She leaves him the towel and blue parcel (no sign of clean sheets or an amah to change the bed) and back in to next door with new guy.
Leather jacket strolls out of the far room in too-large blue shorts and off into the back somewhere. A sauna perhaps? Number two dives in to new guy’s room, number one comes out from there and back in with Westerner. I am awe-struck at the action and I discuss it with footgirl who agrees with me that this is pretty heavy traffic for a Monday night.
Footgirl continues to work on my feet, pretty good, not really professional massage, nowhere near as painful as what the Thai reflexology girls do. Footgirl keeps flicking channels. We go through talk show, mainland news, a documentary about mainland marriages subtitled in English, a karaoke pantomime about two cute teenage twin sisters chasing the same boy and finish up with a historical costume drama that features lots of screaming and crying and an apparent father – daughter reunion. Most bizarrely – there is a handsome young Westerner in 18th century costume who seems to be part of the family and mugs and overacts along with the Chinese actors and seems to get whats going on although he doesn’t have any speaking lines.
Number one emerges from Westerner’s room – slips back in to new guy’s room, number two comes out of new guy’s room and back in with leather jacket who has strolled back out of the mysterious back room in his oversized blue jockey shorts – maybe that’s what was in the blue package? Westerner emerges – he didn’t take long at all – looks at me “Ya, you shtill here?” he says – I grunt an affirmative – what a dumb question: ‘no I left ten minutes ago – you’re seeing an optical illusion’ – he shoulders his backpack, pays and off he goes.
Precisely on the dot of one hour at 01:00, footgirl finishes my massage, dries off my feet (despite my worrying she managed to avoid getting lotion on my trousers), and I put my shoes on, pay her and get set to leave. Number two pops out to make sure the money is right and new guy is leaving at the same time. Elapsed time again about 20 minutes.
Footgirl hovering waiting for her tip. So there you go:
- one hour pretty fair foot massage in a sleazy little upstairs massage parlor slash knocking shop HK$148 (say CAD $20),
- tip for hard working foot-massage girl cum language tutor HK$30 (CAD$4),
- floor show and display of human frailty and determination – priceless.
I didn’t notice if they took Mastercard.
I carefully headed back down the grotty stairs, trying not to contact the walls, clutching both of my new umbrellas. As I stood waiting at the tram stop to see if I could catch the last one to Kennedy Town, I hear a cheerful hail in Cantonese from the footpath and turn around to get a big smile and wave from footgirl, headed back to wherever she’s come from, obviously I overtipped.