A few years ago I made an appointment with a Singaporean man whose business was in the heart of Chinatown.  He was giving me directions to his workplace when he asked, “Do you know Chinatown very well?”

“Sure,” I said.  This one word, “sure” somehow indicated in code that I used the special services of Chinese pleasure maidens.  He smiled devilishly, raised his eyebrows and said, “Ahh, I know, I know.”  I had no idea what he was referring to, until a few years later.

In 2005, a friend of mine stayed with me for a couple of weeks.  I’d come home from work and ask, “What did you do today?”  He’d say, “I went to Chinatown.”  It took a week of this before he confessed to finding an array of Eastern pleasure-domes.

With that in mind, five years later, I sat in a waiting room at a shopping area called Beauty World, here in Singapore.  Most of Singapore is completely “English”.  As one of four official languages, English is easily dominant—definitely at most professional establishments.

But this one was different.  The waiting room papers were all in Chinese.  The posters on the wall were in Chinese, and as I soon found, the “therapists” in attendance hardly spoke English.  The space was partitioned by a series of hanging curtains, compartmentalizing a small room into tiny, separate sections with a single bed or table in each.  And while I waited for my treatment time, one of the hanging, partitioned sheets was moving rhythmically as somebody’s butt and lower back pushed up against it, protruding oddly into the tiny waiting area that I sat in.

I knew where I was.  It wasn’t a brothel–or a “massage” parlour.  But still, I wondered.  Giving acupuncture a try for the very first time, I was already a bit edgy.  And considering that I was once asked if I wanted a “special service” at a local health spa, I was a bit frightened when seeing the thrusting curtain.

Perhaps I should clarify a phobia to put this in perspective:

I’m afraid of prostitutes.

In 2004, while finding my way back to my hotel in Hanoi, Vietnam, I was asked by a beautiful woman on a scooter if I wanted a ride.  I didn’t.

“Massage?” she asked.

OK, so she was a masseuse drumming up business.

“No thanks,” I replied.

“Special massage?” she implored.

Then she smiled, revealing that her employer obviously didn’t offer dental benefits.

Hmmmm…..Now it was time to leave.  And I was scared.

I knew what “special massage” meant.  And as awful as this sounds, I had just finished reading Bram Stoker’s original Dracula the night before, and she probably reminded me, subconsciously, of those creepy vampire women who lived with The Count and threatened to eat people.

“No thank you,” I stammered.

And then I started to jog, wearing Chaco sandals. I lengthened my stride into a moderate run, until I heard her calling to me from her trailing scooter.  She was definitely closing the gap.  And fast.

Although far from possessing speed that could put food on my table through a Nike contract, I had run a 4:30 mile a few months previous.  And on that night, I did it again.   Petrified, I ran as fast as I could, flying past old guys on bicycles, scorching past scooters and weaving between traffic clogged taxis that were taking tourists out for dinner.  I was a bald, white rocket, streaking through the streets like I’d just stolen the ring off Ho Chi Minh’s embalmed pinky.

Totally irrational, I know.  What was I expecting this prostitute to do?  Tie me down and give me syphilis with a slap of her hand-bag?

Needless to say, I made it back to the hotel alive.

But the acupuncturist, in November 2010, was still a question mark.  What was going on behind that sheet?

I was soon to find out.

Moving me into the next partitioned quarter, I lay face-down on a massage table, roughly an arm’s length from the man behind the neighbouring compartment.  He was now getting slapped by something sounding like a paddle.  This place could definitely be kinky, I thought.  He made sounds like the principal, in Forrest Gump.  Do you remember that guy?  He was the one generously agreeing to put Forrest in the regular public school –which he negotiated in Forrest’s mother’s bedroom.

But the guy behind the acupuncturist’s sheet was quieter.

Then fear turned to relaxation as the therapist did what she’s supposed to do:  she started jabbing needles into my bare back.   Yeah, I know.  A normal person wouldn’t necessarily be happy about that.  But I was.

It didn’t hurt—it just pinched a bit.  Then they moved some kind of heat lamp over me, warming the needles, while I lay still for 20 minutes.  I moved my arm once, but I guess that shifted my back muscles a bit, and it felt like someone had just stuck, yeah, a bunch of needles in my back.

After the needles were removed, the therapist brought out a toilet plunger and started to suction areas of my back.   I didn’t actually see the plunger—so I can’t tell you where it came from.  But it felt and sounded like a classic instrument better served for freeing a porcelain log and paper jam.

“What are you doing?” I wanted to know.

“Sucking moisture from inside back,” responded the therapist in broken English.

And that’s when she brought out the stick.  The poor guy in sheet room 101 wasn’t ever experiencing pleasure.  I’d figured that out by now.  He was getting battered and bruised by a paddle—and now it was my turn.

I can’t really take credit for enduring a torturous Chinese paddling because the therapist was a lot easier on me than she was on my wife—who suffered from massive bruising the day after she was treated at the same place.

What does this have to do with finance?