G20 has finally ended and Shanghai has mostly gone back to normal, although small hotels still won’t allow foreigners and this restriction is probably never going to be lifted. I returned to my company and am now living in the dorms, which are total shit and filled to the brim with noisy Chinese girls. But at least I have somewhere reasonably-priced to live in Shanghai.
I want to kick myself for wasting this past month away in shitty places. After Chloe and I got in a literal fist fight with the agent in Fuzhou, we took a high speed train to Shenzhen, then a ferry to Macau. There, we stayed in an over-priced and noisy hotel far from the city center. At just 300 RMB per night, it was the cheapest we could find. After two days of not sleeping due to the construction happening in the next room, we got in touch with an agent for KTVs in Macau. We’d heard from another friend that the tips every night far exceeded that of mainland clubs so we wanted to give it a shot.
The first KTV sat right above one of the main casinos. I met with the boss, then sat in a waiting area for four hours, only for them to tell me that they won’t let Americans work. I argued that other foreigners worked in their KTV but to no avail. The agent called every KTV he knew of in Macau, even accompanying me to two more, resulting in a lot more waiting for nothing. I’d had similar issues trying to find KTVs in mainland China but never have I sat for so many hours just to hear them say they won’t take Americans.
I started to feel desperate. I’d already spent most of my money on this useless trip and no KTV would let me work at all. Then the agent had an idea: go try the sauna. What’s a sauna, you ask? The lowest, worst kind of place anyone can work in Asia. The pay is dirt cheap, so you need to see many customers in a day. Unlike a KTV, where you come dressed up but remain fully clothed, chatting with customers, smiling, eating and essentially being the modern Chinese version of a geisha — the sauna is only a glorified brothel. Its customers are low-lives who can’t afford the girls inside a KTV.
Worse, this one required a deposit of 2000 Macau dollars ($300 USD) before you can begin work. Each customer only pays 1300, so you need to see two before you can even earn back your deposit. I’m embarrassed to say I was this desperate, but I’ve called my parents too many times in the past several years when I fucked up. Mommy and Daddy can’t bail me out anymore. In Macau, the sauna is the only place that will receive Western foreigners.
I entered a dingy locker room filled to the brim with young, plastic-surgery-carved, super-model-thin Asian girls. In the mainland, specifically Shanghai, these women could earn 1500 RMB just to sit, drink, and smile. In Macau, they’re only cheap whores. The manager asked me why I’d come to such a place. I shrugged and said no KTV would accept Americans.
He took down my passport information, then asked me to try on a yellow bikini. I stood in front of the door and he snapped a picture. He took my measurements and my height.
I stood on a scale which read 62 kg.
“A bit chubby for this place.” He said.
After, three old women came into that small, dark office to check me out. The oldest one, a Cantonese version of Hillary Clinton, asked me if my hair was fake.
“Yes,” I said.
“Can we see your real hair?”
“No,” I replied sheepishly. “The truth is I’m black and I need special hair care products that are impossible to buy here. So for now, I just wear a wig.”
Cantonese Hillary Clinton nodded and asked me to change into the company uniform. As expected, all of their clothes didn’t fit. At 170 cm tall, 62 kg, I was the fattest girl working in that place and probably the only one with a natural C cup.
I wore my own dress; a KTV dress not fit for the sauna, but I didn’t have anything else to wear. Some catty Chinese girls started picking at me, saying my clothes and hair didn’t look good. Two hours in, I was ready to kill a bitch.
Finally, the mommy came to escort me and another new recruit to train for our new role. This place had themed rooms featuring every kind of porn fantasy from nurse to maid to teacher. Classic stuff.
The mommy told us that on our first day, we’d train to be maids. The amount of steps involved in this role-play made my head spin. There were dozens of props including a maid’s cart, a feather duster, a fake pizza, and a table cloth that looked like a pizza. A tray containing a small ice bucket, KY jelly, and condoms sat on the nightstand.
After she went through all of the steps, she quizzed us on them. If we got one answer wrong, we had to act out the roleplay all over again. All this for only half the price I could get in the mainland for doing a whole lot less.
After training, we lined up to stand in front of customers in various settings. First, in front of a pool. Later, in front of the massage area. And after that, in various themed rooms. These men weren’t at all gentlemanly like the KTV customers I’d become accustomed to. They were rude, incredibly picky, and cruel. By the end of the night, I was in tears. I left at 3AM, completely penniless.
I went into a room next to the sauna and found some metal wire and a pair of pliers. I climbed the metal stairs to the top and began trying to tie a solid knot. The pliers felt dull and wouldn’t properly cut through the wire. I struggled with the wire for several minutes. One stubborn thread wouldn’t separate from the whole. Then I heard footsteps. Below the ramparts, I saw a construction worker and panicked.
“Hey!” He yelled. But I ran like a rabbit who’d seen a bobcat, zigzagging my way through the dimly-lit parking lot until I finally reached the exit of the casino. Across the street sat our shitty apartment. Completely defeated, I walked home in silence. The agent asked how the place was. I told him it was awful and I’d never go back there again.
The next day came and he asked me to go back, but I refused.
“There are many ways to do this job.” I said. “I’ll just use the Internet.”
Several hours passed and I couldn’t get a single customer through WeChat or MoMo. So, I suggested trying the casino. He brought me to one and then tried to leave me there alone. I admitted I didn’t know fuck all what I was doing and felt terrified. So we left. As we roamed the streets he said, “There are indeed many ways to do this job.”
He pointed to a corner where a long-haired Chinese girl in a knee-length white skirt reached out her hand to a man passing by. He ignored her and walked faster. “That girl is trying to pull in customers.”
“Street work is the lowest form of the business.” I replied. “You don’t understand, I’ve been paid thousands of RMB just to sit and talk with guests. I almost never go out with them.”
“Then perhaps you should go back.” He said. “G20 is over on September 6th. On that day, it’ll be safe to return to Shanghai.”
And so, Chloe and I waited it out in Zhuhai. While there, we met two awesome KTV girls who took me to a duck bar. I found a really sweet one to spend the night with. The following day he bought me a bouquet of flowers. I’m 25, and one week ago was the first time in my life a man bought flowers for me. Now I know I’m really meant to be in China.