This afternoon I checked out a small massage place near where I live, and when I walked in, the masseuses were sitting in the chairs where clients should be sitting, reading the newspaper which was a bit unprofessional but not uncommon.
I inquired about full-body massages like the ones I used to get at Bodhi in Beijing and they did have them -- at HK$188 ($24) for 50 minutes. The place is a bit cramped with low ceilings and upstairs there is a small room with three massage beds. The enthusiastic owner warned me that there might be other customers coming into the room which was a bit disconcerting. But he gave me a free bottle of water.
He also gave me a T-shirt and long shorts to wear and it made me wonder if someone else had worn them before but I didn't want to think too much of it. Then a young woman who had been sitting in the chair in front came up to give me a massage.
Her Cantonese accent wasn't very good so I tried to speak to her in Mandarin. At first she kept trying to speak in Cantonese but then gave up and we spoke in Putonghua even though her accent wasn't very clear. She is originally from Guizhou and came here almost two years ago with her six-year-old daughter. I asked her if she liked Hong Kong and she said it was a step up, as she was originally tilling the fields in her hometown. It was in Shenzhen where she learned how to massage people, and I have to say she did a pretty good job relieving the tension in my body.
It turns out most of the masseurs are from China, and she said they were from all over the country. I asked her if she liked Cantonese food and she laughed and said not really. She explained that Guizhou food is mostly steamed too, but has more spicier flavour.
Then I asked her if she lived nearby and she replied that she lived in Tin Shui Wai, which is deep in the New Territories. It takes her a good hour and a half to come to Sheung Wan, three hours of the day eaten up by commuting.
She didn't elaborate too much on how she got here, but it sounds like she came to Hong Kong to give her daughter a better life, though it seems the child isn't too pleased about being in a new place where she doesn't know the language and culture very well.
Hopefully she will come to understand her mother's sacrifices and will study hard in order to get a good job.
The Chinese are know for their heavy investment in human capital, especially as they are betting on an exponentially brighter future for the next generation.