09.19.07

Hotels? We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Hotels!

Posted in Personal Anecdotes, Travel Log (Asia) at 3:27 am by Benjamin Ross

Several months ago (this was when I was still in Fuzhou) I was struck with a predicament we all face from time to time. I got locked out of my apartment. Normally this isn’t such a big deal, but I had just moved into a new apartment and had yet to give a spare key to a trusted friend. Several thoughts ran through my mind at the time. First I called my roommate, but he was spending the night in a hotel with his girlfriend who was visiting him from France. I didn’t seem like the time to ask him to come home and bail me out. Then the thought crossed my mind to sleep with my former co-workers in the barbershop dormitory. However, sleeping without air conditioning in Fuzhou in the summer is something no sane person would ever purposely chose when there was a viable alternative. The other option was to find a hotel. However, most hotels in Fuzhou start around 200 RMB (approx $25 US) per night, quite a waste when it is already 1 pm.

As I strolled through the dark alleys of downtown Fuzhou, suddenly a new thought entered my mind. There was a place I could go with my own room, air conditioning, TV, clean bathrooms and showers, as well as a complimentary massage, all for only 50 RMB (approx $6 US)…that is one of Fuzhou’s ubiquitous massage/sauna centers. Before you get the wrong idea, I am not referring the “barbershops” with the pink lights. I am talking about legitimate massage centers where for 50 kuai (sometimes less) you get a one hour professional massage as well as access to clean bathrooms, hot showers, and a room similar to most 3 star hotels. Now the real kicker to the deal is that 9 times out of 10 you can actually sleep in the massage room for the night.

I first learned about this from my good friend Ron Sims (the famous podcaster) when we were traveling in Hunan and Jiangxi for May Day in 2006. We visited 6 different cities in 7 days, and did not spend a single night in a hotel. 3 of our nights were spent sleeping on trains, while the other 4 were spent sleeping in various massage centers, paying around 30 or 40 RMB per night. As Ron put it, “It’s essentially the same price as staying in a hotel, possibly cheaper, plus you get a free massage every night.”

I now had a plan. I set off to find the closest massage center. About a 15 minute walk away from my apartment I found a fancy hotel with massage service. The regular massage was 80 RMB, but they had a foot massage for 50 RMB. I had never tried a foot massage before, but figured I’d give it a whirl. The attendant led me upstairs to a room and had me lie down on a bed with freshly changed sheets. With two strokes of a remote control the A/C was cranking and the TV was blaring Chinese talk shows. I lay down and relaxed for fifteen minutes before a girl who couldn’t have been older than 18 came into the room with a big bucket full of hot liquid. She placed my feet in the bucket which she told me contained Chinese medicine. While my feet soaked, she massaged my legs and arms. After the preliminary massage, she meticulously labored away at my feet for the next half an hour, massaging, and cleaning every possible nook and cranny of my feet.

When it was all said and done my feet were cleaner than they had been on the day I was born. My body was massaged. The bed was comfortable. The A/C was on full blast. It was 2 AM. I turned on the TV and passed out. The next morning I awoke around 9 am. I put on my sandals, which had been provided by the massage center, and headed over to the locker room where I took a 25 minute shower in steaming hot water with incredible pressure. At 9:30 I checked out at the front desk, gave them my 50 RMB and headed back to my apartment hoping one of my roommates had returned.

The overnight massage stay is one of the most valuable tricks I have learned during my tenure in China, and I’m surprised more people don’t take advantage of it. Afterall, why would I pay 200 RMB for a regular hotel room when I can pay 50 RMB with a similar room plus a complimentary massage or foot detail? Where else can you get this kind of treatment and accommodations for less then a the cost of a pepperoni pizza? Gotta love China.

