Just so you know, I was goiong to call this post Sex and Old Ladies but while that’s a literal description of our experience, it’s still a but misleading. I went with the far less sexy, but also correct “Massage in a Hutong”…
So on our second day in Beijing we decided a post flight massage was required, and we went searching for sore muscle relief. After some stumbling (and sometimes shuffling due to the overwhelming number of slow walkers who choose Beijing as their tourist destination. Yes, I know I’m impatient!) we got through some of the more touristy hutong streets and spot a sign down an alley.
Walking into this place wasn’t like walking into a shop. There was a doorway leading down a gaveled, open aired corridor. Some doors led off it, no doubt to local abodes. We turned a few corners, stumbled over the uneven concrete and gravel pathway, heralded by the always present hanging blankets and children’s drying clothes. Seriously, these people must air their blankets daily. Which is odd when you think about the amount of pollution outside they’re airing them in.
Anyway, eventually one of the corners turns into a courtyard like cul de sac, and we find our massage parlor. And by parlor I mean a slightly intimidating dark doorway leading into a tiled small room with another small room (no doors) leading off with two beds. A fast, broken English exchange and Ee and Fee have their massages sorted and we’re heading into the room.
First off, this massage was brilliant. BRILLIANT I tell you! Who would have thought a Chinese massage in China would be so good. The best technique, no questions about whether the pressure was ok – it was great and she wasn’t negotiating anyway! Possibly one of the best I’ve ever had – and from the tiniest Chinese girl with Zoe Deschanel bangs you’ve ever seen. Honestly, if you want a massage in Beijing, I have a recommendation for you!
As I said, we were deep in the Hutongs. And it was probably the closest I’ve got to truly living like the locals do. Everyone is open. Everything is shared. Nothing is private.
For the first 15 minutes of my massage it was apparent someone in a nearby home was having sex (and by home I mean a 2 room house leading off the courtyard – of which there may have been about 10). I’m a bit of a child on the inside, so I stifled a giggle. But otherwise, the entire thing seemed to go by entirely unnoticed by everyone else.
Eventually the noise of sex was drowned out by the three little old ladies, all toothlessly smiley, who took to to their stools with great gusto in the courtyard, to comment on all around them – including me when I came to sit outside for 15 minutes when waiting for Ee to finish up her massage.
The sex continued like percussion in the background to the choir of these adorably gossipy neighborhood elders. And eventually they were gossiping and laughing so much I didn’t even notice when the sex stopped.
That was my lightbulb moment for what it must be like living here as a local. Completely open, completely shared. No privacy. No social niceties to hide behind. It’s there for everyone to see.
Our massage happened with open doors – everyone living in the hutong would’ve seen us. The sex was part of their day to day lives. There were a number of middle aged men and women, a few smaller children and these little old biddies who were all ambling inside of each others homes, sharing meals, yelling and smiling at each other. The bathrooms in the hoods often have no doors and the partition on the cubicles is only ribcage high. They don’t even do their Wake Up Wee in privacy!
All it took was sex and a few little old ladies for me to get a sense of just how exposed I’d feel living like this. Imagine, no secrets… no hiding… Everything out there, freak flag waving and all!