Making it as a masseuse
By Jason Lee
I have to admit that I’m a massage addict. I’m hooked on the magical, relaxing effects that massage has, especially after a tiring day of shooting pictures that leaves many of my muscles sore.
My love for the art and my sense of curiosity brought me to the Chinese city of Zhengzhou to photograph the training center of a leading massage company – Huaxia Liangtse.
When I first saw the gloomy classrooms and humble dormitories they seemed a long way from Huaxia Liangtse’s luxurious massage stores in Beijing. But the basic conditions did not deter students.
Among the 60 trainees I photographed, my camera was gradually drawn to a young girl named Wang Feng. To be honest, she didn’t stand out among the crowd that much – she was relatively short and always wore a satchel slung over her chest. But careful observation told me that she was a serious learner and a hard worker. We talked a lot, and I was pleased to gain her trust to the point that she stopped feeling nervous in front of my camera.
As a massage addict, I’ve found that masseuses and I have many interests in common: how to have a healthy life; what it is like to work in big cities; and even what sort of unusual people we meet through our jobs.
But the more I know about masseuses, the more I feel sorry for them. That was certainly the case with Wang Feng. I learned that she was the mother of a two-year-old boy, but she had to leave home and be away from her infant child to earn more money to support her family.
I asked Wang how she felt the first time she touched a stranger’s feet, and she said she didn’t feel anything. “I tend to not think too much, my only purpose of doing this is to earn more money for my family and my kid,” she said.
“Although many people do not completely understand this occupation, I don’t want to worry too much about those opinions. I just want to work hard so that my son can have a better future.”
Sometimes, I caught her murmuring to herself during a break, “I miss my son.”
There are many people in China who are still prejudiced against the occupation of a masseuse because they associate it with the sex industry. Wang is from a small city in Henan province, where the culture is traditional and quite closed-minded. I learned that even some of her relatives disapprove of her profession.
In my personal opinion, I think people should have more respect for this workforce of millions of people, mostly women, who often face discrimination.
During my coverage of this story, I joined the students at Huaxia Liangste training center for a class about the company’s values, which talked up the advantages of being a masseuse.
The trainers told the students that it is a noble career. Firstly, they said, you are like doctors curing the sick; you are improving people’s well-being. Secondly, although this career does not require a diploma, you still have to earn the respect of your customers by perfecting your techniques. Thirdly, as long as you work hard, this company could help you fulfill your dreams, and your salary could reach around 10,000 yuan ($1,634) per month.
A low bar for beginners and a wage that can increase progressively are what attracts more and more young women to train as masseuses all over the nation. That was the case with Wang Feng.
After taking photographs at the training center, I was lucky enough to witness Wang doing her new job in Beijing, in a glamorous Huaxia Liangste store.
I was also happy to have made a new friend through covering this story. Hopefully, she can be my masseuse from now on. Of course I will need to pay. But I could spend money on anyone – why not a friend?