Language barrier can't overcome bare facts
Updated: 2011-11-15 11:16
By Ellie Buchdahl (China Daily)
It's a well-known fact that moving to a new place, eating different food and experiencing new pollutants can be disruptive to the old hormones. This is multiplied by about 1,000 if you are born without a Y chromosome.
I arrived in Beijing around four months ago, and despite dutifully popping the pill and developing a slight obsessive-compulsive disorder centered on spinach and red meat consumption, I hadn't exactly been regular with my periods.
During one moment of hysteria I convinced myself that I had fallen into that dreaded 1-to-3 percent hole described in small print on the microgynon (oral contraceptive pill) package and was pregnant.
It was a false alarm, but one which involved desperately comparing the lines on my little white strip to as many pictures as I could find online (Chinese contraceptive aids do not generally come with multilingual instructions).
So when I spotted "Ovarian Rest Course" near the end of the pricelist at my favorite massage parlor, I leapt at the chance to sort out my failing femininity.
On entry I was given a soft pair of slippers while a smiling woman ascertained that I wouldn't mind a male masseur. Then, I was ushered into a room that looked worryingly surgical. A contraption resembling the Monty Python "machine that goes ping" occupied one corner. A set of hot cups was stacked on a table. With horror, I wondered whether they had misheard me.
To take my mind off the prospect of "medicinal" red welts, I began fiddling with the strange garment I had been handed - something between a very small sarong and a towel, which clipped around me to leave a gaping slit. I experimented briefly with lifting it up into a kind of shift, before plumping for the hula-skirt look. Then it was time to lie down.
The masseur got straight down to it. Smearing his hands with warm vaseline, he set about kneading my stomach like a handful of playdough. Straight away I regretted the large slab of cheesecake I had eaten "to take the edge off my hunger". My tummy responded to his every rub with a loud gurgle.
However, this did have an odd ice-breaking effect. Once the masseur had established that, yes, I had eaten, he launched into a conversation that pushed my limited Chinese to the edge. And all the while, his hands inched further and further below the pant level.
Then all of a sudden, the knickers were down. It wasn't quite full exposure - but it was further than most guys would get without a couple of dates and several expensive cocktails.
Next came a hot water bottle across the womb area, before I was spun round on the bed, facing down. Then down went the pants again - this time completely. We're talking complete hand-to-cheek contact.
Just 45 minutes was long enough to ascertain that I could do with a language teacher as well as a chiropractor. My masseur launched into an exploration of the Chinese for every muscle he jabbed and every bit of flab he wobbled.
And yet, by the end, I felt genuinely invigorated. It was a bit like that cosy feeling of drinking hot chocolate after coming in from a freezing cold hike in October.
In the last moments, the masseur decided we had reached the stage where he could ask me about my private life. After all, he had had unfettered access to my privates for nearly an hour. Was I engaged? Did I have a boyfriend? And I responded likewise.
"Do you have a girlfriend?"
He laughed and said something. I didn't understand. A wave of embarrassment struck - what had he said?
Why is it always the language barrier that causes the most embarrassment, even when fully exposed?