Just as I approached the next busy intersection, thinking my walk on this side of the greenway was coming to an end and ready to explore the other side, I saw a massage shop. Given that I had been begging for a massage since day one, I stopped to check out the pricing list.
What really attracted me, though, was that last bit: “Digging the Ear.” Despite the poor translation, I NEEDED some ear cleaning. Little-known fun fact: I’ve always had a ton of earwax buildup, and I’ve had to get it professionally cleaned (like with a huge syringe filled with hot water to flush my ears out). Pleasant, huh. So given that it’s been a while, I figured 15 bucks for what could be multiple times that in the U.S. would be worth checking out.
I took a look at the shop and saw two ADORABLE corgis chilling on the porch. They’re my sister’s favorite. At first, I just took out my phone to take pictures, WeChat sights, and Snapchat, not yet having decided whether I want to get anything done. After asking to clarify whether it was one package for 500 or each one 500 to the Japanese owner who spoke pretty good English and Chinese, I decided I would give it a try.
Two other young girls came to get massages, and I guess seeing them made me feel a little more comfortable, as the old men inside busy massaging others and who would peer outside every once in a while, well, didn’t.
The owner asked if it was okay if I had to wait for 20 minutes, and I soon realized why. It was funny to see how this place—and a nail salon I’ve been to twice in Guangzhou—works. Normally, only a few people are stationed at the shop to wait for customers, but once it gets busy, they call up their other employees “on hold” to come. So, one by one, I saw old man after old man park their motorcycles outside and walk in to get straight to massaging the next customer.
Soon enough, mine came walking in, as I was seated on a bed in the back sipping hot tea. He was a short man, probably in his 60s (when I asked he joked that he was 32) wearing loose sweatpants and a striped blue and white long-sleeved polo. The owner briefed him on how I’m from the U.S. but knows how to speak some Chinese.
He told me to lay down on the bed, as he turned on the bright lamp next to me and plopped a hand towel over the side of my face to shield it from the light.
“So you’re from America? Your hair is so light!” The lamp probably made my dark brown hair seem even lighter—that and the recent sun exposure from standing an hour under the sun waiting for the Maokong gondola.
Turned out this man was very talkative, and we ended up having a very enjoyable conversation, in which he basically asked a ton of questions about me and I tried my best to respond in Mandarin.
“You were born in America? No, really, your Chinese is actually really good!”
“Where did you study? Boston? Harvard? Not Harvard? Oh, the school across from Harvard? Hah! Hey [speaking to a masseuse behind him] she studied across from Harvard!” [loud laughs, including mine]
“What did you study?”
“What do you do? How much do you make? Oh, yeah, not much, but you know living standards are much lower…”
“You’re traveling alone? Be careful. Actually, Taiwan is very safe, but you know there are bad guys everywhere.”
How do I tell if someone’s good or bad?
“Oh, well, you just look into their eyes. See? I’m a good guy!” [laughs and leans uncomfortably close to my face]
“How old are you?”
“25? 28? No?”
“Your boyfriend is from where? I’ve never heard of that place! North Africa? Wait, so he’s dark? No?”
“You should find a husband in the U.S. A rich husband!”
Although I did get to ask about him, I wish I had more time. Soon, the ear cleaner Mr. Huang, a Taiwan local who has never flown on an airplane out of fear, was finished cleaning both my ears, and I was off to sit at the now-empty massage chair. While I got my ears cleaned, people had already gotten their massages and left the place totally empty. I wondered how much of the conversation they overheard or if they felt annoyed. I had a feeling we weren’t exactly speaking softly during the procedure. I realized that we had been talking in Mandarin the entire time. I felt proud.
As I sat and soaked my feet in hot water, Mr. Huang went outside to take a smoke. Another less-friendly looking old man came to massage my feet. We hardly talked at all. In fact, something about him made me feel a bit creeped out.
From outside on the patio, Mr. Huang gestured to his cigarette, asking if I wanted one, but I shook my head. “Oh, yeah, ladies shouldn’t smoke!”
After finishing his cigarette on the patio, he walked back inside to sit next to me, and I felt relieved, given how the massage was starting off quite painfully both physically and mentally, with this man glancing up at me every once in a while, likely to see how I was reacting to this pain. Mr. Huang tells me that the man massaging my feet is really good, so I asked him how long he’s been doing this. 30 years, he said.
“Do you exercise?” he asked me, while massaging my calves. I wasn’t sure if he thought I did because of how tense my muscles must have felt from walking and hiking so much on this trip, so I just said, “Not much.”
Mr. Huang got up to collect his pay from the owner at the front desk before sitting back outside with the dogs. It seemed like he was in no rush at all, and I found myself looking at him during my massage, rather than at the intimidating man massaging my feet and telling me that I’m too stressed and guessing correctly that I don’t sleep well.
At one point, Mr. Huang walked back in to say he knew something in English, repeating, “Kuhlungneeyo.”
The owner and I looked at each other in confusion. Is that Japanese? It certainly isn’t English…
Suddenly, it clicked.
“Ohhhh! He means clean ear!” I told the owner. We both nod in understanding, laughing at Mr. Huang’s terrible accent.
“Ingulush!” for English.
He said he should try learning more, and I encouraged him to do so. I would miss this man.
Despite the pain, my feet ended up feeling absolutely relaxed. Amazing. The pain paid off, and my feet had never felt better. For only $30 for both the cleaning and massage, I walked out of there feeling so lucky to have stumbled upon this place—and for meeting Mr. Huang 😉
Well, if you can believe it, my day and its great memories didn’t end there. The final night and next morning coming next 🙂