He was short and squat, and I was uncomfortable. Why had they assigned me the male masseuse, and not my male friend who was in the other room? "I'm happy to be able to serve you," he said to me in Mandarin as he arranged the towels on the chair.
There is always that awkward conversation to be had during a foot massage. It's a lot easier to avoid eye contact during the full body ones, but there is no escape when someone's seated right in front of you. How do you make small talk with someone who's holding your feet? I try my best, in any case.
We went through the usual routine - where are you from, what are you doing here, do you like China? He was very concerned about how cold I was.
"Bad blood circulation. You are too skinny."
I asked him about a tattoo he had on his arm. It looked like one of those insignias that members of a gang would have. "Everyone in my family has one," he said. "It means I have 'heart'."
He told me he had a friend who was in Singapore. I asked if he would try heading there as well, that it might be easy to find a good job in one of the many massage places we had.
"I don't have a passport," he replied. "The furthest place I have ever been is Shenzhen."
We passed some moments in silence before he spoke again.
"If you are in Singapore, can you make phone calls to China?"
For sure, I replied.
"I don't believe you. I don't see how it is possible."
I tried my best to convince him, telling him my parents called me daily from Singapore. I don't think he believed me. When the massage was over, he told me my liver was in bad shape.