The sexpat (part two)

In search of a happy ending



Back to Fengtai in Beijing. I finally come across a new prospect, a zhongyi clinic, the characters standing for traditional Chinese massage, a type of massage 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 is frequently 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 boasting the most puritanical outlook that intrigue and excite me, at the possibility, given human weakness, that 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 massage remedies for different ailments. Every square inch of my body is eternally 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 with a massage table. 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 masseuses 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 extend completely out of the towel. 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 cock to access the thighs. As she works one inner leg and approaches my groin, she manipulates my perineum quite deliberately just under the balls, quickly making me hard again. The pulsating of her fingers causes the towel to fall off, and she proceeds to stroke upward along my erection short of actually grabbing it. “Cover yourself up,” she repeats 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. It was oddly worth it since I’ve never had anyone quite like her before, as exasperating the massage was for both of us.

Nearby I espy another common shop, with the characters mangren, “blind person” or massage by the blind. It’s a big industry, being the only form of employment for China’s blind millions. 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’re blind and 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. Most people don’t, and most massages I have received by the blind have been perfunctory and disappointing. I suppose there must be some outstanding blind masseurs out there, but they are competing against 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 massage chairs in the main room and a side room for private massage, 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 emphasise 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 literally 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 have him wipe it off with a wet towel and neutralise the remainder on my body 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 realise I need to get to a shower fast. I flee the shop.

I backtrack down the street twenty minutes to a large xiyu zhongxin, or “bathing centre”. The entrance fee is steep at 200 yuan (20 yuan only a decade ago), though this now includes an elaborate buffet dinner along with the option to stay overnight in the shared resting room. Annoyingly, they now make you register with your ID or passport, and it’s one of the reasons I no longer patronise bathhouses, since sometimes all I want is a sauna and shower.

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 potentially new experience – there aren’t too many left – and go for it. I follow her to a room partitioned into cubicles each 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 massage table as she hoses me down. She works expertly, her movements telescoped like a professional nurse. “Stop!” I say, as she starts applying a salt paste to my burning flesh. When she skips to the next step, spreading a creamy soap over me, with particular thoroughness in the anus, I spring an erection. Adding more soap, she slides my cock vigorously between her breasts 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 to the brink) and a final rinsing off with the hose. We dry off. She asks me to go with her into another room. I want to get to know Morning Sun better but this likely involves several more hundred yuan. I decide 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, when they were called yuchi, shabby little affairs 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 greatly 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. My present emergency aside, I have long stopped patronizing them. 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.

The bathhouse is on the opposite side of the street from the direction I was originally walking, and from my new angle upon exiting my eyes laser onto a small neon sign in a second-floor apartment window of the adjacent residential complex, a meirong offering anmo. Massage businesses in residential buildings are generally 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 served in their building.

I open the salon door to the smell of women’s accoutrements and their bodies. No one flinches at the improbable male foreigner, and 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 immediately drawn to each other. She doesn’t hand me the usual shorts but stays in the room and stares as I undress and mount the table naked and fully erect.

Yeqiuzi, Autumn Leaf, is thirty-two, married with a kid living with her mother back home out in Lanzhou, Gansu Province, and is separated from her husband. As we chat, her hands encircle my leg and slide all the way up 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 uncomfortable and 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 massage. As usual I like the erotic tension and stop her from finishing me off. We exchange numbers. She doesn’t want any extra money. I get dressed and pay the 180-yuan massage fee to the boss, as if nothing out of the ordinary took place. Autumn Leaf disappears winking at me into the back of the salon, 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. I have the number at hand of a masseuse named Teri who advertises 24-hour “supremely satisfying” house calls for 200 yuan in a local online English zine and text her in the taxi on my way back home. She responds immediately and is able to arrive shortly after I do.

After quickly showering back at my place, I go to meet her at the gate of my complex. When she gets out of the taxi, to our acute disappointment, we recognise each other, About a year ago I met 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 rather Tingzi, 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. I don’t wish to aggravate things, so 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.”

“What? You can’t even massage my ass?”


“Okay, 400. I want you to be very thorough everywhere on my body.”

What follows is a massage 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 as far as she can before 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 give her the 400 yuan from my wallet. 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 manage to 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 it takes 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.

Originally from Chicago, author Isham Cook has been based in Beijing since 1994. Read part one of our hero's adventures here