Fortunately, a friend helped her to get a job at a massage parlor, and now she works with a group of colleagues who she says treat her like a little sister.
“Things are fine here, I can make some money, I don’t need to spend much since the boss provides housing and I am surrounded by a group of good friends,” she said.
Chen added that in most massage parlors, the masseur or masseuse gets half the money from a customer while the employer gets the other half, so if a customer pays NT$1,000 for a two-hour massage session, the employer gets NT$500, while Chen would get NT$500.
If everything goes smoothly and Chen gets four to five customers a day, she can make NT$2,000 to NT$2,500 a day, which adds up to between NT$48,000 and NT$60,000 per month.
Another masseuse surnamed Zhang (張), in her 40s, who works at a Thai massage parlor in New Taipei City, also considers working as a masseuse a way to rebuild her life.
Originally from Zhejiang Province in China, Zhang said that she once owned a flourishing business that had several branches across China.
However, due to problems that she preferred not to talk about, her business collapsed about 10 years ago, and she had to work on production lines.
It was then that she met her Taiwanese husband, who was a supervisor at a factory where she was working.
“Not long after we got married, we moved back to Taiwan,” Zhang said. “At first, I worked in the restaurant that my husband’s family owns in Nantou County, but you just don’t make much money working in a restaurant, so I decided to come to Taipei where I started working as a masseuse.”
Zhang says she is so devoted to work that she has only been back to China three times in the past six years, “because it costs too much to go home for a visit.”
“You not only have to pay the travel expenses, you also need to buy a lot of stuff because all your relatives think you must be well-off since you are married to a Taiwanese, and expect you to bring home gifts and necessities for everyone,” she said. “I hope to save up and return home one day.”
Panai has a similar dream.
“Massage therapy is a very physically demanding job, I don’t think I can stay in the business forever,” she said, laughing.
“My dream is to save up as much as I can while I’m young and able to do extra work, and when I turn 30 or something like that, I’ll use my savings and move on to something that interests me more,” she said.