11 Comments »

  1. Richard Loh United States said,

    September 19, 2007 at 4:47 am

    Ben, from your last sentence…it sounds you are beginning to miss China? Anyway, always look forward to your postings ever since businessweek had a small blurb on yr blog. Your article are always insightful, even to an ethnic Chinese from Malaysia, like me

    All the best

    Richard

  2. Yu China said,

    September 19, 2007 at 7:45 am

    While I haven’t actually sunk to the level of sleeping in a massage parlor, the thought has occured to me…. being as I also have a son and husband when travelling, the hotel is usually our option. BUT I want to add that for those people when travelling about China, taking a two hour rest at any massage place is often a better option than heading back to the hotel. It allows you to not have to go back and forth between destinations and you can just continue on your way. Plus, a massage is a great way to relax between travels. And in smaller cities, massages can run around 20 kuai. Probably cheaper than the cab fare back to your hotel.

  3. Jason China said,

    September 19, 2007 at 9:09 am

    The secret is out! This is also a great way to end a long night at the bar when you’re far from home. (First time I did this, it was totally an accident. I just fell asleep…next day, I tried to apologize and received some blank looks. Jackpot.)

  4. naturegirl Germany said,

    September 19, 2007 at 2:07 pm

    Wow, I never heard about this alternative. I always thought the massage centers close late at night, because once I also tried a foot massage (it was really relaxing, just like you described) it was already almost midnight and they told me they would close soon, so we ended up being the last guests and they seemed rather in a hurry. So I wouldn’t think that they would let us sleep there. But next time I’m in such a situation I will try.

  5. James Chiang China said,

    September 20, 2007 at 12:08 pm

    I’ve heard about this before. Some salesmen of small companies, they don’t have much money for business trip and they do this.

  6. Jeremy China said,

    September 20, 2007 at 1:55 pm

    Though aware the option existed, never really did this. It might be a good way to travel, though, find the reputable nice massage places and stay there for cheaper than a hotel.

    Wonder if they would let two people stay in the same room? (a friend or significant other) – twice the cost but still cheaper than most places to stay

  7. Phillip China said,

    September 20, 2007 at 9:57 pm

    Whoa man, awesome tip. I’m in Kunming now, and this may come in handy some day. Thanks!

  8. Arnauld China said,

    September 21, 2007 at 5:53 pm

    Hi,

    a nice idea. I’ll do this next time. In Lanzhou when I went to a spa they even put my belly on fire, literally. The girl put a wet towel on my belly, closed the light, then pour alcohol on it and light it. crazy…

    Arnauld

    ps : my blog is blocked in China

  9. Don Allison China said,

    September 21, 2007 at 10:56 pm

    shit. Anything to save a kuai. Not getting any attention, are we, in the good old US of A? Just another little man who will live an ignominious life amidst the philistines…who knows, you might even become one of them. Sad…so sad…and if not for your ego and greed, who knows what could have become. You remind me of the famous Chinese proverb:
    “Birds die for food; people die for money.”
    And you ain’t no bird.

  10. Michael Manning United States said,

    September 22, 2007 at 3:13 am

    That’s a very cryptic comment, Don Allison. But what the f#$k is your point?

    As for staying in a sauna, it is indeed a completely viable option, with one caveat: you’ve got to find a decent sauna. While not all saunas in China are simple fronts for prostitution, the truth is that all (yes, I mean 100%… or at least 98%) of these places offer “extra” services of an erotic nature, no matter how classy the joint. I mean, what do you think an Y888 massage involves, buddy?

    I myself enjoy a good massage now and then, but have run into places where they try to fatten the bill with massages you didn’t ask for, expensive drinks, and other shadiness. Someone needs to put together a guide to reputable saunas where one can spend the night.

  11. Mark China said,

    September 23, 2007 at 7:57 pm

    I remember being amused after a late-night massage while heading down the hall to leave, I passed a room with a dozen dudes sound asleep with visions of mooncakes dancing in their heads. I always assumed that it was super-expensive to spend the night in a massage place but ’tis not so.

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