Odd Jobs: Convention Masseuseby
Yu-Whuan Wong has strong hands. The Taiwanese event therapist from Kyoto, Japan, developed muscles over the 20 years she’s been in the massage business. In the past six years, she’s taken her services beyond salon walls to conventions and other corporate events.
Convention attendees “need massage,” Wong says. Even if it’s only a four-hour show, they quickly feel the symptoms of stress, including headaches, lower back and shoulder pain, and foot pain. Others need help recovering from the previous night’s opening party.
Creating a relaxing environment in a bright, noisy exhibition space requires some preparation. Her tools include a 15-pound massage chair, which she herself carries, and a travel bag of essential oils, lotion, hand sanitizer, paper towels, Tiger Balm, and bandages in case any customers have small cuts or blisters from walking. She sometimes brings music for ambiance, but in a vast, indoor area such as New York’s Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, which has 760,000 square feet of exhibition space and high ceilings, there’s no point. Also, no candles, she says. They aren’t allowed at some events, so she uses diffusers for scent.
Wong, manager of the out-call team at Oasis Day Spa in New York, is one of roughly 80 massage therapists contracted by the company. Oasis—founded by Bruce Schoenberg, a former trade show and event producer, and his wife Marti—launched chair massage services at convention centers around the same time it opened its first spa in 1998. Oasis now has two brick-and-mortar locations in New York City and one in Westchester. N.Y. It hires masseuses and masseurs for events around the country, most recently in Miami, Orlando, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Long Beach, Calif.
The company sends a team of massage therapists to events. (The size of the team depends on the number of attendees.) In busy months, Wong works three to five expos, which are usually several days long, giving 15 massages per day at the average event. Unlike salon massages, convention services are shorter for people on a tight schedule. The basic service is 10 minutes for $15.
Massage is second nature to Wong, whose father and brothers are doctors of traditional Chinese medicine, which considers massage a vital form of therapy. In Japan, which Wong calls home, “I found nature’s harmony very strong, and this affected me and my work here,” she says. For the weary—or desperately hung over—a bit of essential oil can make a day of conferences slightly more tolerable.