The first time I got The Call—at a hotel in coastal Qingdao—it took me off guard.
Someone knows my room phone number already? I thought, pleased with the surprise at my new-found celebrity.
But over time and numerous “no-thank-you’s” later, I learned that the calls were invariably offers for “massage” and not inquiries from rabid fans.
I learned the service was usually only found in slightly larger hotels—ones large enough to fit a “sauna center” to staff the requisite “misses.” But even a question as simple as how much it cost remained a mystery. I helped solve this mystery in Chongqing’s Hotel of Horrors.
David and I had arrived in this central Chinese capital late at night without hotel reservations, so we (regretfully) relied on a recommendation of the hotel service counter at the airport.
The unpleasant discoveries started in the lobby, which was a failed attempt at grandeur with fake marble and clocks displaying the obviously erroneous times of major cities around the world—obviously wrong because cities were different in intervals of 20-40 minutes.
Having taken our room key, David and I called the steel-door elevator to take us to our room. With a whir, the doors pulled open to reveal a carriage full of vomit.
“Let’s take the stairs,” I said.
Dangerously dark with black footprints that somehow managed to find their way halfway up the white-painted wall, the stairs were still more attractive than the vomit coaster ride.
We finally reached our dingy room. I sat down in the bathroom while David relaxed on the bed. Like clockwork, the phone rang.
“That’s the massage call!” I yelled from the bathroom. “Just tell them we don’t want it.”
“Wei?” David said in his rising tone of inquiry as he picked up the receiver.
I waited through a slight pause.
“Women bu xuyao, xiexie,” David said, declining the offer politely.
“Wait!” I yelled from the bathroom. “Ask how much!”
I was curious to get the answer to a nagging curiosity.
“Deng yixia,” David said. Wait a moment.
“Duoshao qian,” he asked, speaking the words how-much-money clearly and formally.
“200,” the woman replied.
“Xiexie, haishi buyao,” David replied, moving to hang up the phone. Thanks, but I don’t want it.
“150!” the woman pleaded as David hung up the phone. “100!” she blurted out, dropping the price in half and mistaking his curiosity-fueled question as an insistence on pinching pennies.
Many are called, but—judging from the woman’s price-slashing—few choose, and even fewer know it can cost little more than $10.