A Fetus and a Questionable Spa-- First Draft

A full day in Saigon. On this hot, steamy, tropical summer day, I opted for indoor indulgences: western food and a visit to a spa.

I was in town for work purposes, so it was easy to justify treating myself. A proper Caesar salad and chocolate desert allowed me to satisfy pregnancy cravings not possible back home in Can Tho. And a foot massage could help move fluids around and increase my circulation so that I might get back my original ankles which I seem to have lost somewhere deep in the ancient temples of Angkor Wat during a recent visit to Cambodia.

Having never been to a spa in Saigon, I consulted some online reviews. My choices are getting limited as many spas don’t offer pregnancy treatments. It’s uncomfortable to lay on my front or back for long periods of time– the positions you’re usually in during a massage, even a foot one. So I was pleased to discover the highly rated Flamingo Spa that offers a foot massage in a seated chair. A little pricey, but with ratings as high as they were, I figured it was worth it. My cankles really needed a good, top-quality massage; I was open to pay about double what I usually pay for a massage in Can Tho.

After lunch, I headed off for my 2:30 appointment. Walking to my destination past flashing lights in the middle of the afternoon, I encountered a first clue. Overly eager bar girls burst out of the doors of an establishment to lure me in for a massage. This desperation is not typical of relaxing, tranquil spa, but that of a business with an obvious afternoon slump. With relief, I realized that it wasn’t the address I was looking for. Mine was right next door.

As I opened the glass doors to the first floor of this “spa”, I was hit with the distinct smell of stale cigarette smoke and entered what looked like a Japanese parlor (#secondclue). I was instantly greeted by the host, an average looking dude who was also serving as bartender; he quickly served me some green tea. Confused, my senses scrambled to put it all together. I see a bar, I smell cigarettes, I’ve been given a nice cup of green tea, and am seated at a booth with a seemingly legit spa massage menu, displayed prominently at every table.

I accepted the tea, and pretended to review the menu to buy some time. I used those moments to skim through mental images of the online reviews… did I miss something? Were all of the reviewers men? How did this happen? Am I at the right place?

The host interrupted my thoughts to ask if I had a 2:30 appointment for a foot massage. Yup. At the right place, apparently. Well, I wondered, does it matter if it’s a brothel? What could possibly happen? I rechecked the menu to make sure I saw the price correctly, and then clarified the cost verbally with the host.

In a final scour of the menu, I noticed the last option: a “VIP four-hands massage in a private room”. And that, folks, would be clue # 3. At this point, I was feeling pretty apprehensive and on the back burner was brainstorming ways to escape this awkward situation. I figured I had about 10 seconds to make a decision.

In haste, and knowing that if I didn’t get this massage I wasn’t going to get one at all, I decided to go for it. I was led upstairs by a masseuse to an empty room with a line of comfy arm chairs. A middle-aged woman came out of the bathroom with wet hair and a black camisole. My presence didn’t seem to faze her as she made herself comfortable on a chair at the opposite end of the room to take a snooze. I was given a pair of silk shorts to change into.

While changing, I convinced myself to just relax and enjoy. The experience might be different if I were a male, I rationalized; being an obviously pregnant woman I felt confident that things would not get shady. I was able to get comfortable in my arm chair.

And I was right. It was a pretty good, non-questionable massage. My feet soaked while I received a head, neck, and shoulder rub. I sunk deeper into the chair for the foot portion, which was just the right amount of pressure.  A satisfied customer, I thanked the masseuse, gave her a generous tip and even considered returning in the future.

Back at my hotel I revisited online reviews for any indication of “special” services offered at this spa. But everything looked legit, including the spa’s website. I felt relieved as it seemed easy enough to find oneself in the situation. Still confused about whether or not it was actually a brothel, I Googled ["Flamingo Spa" Saigon brothel] and got my answer. As a bonus, I also learned what the acronyms R&T and HJ mean.

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Previous versions:

Three draft ideas.

Flip-flop footed and pregnant

A day in the life of a pregnant trailing spouse living in 100 degree temperatures in a not-so-well-known city in South East Asia while her husband is away on field research. Nothing panned out for her professionally in her new location and she fumbles through each day trying to find purpose and meaning while contending with a deep-seated anxiety around ‘leaning out’, rather than 'leaning in' as Sheryl Sandberg might encourage.

 

MOOC Madness

A perfectionist, conscientious, and apparently judgmental student joins a MOOC. Throughout the online course she observes and internally mocks the various types of annoying MOOC personalities that emerge on the discussion boards. She’s surprised when she finds herself evolving into her own type of obnoxious MOOC-er after encountering an unpleasant experience with her peer-reviewed assignment.

 

Dear ‘white guy in Asia’

A disgruntled white woman expat wants to set the record straight. With almost of decade of habouring confusing feelings regarding her observations of white guys and their supremely over-privileged position in Asian contexts, often compounded with outright obliviousness, she finally takes it upon herself to inform these characters on what’s really going on. (PS. Not all white guys in Asia are ‘white guys in Asia’.)

I think a big challenge will be keeping a story to 500 words. Thoughts and feedback appreciated on what you think might make a better story/essay. Thanks!

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