My Secret Chinatown Massage

What’s a girl to do when she wants a massage at 10pm?

It had been a long day, and an even longer week. Sometimes outcall massage can be a real pain in the neck/back/arms/assimus maximus. I had just finished up with day 2 of a bachelorette weekend retreat party at which I was doing massage in a vacation rental with a very large basement turned rec room. Hauling my equipment up and down three flights of stairs was no picnic and by the end of day two, my shoulder wasn’t very happy with me.

I picked up my nephew and mother and we embarked on a mission to find the Perfect Christmas Tree. The trouble was, I was in so much pain I couldn’t really enjoy myself or help them enjoy themselves. Something had finally been pulled out of place and those three flights of stairs were the straw that broke the camel’s back.

T1-T3 were crying out for attention, aching and throbbing with just enough sharp stabbing pain to keep things interesting. My chiropractor was out of the office for the next two days. I knew I couldn’t get an appointment that night with any of my usual MTs. It was already 9pm on a Saturday. I tried self massage, my boyfriend’s wonderful [civilian] massage, ice, rest, and even guided imagery. I allowed my mind to become a blank, white slate…but ghost-me kept wandering behind me and massaging my own back in spirit. There is nothing worse than knowing exactly the motion of the hands and fingers that has to come into play to relieve one’s pain – yet not being able to perform said actions on oneself.

Finally exasperated and cranky-as-hell, I remembered a place I was reading about on Yelp. It was in Chinatown. It had tinted windows and was open 24 hours. It is the kind of place I would usually never give a second thought except for the LMT-obligatory haughty little eye-roll as I drove by. The reason this particular Chinatown hole-in-the-wall caught my attention, was because it had a 4.5 star rating on Yelp, with over 100 reviews. It was actually a reflexology/foot massage place (these establishments exist in a legal gray area here in Las Vegas, and don’t have to employ licensed massage therapists) and review after review testified to the fact that their employees did great work, that they provided more of a full body massage than just a foot massages, and that they were most definitely not a happy ending joint.

Sitting at dinner, with miniature misery brewing in my rhomboids, I began to scan the Yelp reviews and photos again on my phone. It looked legit. Dare I?

As I pulled up to the establishment I was a little nervous. I walked up to the tinted store front. On one window there was a neon sign that read “Foot Massage” and on the other, a picture of a jolly anthropomorphized foot with a little smiling face. Well, he certainly looked happy to be here, how bad could it be? Then I saw it, in script along the side of the door: “Profesional Massage”. The grammar nerd/massage therapy professional in me cringed. It must be a sign from [insert deity of choice]…I must flee. I turned around to get back in my car, and just then a beautiful older Asian lady came out of the front door.

“May I help you?”

She just had one of those sunny smiles, those genuine faces that you don’t turn away from. She put me at ease pretty instantly.

What the hell. This would be my $38 experiment. Please don’t hurt me.

As she ushered me inside, I asked her if they had time to fit me in. It became apparent very quickly that she didn’t speak a lick of English. I appreciated the practice she must have put into that perfect “May I help you” greeting. Through a series of hand gestures, body language and a sliver of hope I indicated that I would like an hour and my problem areas. She promptly ushered me into a semi-private, curtained area and sat me down in a large recliner lined with pillows and draped with white towels. She then placed a large bucket under my feet, lined it with a plastic bag, and poured in some sort of hot steamy tea concoction that smelled divine. She then poured me some jasmine tea to drink and pointed to a bowl of jolly ranchers on the table. The combination was delicious.

As I soaked my feet, my body finally began to relax and I took in my surroundings. I was in a small room with two of these recliners, a small table and a clock. The decor both in the lobby and in the rooms was very massage-parlor-esque. Lots of red and gold, too dim. I really felt like they were making a mistake with that. But then, who was I to judge…I asked myself as my feet slowly sank more deeply into the swirling tea and my body sank more deeply into the recliner.

The piped-in music was nice. I had one more brief moment of panic…then realized my feet were in the tea, it was too late…and I had better enjoy this to the fullest. I popped in jolly rancher number two. I’m a cherry girl.

Then I noticed the sounds. Soft rubbing, skin on skin, the distinctive sound of tapotement over clothing, light pops and cracks, groans, contented sighs, even bated breath.  Soft murmurs of acknowledgement, thanks, direction and “Yes I’ve always had trouble with that left side.”

It was such a quiet, soft and beautiful combination of sounds. So soothing to this massage therapist’s soul.

By this time I had been soaking for about 15 minutes and the woman I had thought was my provider still hadn’t returned.  A man poked his head in and introduced himself as the person doing my massage, saying that he would be back in shortly. After another 15 minutes or so, he arrived, noting the time and asked me if I would like a head massage( via body language and a few words, as he also didn’t speak any English). He proceeded to massage my scalp with some sort of lightly scented lotion that smelled good enough to eat. Like coconuts, flowers and happy. I found his blatant disregard for the basics of massage training endearing. Honestly. He did it all wrong – and it felt great! He massaged my scalp, ears, forehead and jaw rapidly and brazenly, with confidence bordering on reckless abandon.

