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  • Writer's pictureYenkuei Chuang

Beautiful @MassageParlor

Thinking about the women killed at the massage parlors in Atlanta. Did they think themselves beautiful? What do women do in those massage parlors besides giving massages? Are those massages different from the ones I get at the local wellness studio that smells of citrus and pine? Mine I call Muscular Therapy. Mine I can deduct from a medical spending account.

What about the ones at the massage parlor?

I feel naive. Class. Privilege. Blind. What do you mean it’s a front for sex workers? How much do they get paid? Do the women like what they do? Who are their patrons?

In my mind’s eyes, I see one of them workers - a middle-aged woman with red lips and a ready smile, ready to serve, ready to make her clients happy. Her long black hair tied up in a bun. Moist sweat dampens her forehead. Wrinkled, tired eyes lie uneven. One slightly bigger than the other. Her sixth client had just left. She yawns and extends both arms forward, flexes and circles her wrists. Left to right. Right to left. She applies new makeup, but it’s a shade lighter than her skin, making her look lost and eager. When the bell rings, she gets up and knows another customer has arrived.

She sees an awkward white male, wearing a workman’s plaid shirt and jeans. She gets vibes of rigidity and shyness, and when her eyes meet his, she sees anger. He is not happy that she is seeing his shyness. So she pretends not to see. She protects him. It’s her job to make him comfortable. And soon, the hunger returns to his eyes.

This is her beauty. She does not discriminate with her clients - whether they came in smelly, dirty, shy, angry, or hungry. She does her job, and she knows at the end of the day, she will be able to take that money and buy food for her kids and send some back to the old country for her parents.

Her beauty is in her patience and willingness to do whatever it takes. She does not discriminate. Her beauty is in her unwavering love for her children and parents. Her beauty is in her strength, but it did not save her yesterday. I’m sorry I did not see your beauty earlier. I’m sorry.

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Apr 04, 2021

My eyes, mind, and heart were opened by the open, curious, positive, appreciating tone and content of this writing... I am most grateful to be more opened up and when thinking of these women, now thinking of a lotus, slowly opening its beauty, living in harmony and in community, and then becoming stalk and pod in its next form, but still there.


Loan Nguyen
Loan Nguyen
Mar 22, 2021

thank you Yenkuie for penning this poignant and heart wrenching piece for me to savour and to reflect in the beauty of these Asian women whose lives were violently taken when their children are still young and now lost without their precious protective mothers... judgment and condemnation are quick to come at the superficial level of understanding... deeper looking comes the poem of our Thay, "Please Call Me By My True Names"...

Yenkuei Chuang
Yenkuei Chuang
Mar 23, 2021
Replying to

Thank you, Loan, for taking the time to read and comment. Writing is one of the ways for me to process this deep grief. Also thank you for taking me back to our teacher Thich Nhat Hanh. I've learned so much from him on how to see and love! Of course, we belong to each other. How could it be otherwise?

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