Spa Rant

Protection first

Once I went for a massage (I know, this seems to happen a lot), and it was seemingly going well. It was soothing massage, so there was oil involved and things seemed to be going well until I noticed a really odd scratchy/squishy sound. This was followed by some odd snapping sounds until I finally looked up and turned and realised my therapist was wearing rubber gloves.

Rubber gloves. For a massage. Seriously? In all my years of spa-ing that has never happened to me before. It was so surprising I asked my therapist why she was using gloves. Her answer was “it’s for your protection, and mine.”

Well this was another stunner. What did I need protection from? I assumed she washed her hands before starting the massage…and I didn’t think I was particularly germ-ridden.

To be honest, it didn’t feel THAT different getting a massage through rubber gloves. It was just the sound! All that pulling and sucking and squishing and snapping. Well, not exactly what you’d call soothing. And of course I was a bit offended that the therapist needed to be “protected” from me.

When the massage was over, I asked the spa manager what was the reason for the gloves. She said that some clients prefer it (I want to meet these people!). When I pressed further she just promised me it wouldn’t happen again. So I never got an answer beyond the whole sanitation thing. I know Hong Kong can be oddly paranoid about sanitation post-SARS, but this was probably the strangest experience of it I’ve ever had.


You’ve had a long day and you just want to close your eyes and forget about it all. You book a massage, lie down and just as you prepare to drift off into oblivion you hear, “Wah…you’re getting fat.” And then it’s all downhill from there.

I’ve been a regular spa goer long before I ever started writing about it and have done my fair share of cheap and cheerful and elaborately expensive treatments. Nothing however, has ever compared to the experience I had at this local spa. Originally I bought the package because the spa was cute and quaint, unfortunately it got bought out and the new owners were all about the money. Here’s what went down.

1.      The sell:

As I lay there, the therapist proceeded to explain to me why I was fat, why this was bad, and why I needed slimming. Lying there naked and prone, you’re just too vulnerable to disbelieve them entirely. My self-esteem had definitely had better days.

2.      The suffering:

Relaxing? Not anymore. Even though I’d already tried to say no nicely, the therapist continued to try and sell me. She honestly didn’t seem capable of understanding that I did not want to be slimmer.

3.      The (awkward) shutdown:

Finally I managed to convince her that no means no. But by then, I’d worked myself into such a state that relaxing was just absolutely impossible.

I’ve actually caved in before and agreed to let them use the slimming machine on me as a 15-minute trial. Right in the middle of the massage she stopped, called her manager and in came the machine, door wide open with me on the table for everyone to see (okay fine there was no one in the hallway, but that’s not the point). The machine was so uncomfortable it made me nauseous and I refused to use it for the full 15 minutes. What followed was a two versus one situation where the therapist and her manager tried to convince me I hadn’t felt nauseous or uncomfortable during the treatment, and me trying to say no without cursing and swearing.

That was the last time I ever tried the machine, but not the last time I heard about it. You have to give them credit for creativity, now that I’ve made a commitment to being fat, the therapist has started using my sister as bait. Having seen her come in once with me, she is going for the old sibling-rivalry sell “Don’t you want to be slim and pretty like your sister?”

A spa does itself no favours trying to sell packages this way. Instead of coming across caring and attentive, they come across forceful and rude. While I give the allowance that something might be lost in translation, I still think no means no.

The worst part is, this made me so unwilling to go to the spa, that I dragged my feet about using up my package and it expired. No pushy customer service to let me know the date was approaching (double standards indeed). Naturally I complained and was told that the only way they could give me the money that hadn’t been used (HKD$900) was if I bought HKD$3500 worth of treatments. In the end, I decided the heartache and frustration saved was worth the HKD$900 ‘wasted’ and left.

Separation anxiety by Karen Fong

“The therapist will be with you at all times” is not a phrase I used to take very seriously. I didn’t used to think it was necessary especially when there are times when there isn’t much for them to do, particularly during facials.

Masks are a big part of facials and we all know the importance of having them on, having the goodness of the ingredients soak into your face, while maybe taking a little nap. It makes sense that this is when a therapist might step out for a bit but PUH-LEASE, come back soon!

Waking up in the middle of a mask, particularly the hard, solidifying types is a surreal, absolutely weird feeling. Usually your eyes and your mouth are covered, so you’re effectively mute and blind. What was worst, was that no one was there to answer my mewling sounds of confusion.

The most recent time this happened (today), it was even more annoying by the fact that there was drilling outside the spa. So in addition to being blind and mute, there was a never-ending stream of Armageddon-sounding destruction going on outside. It just makes for a very surreal experience where you lie there, and wait (and time seems to pass way slower when you can’t see or talk), until finally someone comes through the door, whips off the mask and “reveals a whole new you.”

Who is this Spa Ranter?

As a former editor of AsiaSpa Magazine, Karen Fong has spent the past few years travelling across Asia reviewing the latest spas in the region and keeping an eye to the latest trends and developments in this growing industry, a hard life to be sure. Born in Toronto and raised in Montreal, Hong Kong and Singapore her appreciation for the finer, more relaxing, things in life drew her away from a career in advertising to one in luxury publishing. Now she writes on luxury, travel and wellness for a variety of publications while attempting to try out new spas with every free moment she gets.


2 thoughts on “Spa Rant

  1. Jo Foley says:

    You are so right…the minute anybody tries to sell me anything – even though I may be lying there naked, fat and vulnerable – I tell them I will stop the treatment and leave the spa…eek! Then I am so wound up I don’t enjoy the massage…so leave anyway and complain. I must be the most hated woman in spas…until…Jo Foley

    1. Oh Jo. You are not the “most” hated! Thank you for your comment. I believe that home care is a very important element to spas,..and it is important for our therapists to reveal those unwanted parts of ourselves…
      The main issue that I want to clarify is it is the way in which we inform our guests that is important!

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