"There are three massage choices: honey, milk and salt," Jing says. "Which would you like?"
I choose honey, which Jing tells the manager before leaving. I look around. The clean, attractive bathing area has a wall of showers, large soaking pool, sauna, steam room, and side rooms.
Skinny ladies watch. Because I am Caucasian, I am an attraction. Even in the steam room, there are eyes staring through the window.
The brightly lit treatment room has several adjustable lounges. My masseuse waters down a lounge and lines it with plastic wrap. She hands me a package that looks like Barbie-size underwear. I think it is a covering those tiny ladies use, and I can't wear it. I am depressed and hand it back. Turns out it's a mitt. As if sanding a piece of lumber, my masseuse rubs my body with it. Skin falls to the floor. Then she washes me down as though I'm a dirty bathroom.
Next, I head to the chalkboard. My masseuse reads each Chinese character and explains them to me - in Chinese. She tries hard to please. Since my Chinese consists only of "please" and "thank you," I politely nod.
Back to the table. Using a combination of reflexology, stretching and pounding, she covers my body with slightly diluted honey. I am now a fly magnet. If a bear should happen by, I am dead meat. Out comes the hose. It is like being in a car wash.
Now it's sauna time. I sit there thinking that this is a way of life for many Chinese. They come here to spend time with their lady friends and relax.
Soon, I notice a shiny patina forming over my body. If I stay much longer, it will take a chisel to remove the honey. Eyes follow me. Everyone snickers. I shower, pay my $13 fee, and leave feeling very well scrubbed.
Though baths are not frequented by Westerners, foot-massage parlors are. Sanyetang Foot-Bath Club uses "foot reflex therapy, which is part of Chinese yin-yang theory and the overall Western neural control theory for the theoretical foundation," the brochure says. With such a treatment, how can you not be cured - or confused?
My husband, Lou, and I are taken to a bright room with reclining beds and a giant TV. We are handed a remote. I find a Discovery-type elephant program. After those skinny Chinese ladies, I need this to feel small and to restore my self-esteem.
The treatment consists of foot soaking, a knee in the back (to help the spine), back rubs, stretching, arm massage, and the foot thing. In no time, Lou is snoring like a train. The foot massagers giggle. Afterward, I am relaxed, as is Lou, thanks to his nap.
Still, honey traces remain. After three days and three shampoos, flakes still fly out of my hair. When I put on an earring, my finger sticks to my ear, which makes me remember the massages - and smile.
Roberta Sotonoff lives in Glenview, Ill.