Massage parlors in Hochiminh city – Diary of a “Massage” Girl – P5

They work for money – yes, but often the money goes to supporting their loved ones in rural areas who know nothing about their job. And yes, sometimes a flower is more precious than all the money they can get.

One day, Thuy, an employee at the massage parlor TN in Binh Duong Province, rushed out of the massage room, her face full of tears, and in one hand were her high-heeled shoes. Wiping the tears with the other hand, she cried angrily: “Damned the s-exs-ex*. He squeezed my breasts so hard.”
Standing nearby, the manager of the parlor said nonchalantly, “Why haven’t I ever seen you cry when receiving their tips. How can you get money from them without putting up with their abuse?”
A strange silence suddenly reigned in the room with over 40 girls, a silence of resignation.
When I first came to the place to apply for a job, I was told the masseuses working there were allowed to go out just once a month for six hours.
Although psychologically prepared for the worst situation and assured of my colleagues’ plan for a “rescue operation” in case I was subjected to extreme exploitation, brutal beating or confinement, I could not help but feel a chill running down my spine when walking along a dark, stuffy corridor past a long line of girls momentarily turning their dull eyes, empty, sleep-deprived faces towards me.
“Here, one more masseuse means one more rival to compete with, fewer clients to serve, less food to go around, and less personal space for sleeping and using the rest room,” a friendly girl named Thuy told me.
In the massage parlor on Su Van Hanh Street, however, the masseuses seemed to get a little bit more breathing space. They work for 12 hours a day and are allowed to go home.
They have time to go shopping and drinking. They even come to bars and stay there till midnight.
One day, My, a masseuse in the massage parlor L took me to a beer restaurant. She kept finishing one glass of beer after another. Apparently, she wanted to get something off her chest and needed someone to talk to.
“Yesterday evening, I met my boyfriend in my massage room.
“Astonished to find me there, he shouted at me angrily, ‘So you are a massage girl?’ before running out of the room,” My told me.
“I’m a massage girl, so what? If he despises us, then why did he bother to seek us out in these places?”
I couldn’t answer her question. I just remembered the common piece of advice all the masseuses give to one another, “Never tell your family or friends about the job you do here. They would never want to look at us again.”
After that day, My began to go to bars more often with other girls after work and even experimented with some drugs.
There are many reasons why these young women ended up working in this profession – some because they needed money to support their husband and children in the rural areas, some to help their parents fix a run-down house about to collapse, and for others it is the price they pay for leading a life of endless wild parties and booze.
Vy, a masseuse from parlor L, has a 5-year-old son who has been separated from her for the last four years and has been living with her parents all those years.
She called him on her cell phone every once in a while when she was drunk. After the conversation, she seemed to have become a different person, just sitting motionless, staring into the empty space, with tears rolling down her powdered cheeks.

Flowers of hope


Flowers Ly draws on her notebook whenever she feels sad. The notebook is to keep record of the tips she earns each day

At massage parlor on Kha Van Can Street in Thu Duc District, the masseuses each have a small notebook to keep record of the tips they earn each day.
Some of them also write down in the book one line or two about their feelings and thinking.
For Ly, she likes drawing flowers in her notebook whenever she feels sad. She said she loved drawing since she was young.
In her notebook, one can see the amount of tips, 50,000(2.50$) – 100,000(5$) – 200,000(10$), and a series of clumsily drawn flowers.
“I was born to a poor family. My parents could only afford to let me study at school until the 11th grade. After school, I got married and moved in to live with his family until he got addicted to drinking and started abusing me.
“My life has only two memorable dates – the day I got married at 19 and the day I divorced my husband at 21 and left for Saigon,” she said.
In the past three years, Ly twice went home to visit her mother and son. Each time she had to arrange for her mother to take her son to live in a hotel with her for a week in her home town of Bac Lieu before returning to her job in Saigon.
Her husband had threatened “not to let her live in peace and safety,” Ly said.
“My life starts on the rice fields and ends up working in this business. I can’t remember how many parlors I have worked for in Saigon and how many men I have helped ‘relax’.”
“Should you ever be hired to work on the rice fields under the sun light for a whole day but cannot earn enough to buy food for your children, should you ever experience the situation of nursing your sick child for many days and can’t borrow enough money to take him to the hospital, you will understand why I accept my life here.
“Here I live in an air-conditioned room, wear perfume and have enough money to buy my mother and my child any kind of food they like,” Ly said.
Her voice, however, became heavy with sadness at the end of her story, “Sometimes when I’m walking on the street and someone gives me a strange look, I feel so much self-pity. I wonder if the words ‘massage girl’ have been branded on my forehead.”
During her story, Ly mentioned a man named Bao, a customer who has been trying to win her heart for the last few months.
“Bao is one of the gangsters at Lam Hong Bus Station in Ho Chi Minh City. Sometimes, he bought seven tickets in a row to stay in the room with me until the next morning, just to talk and hear me talk, without asking me to do anything for him,” Ly said.
Her face lit up with a radiant smile when she mentioned his name.
“Sometimes Bao gave me VND500,000(25$), sometimes one million(50$) or even two million(100$).
“But just like all the men who come here, he thought we only want and care about money. If he had presented me a flower, even a daisy flower,( In Vietnam, daisy flowers are usually offered on the altars during funerals or ceremonies to honor someone’s death) my heart would probably have fallen for him long ago.”
Happiness for Ly is so simple that few can imagine. A daisy flower from a man is enough to sweep her off her feet and lift her heart to heights above the grime and slime of the place she has no wish to be in.


Part 1: first day on the job

Part 2: Prisons in hell

Part 3: Hunting for masseuses

Part 4: Blood tips

Part 5: More than just money

1 Comment

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