Almost every week, it seems like a new Asian foot massage business opens in town. It amazes me how these people can come together to get a fully staffed business up and running in such a short amount of time. For them there is no shortage or bad economy. Every time I see an ad for a grand opening of one of these, I wonder how I missed that bond or why more cultures don’t come together in the same way to build each other up. I have wondered if these cultures do not have competition, discomfort, fear and fraud between them; that is, the energies that have pushed back so many other ethnic groups, including my own. They seem to appreciate that one person can have a dream for a business, but it takes more than that person to put it all together. I appreciate it too…and give Asians a lot of credit for this essential trait.
So I was curious about this “foot massage business” and since I can’t always afford a massage, it seemed like an inexpensive option. After all, the Asian community is at the forefront of reflexology and oriental therapeutic treatments, so receiving sessions from them is highly beneficial; even if it’s just a “learning experience”. It is necessary to indulge here, that many of these businesses have a history or seem to have a connection to the porn industry. There are all kinds of stories of police arrests among other undercover operations across the state/country. Some are not “shy” about promoting their services and their ads can be found in cheap and/or free local magazines and newspapers. In fact, I know people, men and women (but especially men) who have sponsored and gotten their “happy jerks.” This indulgence is either an advantage or a disadvantage depending on who you are and what you’re looking for in a massage. As a therapist, one has to make a decision as to whether or not they want their profession to align with this for the sake of money, and/or whether they want to dignify their skill set and keep their profession honorable.
Every few weeks I notice coupons in one of those junk mail coupon magazines, advertising 60-minute foot massages for $19.99. I thought, wow… that’s cheap… I wonder what they do in the 60 minutes… The ad stated that they added shoulder/back, head and hand massage with foot reflexology, and that there was the option of getting a full body massage for $35.00 using special herbal oils. So I called and told them I wanted to see them but didn’t make an appointment. I drove up shortly after and looked through the glass doors. It was so dark that I could only see my own reflection. I opened the door and looked around, but maybe it was too bright outside for my eyes to quickly adjust to the darkness inside. After a few moments, a man approached me to ask if he could help me. I looked around, said no thanks and left. All those images of the “happy-looking” men walking out of that spa-side spot I used to work for in Studio City flooded my mind and I felt dirty for having walked in…to form my own opinions. What were the pros and cons of patronizing a place like this?
My experience showed the following “pros” and “cons” combined (in no order of priority/importance):
1. It is rare to enter or leave these facilities, especially if you are a therapist.
2. Hardly anyone there speaks English. This means that your therapist will not talk to you all the time.
3. Usually you don’t want anyone to know you’re there, so turn off your phone.
4. It’s cheap! It’s worth $15-$20! $35 for full body massage! … but you get what you pay for.
5. These places are often convenient…right next to your job, for example, so you don’t have to park your car right in front of it. Just drop it off at work or the grocery store across the street.
6. The staff are usually very attractive, like the people in your beauty salons.
7. It is quite dark inside, so you may not recognize others or they may not recognize you.
8. You can give a false name and disguise yourself.
9. You don’t take your clothes off unless you go to that “back room” for the “full body” massage.
10. The general atmosphere embodies the culture of the staff.
11. Certifications and licenses are prominently posted in the “front lobby.”
12. They usually serve you right away and finish right on time.
13. Tipping is a must! The therapist waits expectantly while you pay or collect your things.
14. General reflexology takes place in a large room with other clients doing the same thing next to you.
15. Most of the prominently posted “Certifications” are copies of certifications and are not always CA certified (and one doesn’t know if they are real).
16. From a therapist’s point of view, the staff appears to have no more than 250 hours of training and in anything other than Shiatsu/Reflexology.
