A recently opened massage studio in Corrales appears to be rubbing some people the wrong way.
Bunkhouse Massage opened in December in one of the first commercial buildings motorists encounter when they drive into town on Corrales Road from the south.
You can’t miss it. There are neon lights flashing in the front window and “BUNKHOUSE” spelled out in big block letters on the facade.
For nearly a dozen years it was home to Second Hand Treasures, a popular thrift store that was asked to vacate the building in July. The building’s owner then put it up for sale, asking $750,000 for the structure that first housed Frontier Mart, then Bunkhouse Furniture.
With no immediate takers, the owner opened the massage studio just before Christmas.
Signs on the door and windows advertise Chinese herbal detox, herbal soaks and hot-stone, full-body and foot massages, among other services.
A couple of calls
The new business created a bit of a stir around the village. While most people thought little of it, others expressed concerns about having such a business, and the unfortunate stereotypes often associated with “Chinese massage parlors” on the main drag.
Anti-Asian sentiment and increased tensions between the United States and China, exacerbated by the drama surrounding the so-called Chinese spy balloon, can’t be discounted either.
The Village of Corrales had received two phone calls concerning the business, possibly from the same source, Village Clerk Melaine Romero said.
The first call came right about the time the massage business opened.
“There were trucks there late at night, and the caller was afraid it was a front for sex trafficking,” Romero said.
About a week later a call came into the police station. Romero said the caller wanted to remain anonymous and didn’t want to file a formal complaint.
“She was concerned because there were curtains up in the window,” Romero said. “Because you couldn’t see in, she thought that was a red flag.”
Romero said the village’s code enforcement officers got a look behind the curtains when they inspected the building and didn’t see any red flags. A fire inspection is required prior to issuing a business license, which was delayed one day to correct a minor code issue.
“They followed all the rules,” she said of the owners.
Bunkhouse Massage and the building are owned by Four Gongs, Inc., an Albuquerque-based corporation in good standing and registered with the New Mexico Secretary of State’s Office since 2011, the same year Four Gongs purchased the building. Xianying Norman is listed as Four Gongs’ director, president and chairman of the board on the Secretary of State’s business portal.
Norman is also listed as the registered agent of Downtown Foot Massage on Central in Albuquerque, which opened in 2017.
But Xianying Norman’s name turns up elsewhere with an internet search and perhaps that’s what prompted phone calls to Village offices.
A complaint was filed against Xianying Norman with the Arizona State Board of Massage Therapy a decade ago. According to minutes from a March 2013 meeting, the board voted to hold a formal hearing in the case. It remains unclear what the complaint was about, but records show that the case was dismissed a year later.
Her name also appears in a court case filed by the El Paso (Texas) County Attorney in March 2016.
The case was filed against Xianying Gong and also lists her husband, Mitchell Norman, and the massage studio they operated in El Paso, Montana Massage, as defendants.
Public online court records are vague, with the charges listed as “Massage Therapy License/Owner Violation.” But court records indicate probable cause was found and the case was heard in criminal court. The Normans pleaded not guilty and the case ultimately was dismissed in July 2021.
Curiously, court records show no activity in the case for nearly four years. It appears the charges were refiled in February 2020. At the same time, an order was issued to seal records in the case.
That same day, Feb. 26, 2020, the El Paso Times published an article under the provocative headline,
“Chinese Women Found Living at El Paso Massage Parlor That Advertised on Erotic Websites” read the headline on Feb. 26, 2020.
The newspaper reported that Montana Massage had been shut down by the El Paso Attorney’s Office for being a nuisance and employing unlicensed massage therapists.
“This is another step taken by our office in cooperation with law enforcement to find businesses that may be fronts for illicit activity, including human trafficking,” County Attorney Jo Anne Bernal said in a statement quoted in the article.
The closure was the result of an investigation involving undercover El Paso police vice detectives, county attorney investigators and the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation, the newspaper reported. It said that Xianying Gong Norman had been previously charged with operating a different El Paso massage establishment without a license in 2015.
The County Attorney’s Office alleged that Montana Massage advertised on erotic websites with photos of scantily clad women.
Through a Mandarin translator, investigators interviewed two women who said they worked and lived at the studio. They said they had been in El Paso for two weeks and worked from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., paying their boss $10 per day in rent. They told investigators that they didn’t know their boss’s name or phone number, according to the newspaper report.
Significantly, the women told investigators they did not feel in any danger and were free to come and go as they pleased. They declined offers for shelter or assistance and said that they planned to return to California where there was a larger Chinese community and they could make more money.
There’s now a boot and shoe repair shop at the former location of Montana Massage, but Xianying Norman’s massage therapy license is still current in Texas, according to a records search with the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation.
A spokesman for the department told the Comment that her license was renewed “because at the time she had not been convicted of any crimes that would prevent her from holding a license.”
A check of her license status in New Mexico turned up conflicting information. Her license on the state’s Regulation and Licensing Department website listed her license as “Active” but also indicates her license expired in October 2022.
Asked for clarification, an administrator with the Massage Therapy Board confirmed that Xianying Norman’s license is current and expires Oct. 31, 2024.
The Comment arranged an interview with Xianying Norman at the Bunkhouse, but it didn’t last long.
Soon after it started, Mitchell Norman interjected. “He wants to put what you say in the newspaper,” he warned his wife.
Xianying declined to answer any questions after that.
“No, no, no. I’m legal!” she said.
It’s true. Her business is in good standing and has legal title to the property.
The Village says Bunkhouse Massage is properly permitted and licensed.
The state confirmed Xianying Norman’s massage therapy license is current.