Fast forward another four months. I’ve been going to my SPA for seven months now, through the winter and into the beginning of spring. Now, I usually try to go once a week after work, though in the beginning I sometimes went twice a week because they were so pushy about it. I sometimes wonder whether I would be willing to go more often if the experience were actually enjoyable. Then I remember that if the experience were more enjoyable, I wouldn’t be pushed to go so often, which means I would actually go as often as I wanted to — which is something more like once a month.
So why do I sacrifice myself to this tortuous ritual? Because I’m a cheapskate. Every time they try to scam me, I vow never to go back. But then I remember that I forked over more than $1,000 to these amateurs, so I am going to get at least some of money back through their amateur services. I still have something like 16 back massages, eight head massages and a handful of facials left — if I did one treatment a week, I’d still have to go for at least the next five months. I am sometimes really tempted to go more often, just to get it all over with, but I don’t think I can deal with them that often.
To be honest, I thought I’d seen it all. It had all become fairly routine. I would go in for a back massage, or switch it up with a different treatment, listen to their stories, answer their questions, bite my tongue when they tell me how unhealthy I am, and generally humor them. It would be just about tolerable, if not enjoyable. At the very least, I would be getting a back massage. But the last time I went, they went too far.
That day, I had decided to get the eponymous facial. Except for the place being rather empty and my usual beauty therapist taking the day off, my appointment started routinely enough. I was assigned a new SPA lady who had joined after the Chinese New Year, and because it was a slow day, another new SPA lady joined us in the room to chit chat. We all had spoken before, though I didn’t really remember who they were or what was said. Anyway, everything was going well enough until the new boss lady came in to chit chat as well. Pretty soon, she turned the conversation toward my face skin, which she said was dry and freckly because of blockages in my neck and chest. She continued in a bit of exaggeration that I was totally unprepared for: Apparently, no matter how many facials I got, my face skin would never be not dry and freckly until the blockages in my neck and chest were cleared.
While I was confused and no longer sure of what the facial I was getting was supposed to do, she proceeded to gua a section on the right side of my neck and just above my right boob. The pain replaced my confusion, and I was left with no time to sort out what was happening.
“You see?!” the SPA boss cried as she abused me with a small, flat stone. “I knew just by looking at you what the problem was!”
“Look how dark your sha is!” she exclaimed in disgust, feigning shock and disbelief.
Everyone else in the room gasped and tutted their disapproval. I was handed a small mirror so I could see the offense, even though I was already acutely aware of the resulting bruising. I wasn’t quite sure what my reaction or response was supposed to be, but I was starting to feel like a freak show. I decided to ask what I was supposed to do about it, but instead of getting some helpful tips, I just got gua‘d on my arm along with more displays of revulsion. The SPA boss kept trying to come up with ways how such severe sha would affect my health, such as causing bad face skin to cancer. Cancer! Did I know understand what she was saying?
I understood what she was saying, but I did not fall prey to their hysteria. I’ve seen this trick before! I patiently let the SPA boss assault the devious sha out of my arm, but it was so painful that I had to ask her to be more gentle — to which she crowed, “I’m already not using any force! It’s just so bad!!” She continued to dig her tool into my skin and scrape away fiercely. When she was done, she triumphantly told me to use the mirror to look at my bruised arm. I think she wanted me to be alarmed, but I was mostly just mad that she had bruised up my entire upper body for who knows how long. It has gotten really warm already, and it is no longer long-sleeve and scarf weather. How was I going to cover it all up?
I didn’t know what to do. At first I wanted to cry because of the pain, but the SPA ladies kept telling me how horrifying my sha was and how I must do something about it, so then I wanted to cry because they were so exasperating. I was asked if my arm felt more relaxed, but all I felt was tingling. I was asked if I wanted to do my left side, but I got confused because I thought they were already going to do my left side. Out of pride, I said of course I want to do my left side. It turned out that they’d charge me one of my facials for it. Then they asked if I wanted to continue to get this treatment, in which case they could change my remaining facials into gua sha for my neck, chest and arms — but then I wouldn’t have any facials left, so would I like to buy more facials? They are offering a package deal of 24 facials for RMB 5,888 for new customers, but they could see if they could offer it to me if I wanted…
By this point, I had been at the SPA for almost two hours, my arms were on fire, and they were still trying to sell me more stuff. I wanted to storm out, but there was goop all over my face. They had trapped me in their tiny SPA room on their tiny SPA bed, and I was prisoner to their horrified screeching of a sales pitch. “A Chinese person would never let it get so bad!” they moaned. I tried to ask again what I could do about it, such as eating better or exercising, but it seemed that the only way to get rid of it was to scrape it away or soak in a tub of Chinese herbal medicine — both of which my SPA conveniently offers.
So did I want to buy more facials?
Livid, I asked when they would finish my current facial. The SPA boss appeared to take the hint and left me in peace for the remainder of my facial. I left in a huff, without booking my next appointment, and gave my temporary SPA lady a terse “bye” as I stepped onto the elevator. Though I had finally won against my SPA, I could not feel proud. I had spent RMB 9,000 there on more back massages than I ever wanted, and for what? Beijing would just dry out my face again, and I looked like I just lost a street fight. The only thing I could be grateful for was my jacket, which had a high collar I could use to hide my new battle scars.
I do not want to go back, but also do not want them to win and take all my money for nothing. I am going back tonight. That’ll show them, right?