17. The staff is composed of men and women.
18. Be prepared for a staff member who has just come in from a smoke break.
19. You cannot choose your assistant unless you have made reservations and asked for someone by name.
20. Most of the bosses in these places seem to be white and/or non-black.
21. I think the “foot soak” is just a pan of warm water, nothing more.
22. Everyone seems to be very tired and somewhat frustrated with their work.
23. If you’re an athletic (muscular) woman, expect them to be extremely abrupt/rude (change assistants without warning and speak their language with “disdainful gestures” while doing so) and don’t protest… they won’t. I don’t understand you and I’ll move on. (My Asian colleagues have often asked me why I think I need to be so “muscular and tomboyish”… Culturally, they believe that women should be “slim but smooth” to attract and retain men. Others say “The Qi in the muscular woman is too strong. This might be why female attendants seem to opt out” and let male attendants massage me. These men acted like I was a freak and didn’t treat me like a lady I think this is because I don’t seem to be as “soft” as they thought women should be).
24. I’ve seen men get served shirtless, but ladies shouldn’t try this!
25. Ladies shouldn’t wear their sports bra or just a tank top over it, hoping to get more back and shoulder action. They will simply cover you with a towel and continue with their “robot routine”.
26. Don’t ask them not to touch your face. They don’t understand you (unless you tell the customer service person that they could translate if they understand).
27. Ladies should wear comfortable yoga type clothing. No jeans, shorts, dresses, or skirts. One would think that shorts would be nice, but I tried it and no…no…!!
28. Part of her routine is to “stretch” her legs, which from a therapist’s point of view is a Shiatsu-like stretch in the style of yoga’s “spinal twist.” Jeans are too tight and inflexible for this stretch and shorts can become groin strangling ropes and treats, especially if you have a “very jealous” male attendant. Mine seemed to have been looking for a particular reaction or to show his power. I felt that he was pleased to have “conquered” me… the tomboyish, muscular woman… (but I knew he wouldn’t understand my language if I complained, so I didn’t…)
29. There doesn’t seem to be any breaks between customers, so the staff are very tired.
30. These businesses are sometimes open from 10 am to 10:30 pm in general, but one can find some that open later.
I have decided, based on my own observations and experiences, that I will no longer patronize these establishments. My first objection is that we do not speak the same language. When I say “that hurts”; “please don’t touch my head or face”; or “I don’t want to be stretched like this”, these instructions/requests are greeted with a smile and nervous nodes and they simply continue with their routine, or until someone comes over to translate, which may be too late and/or cause a scene in this great room of service providers.
In my opinion, these are not legitimate massage therapists and give credence to those who believe that “anyone” can give a massage or do reflexology. They are in line with the other spa chains and franchises that are simply in the “business of making money” and not in the “business of people’s health and then the money”.
Legitimate bodyworkers like myself are genuinely concerned about the health and well-being of their clients and people in general. We don’t “judge” you, which in my experience, I think these places judged me.
When a person goes to receive massages in any center, they should not have to wonder if they are fat, skinny, muscular, black, short, tall, ugly, pretty or what not. Yes, in my particular business, clients will ask about their health conditions and what I find while working on them. Some will ask for suggestions on which way to go to address a health issue. Sometimes I know and sometimes I don’t. Others lament about trying to lose weight or gain weight or have low energy or pain after a workout etc and yes I have a background in nutrition and wellness as well as weight management/personal training and have no problem doing recommendations that know how to work However, this is generally not the reason to come.
Although I make recommendations on how to eat in the days following your massage session with me, this is simply to nourish the affected organs in your session and prolong your therapeutic results. The ultimate goal is for your health to improve, which will happen with your consistency in going to treatment and following the suggestions. Yesterday, a client told me that she considers my opinions/treatments to be on a par with her team of doctors. It was a sweet compliment and I believe him. She has seen results and experienced “my power” as she calls it, and it feels great that she has attracted someone so open and available to heal.
For the most part, we get massages because we think they are good for us and our health. They feel good and we want to feel good. The economy is definitely a concern, but we understand that we get what we pay for. People who patronize foot massage businesses and spa chains are often making a financial decision, not necessarily a health-related decision. I would like to be sure that my therapist has had some training at an accredited US school and is licensed and certified by the state or county in which I am receiving service. I would also like to know that the establishment is honorable with labor standards and is not related in any way to the porn industry. Finally, I would like to know that there is no prejudice; that everyone speak the language that I speak; that my money is worth as much as any other sponsor, and that my spirit and body will be honored in the professional rendering of the contracted service and for the improvement of my health and vitality.