When people say the words “Asian massage parlor”, what do most people think of? Happy endings. Robert Kraft. Sex. In a way, this is our community’s own doing. I came to this country about a decade ago and learned that I had to do anything to survive. Us immigrants don’t understand the average American’s judgment of this. We pick up American hypocrisy and double standards really quickly. In fact, many Americans aren’t aware of their hypocrisy because they believe in laws that they want immigrants to break for them (example: Work under minimum wage). One of these so-called laws is prostitution.
It’s not fair to judge prostitution as one entity. Some girls do it because they are trafficked and some do it because it’s better than working three backbreaking jobs at once. I started in America working three backbreaking jobs. Usually immigrants work for other immigrants and nobody takes advantage more than immigrants abusing newer immigrants. I talk glowingly about money because it’s sweat for me. Women figure out really quickly that they have something sellable with their bodies and because it is our bodies, some of us choose to use that advantage to get out of peeling green beans for $3 an hour, twelve hours a day. What Americans lump in one umbrella as “prostitution” is grossly misunderstanding that in the immigrant community, there is a difference between sex and a handjob. For those who do the latter, we see it as a voluntary act of survival. It’s no difference than washing dirty dishes.
I started doing professional massage many years ago. No, I don’t sell myself for sex or a handjob and if a woman were to do so, most wouldn’t tell anyway. But since I’m Asian and in the industry, most people assume the worst. I think it’s very hard for most Asian licensed masseuses to be taken seriously. I truly know and love my craft. I’ve worked my ass off to be licensed and the last thing I need is for it to be taken away. Far too often, I’ve had horny guys objectify me and believe massage means a handjob and sex. When you’re in a small, dimly-lit room all alone with a man, it’s a potentially dangerous situation. More often than not though, it’s just a guy mildly testing the waters to get lucky.
You may jump to conclusions and assume that I might see myself as a victim, but nothing can be farther from the truth. Although I’d love to live in an ideal world where people love the art and technique of massages as much as I do, the reality is that playful banter (what Americans often mislabel as “flirting”) has helped my career. Perhaps you may think I’m doing a disservice to my fellow masseuses for taking advantage of the objectification, but I see it as a form of empowerment. I don’t have to set boundaries right away and be stone cold. Most men don’t just come for a massage; they’re lonely and just the touch and conversation with a woman can sometimes loosen their mind as much as my touch loosens their body. The boundaries are still there, however.
I do this because Asian massage shops have a very difficult time competing with native-born American spas because of our reputation of exotic-ness. Seldom will rich white women come to my shop. Married white men? That’s a different story. We don’t have the luxury of standing firm and being a “regular” spa. We have to exotify the types of massages, including common ones like Swedish. Our stores are decorated with bamboos and water fountains, bead curtains and, of course, zen-like Chinese music. I don’t judge the Asian massage parlors that offer voluntarily happy endings; they’re just trying to survive, but not all Asian spas stoop to those services.
Of course, more often than not, I get the happy ending question. It comes in a lot of ways…some men ask directly. Most touch me to hint what’s on their, well, I won’t say minds. I can only say this: Masseuses that offer happy endings will initiate the hinting. If there’s no hinting, they’re not offering, which is an unspoken rule I wish more men would understand. I know there are websites that scout our spas and talk about us. Sometimes they lie. All I know is that the dream of a female Asian masseuse being seen on neutral, professional terms is gone since day one. I truly, honestly love the art and health benefits of massage, but I know there’s a stereotype of exoticism and I personally choose to ride with it. I ride on the innocent side of it (the decorations of my shop, the Eastern-themed massage techniques) while also edging myself along the playful banter border.
There’s been a lot of judgment about Asian massage parlors since the Robert Kraft story. I won’t deny that some of these parlors offer happy endings. Many in the Asian-American community have defended us wrongly by denying handjobs exist. Of course they exist in some spas. This is the truth. The real angle of all this should be, why do the American people pick on Asian-owned spas so much? Why do we get placed into one group that’s almost always about human trafficking? If the news is to be believed, every single Asian massage parlor is doing human trafficking. This is simply a scary exaggeration meant to turn the masses against our businesses, I feel. It prevents people from visiting the many Asian-owned spas that are legit. Asians have done so well in our spa ownerships that we’re making the lawmakers and media nervous. If they can just find a way to separate the places that are human trafficking and leave our massage businesses alone, I’d appreciate it. People in Asia understand that, why can’t Americans?
Most female masseuses, regardless of color, are tough. It’s double that when you’re an Asian woman. I’ve learned to laugh with the negatives, because being angry, as some of my colleagues have, will not make me last long. Men have done everything from cum on my massage tables to straight up robbing me. They see me as weak and easy; they expect me to fold. Needless to say, there is a happy ending in all of this…for me. I’m now doing well with my own massage shop and have successfully made a career out of it. I have a lot of great clients and the days of rough men and danger have minimalized. Of course, as long as the stigma of the erotic Asian sex parlors and dragon ladies exist in movies and the news, along with all the real life shops that keep this reputation alive, I know things will always be an uphill battle for Asian women masseuses and Asian spa businesses. But this has always been that way for all massage businesses, even in Asia. It’s just how the industry is.
I choose to roll with it and let it work to my advantage.
Julia Wei is a professional masseuse/entrepreneur and owner of Harmony Spa. Visiting Houston? Come check her spa out at 3409 Spencer Hwy. Ste. 200, Pasadena, Texas 77504. Website: www.harmonymassagespa.net