As he moved to my neck, he continued with the same rapid motions, gliding quickly over tense areas and trigger points, moving down to massage my arms and pecs over my clothing. He gave me a fantastic hand massage, squeezing deeply and kneading gently. It was exactly what these tired hands were craving.

As he moved on to my feet and lower legs, I have to say compared to the rest of the massage the foot work was a bit lackluster. Most of my MTs have reflexology training and work feet well. There was a little too much knuckle gliding going on and not enough kneading or pinpoint pressure…however, this may be a personal preference of mine.

As he finished up my feet, and with 20 minutes still on the clock, he asked me to turn over. He removed some of the pillows and reclined the chair to a flat position, and to my surprise there was a little face-hole in the upper portion of the seat back. I tried to position myself in a comfortable manner, but that chair is heretofore known as a monstrosity and an affront to massage ergonomics. I’ll take my Earthlite anyday.

So I was face down, and here is where it gets interesting. The back massage was just awful. Not extremely painful, but he continually pressed deeply into my spinous processes.  I kept asking him to lighten up and redirect him, but he seemed not to understand me. I felt like I was being massaged by one of those homedics shiatsu massage cushions…only with no off button.

The LMT in me was especially annoyed, because I have scoliosis. Without a proper intake form, and someone who speaks English – there wasn’t a way to convey this information to him. He probably did not have anatomical training and was as confused as I was frustrated.

As he flipped me over, I am pretty sure he sensed my annoyance since he used the last 5 minutes to work on my scalp again. (Ok, ok…all is forgiven…)

He thanked me and asked me to meet him up front when I was ready to pay and gave me a business card with his name written in, to request him the next time I come. After I left, I felt much better and slept well.

Was it nearly as good as a “real” massage from any of my massage therapists? Not a chance. It couldn’t hold a candle to a 20 minute session with any of them and I have already booked a “real” session for this week; however, it was cheap and available exactly when I needed it. It took care of my immediate pain and gave me some reprieve. I think this is why so many people still use massage parlors like this one. There’s something to be said for that.

…and that was the end of my first Chinatown Massage.

It was a happy ending after all.

Yep, I went there.

Ba dump, bump.

I am not a fan of the new LED christmas bulbs. They burn with a laser-like intensity that just doesn't say "warm and cheery" to me.

Of course, by “happy ending” I mean that we got our tree.

This entry was posted in Massage by Ariana La Cour. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ariana La Cour

"Ariana La Cour, a Nevada native, lives and works in fabulous Vegas (baby) . She is a full time licensed massage therapist who runs her own small mobile massage company, is a part time massage blogger, runs the Las Vegas Massage Therapy Meetup Group, and is an aspiring author. She is the main shenanigator over at She adores both kale smoothies and chocolate equally, and doesn't see a problem with it. She is a sucker for bouquets of newly sharpened pencils. She dislikes pointy toed shoes, complacency, and when people don't use their turn signals. You know who you are."

40 thoughts on “My Secret Chinatown Massage

  1. I loved this article! I’ve gone to the “foot massage” places on occasion, and usually it is just what I need. Not really much in the skills department, but possibly the human touch aspect & he special attention.

  2. Wonderfully written! I felt like I was there experiencing this! As your feet were in the tea, and you were having your scalp massaged, I actually felt myself relaxing! and when I got to the part about the back massage being just awful, I felt so disappointed! :) ah well. I did enjoy this post. thanks

  3. Thanks for the hilarious account of your experience. Most of us are too chicken to try these places out. They should call themselves “Relaxation Parlors” or something like that, so as not to confuse the public. I still worry about people getting injured, but sounds like for the most part discomfort is the worst one might be experience.

    • Yah, it might be possible for someone to get injured under the wrong circumstances. I found the hardest part for me was to just stop correcting their moves/flow in my head (Why are you going the wrong way? lol)

      It took a conscious effort to turn off my inner critic which really impacted the level of relaxation, but not so much that I didn’t enjoy it.

  4. Awww… I feel your pain! I have scoliosis too (and a Harrington rod attached to my spine) so I only trust my osteopath with my back…

    At least you supported an independent local business – you should offer them some business and marketing coaching :)

  5. Hi,

    It’s funny how an LMT follows every little move of that one who gives you a massage. If he only knew what your thoughts are:)))

    A touch is a touch. Soft, gentle touches are relaxing and is often exactly what we need.

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  32. Wow what a,story! You are a good writer. I good see it unfolding as I read it. I don’t think I would go in those places … I sure wouldn’t be looking for a happy ending lol! Im surprised its legit in your area. In my area no license no massage business. Police are cracking down on massage parlors here. They offer foot massages and have licenses . Too scary no thanks! All in all a funny story thankyou! :)

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