Family Tells Story of Masseuse Who Died in Flushing

Yang Song in a WeChat photo provided to World Journal by a friend.

“She kept saying she wanted to buy a house with a garden for me and her father. We had been waiting for five years only to hear about her death. I felt guilty (for not being able to save her),” said Yumei Shi, the mother of Yang Song, who while working at an illegal massage parlor in Flushing jumped to her death to avoid being arrested during a recent police raid. Shi, her son Hai Song, and Yang’s husband Zhang Zhou told a sad story about Yang’s life when they went to seek the help of the Flushing Neighborhood Watch Team on Dec. 6. They vowed to hold whoever played a role in Yang’s death accountable.

Shi said Yang, the first child of the family, was born in Liaoning, Shenyang province in China and was three years older than her brother Hai. The family struggled financially. But Yang was a tough girl. She learned to cook when she was 8 and started working on a farm when she was a child to make extra money. “Once she made two yuan [Editor’s note: Less than 30 cents in U.S. dollars], and she was so happy,” Shi recalled.  

But parents in rural China often give more attention to boys than girls. When Yang wanted to end her education and leave home to look for jobs after she graduated from middle school, her parents didn’t stop her. “My daughter always complained that I loved her brother more than her because we never bought her new clothes without her crying and begging hard for it,” Shi said.

When she was 19, Yang went to Saipan alone with only a suitcase. She worked odd jobs at all sorts of places from garment factories to restaurants and paid back the 10,000 yuan or so the family borrowed to send her abroad in six months. Shi said her daughter’s life got better and better in Saipan and she even opened two Vietnamese restaurants. The only thing Shi wasn’t happy with was that Yang got married in 2009 to Zhou, a Vietnamese Chinese who was more than 40 years older than her. “Because he was so much older than my daughter, I had never accepted him as my son-in-law until I saw how much he cared after my daughter died,” Shi said. 

Yang Song (right), her mother Yumei Shi (middle) and her brother Hai Song in the restaurant run by Song in Saipan. (Photo provided by the family to World Journal)

In her better days, Yang helped her brother Hai go to Saipan, and their parents often visited them there. But the happy family life didn’t last long. After the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan triggered by a tsunami on March 11, 2011, tourism to Saipan dropped drastically. Restaurants on the island went belly up one after another. The two restaurants owned by Yang and Zhou were also shut down. Zhou, who is a U.S. citizen, sponsored a green card for his wife, and the couple moved to New York in 2013 to start a new life.    

At that time, Zhou was 74 and no longer able to work. His only income was $1,000 per month in welfare money. The couple rented an apartment on 41st Avenue in Flushing. Zhou said he tried his best to cover the rent and living costs of the couple. But New York is too expensive, and Yang set a goal of making more money. So eventually, Yang went to work for the sex massage parlors on 40 Road. She went to work at 9 a.m. and wouldn’t be back until 1 a.m. the next day, and she worked every day. “I didn’t like her doing this, and I tried to persuade her to quit. But she always said ‘my husband doesn’t have money’,” Zhou said. 

But Yang’s mother and brother said they only knew that she worked at a foot spa in the U.S., and that the owner of the spa is from Dalian, China, and their last name is Li. Yang’s parents didn’t think it was a respectable job. But with their daughter being independent and with the distance between them, it was hard for them to interfere. Shi said she knew her daughter’s job was a tough one, but there was nothing she could do. She was only unnerved in September when she couldn’t reach Yang five days in a row. She pleaded with her daughter to contact her. Eventually, Yang talked to her via a video conferencing mobile app.

Yang told Shi that a police officer took away her money and cell phone and also demanded sexual services. “I asked her whether she satisfied him, and she cried and told me she didn’t dare to decline,” Shi said.        

Yang’s brother Hai said the police officer had been harassing his sister from April until September, when Yang took the advice from a friend and reported it to the police. She recognized the predator, who is bald, immediately in a lineup. “My sister sent me the picture of the predator. He is bald with a beard and looked sinister. She said she was so happy because the predator was caught,” Hai said.      

Shi said after Yang told her about the incident, she tried many times to persuade her daughter to go back to China. But Yang didn’t listen. “She said she wanted to buy a house with a garden so her father and I could retire here,” Shi said. But after five years of separation, what the family got was not the reunion in the U.S. that they had been waiting for, but the death of Yang.   

Shi said she only learned her daughter didn’t work for a foot spa but for a sex massage parlor when she arrived in New York on Dec. 5 with her son to deal with the aftermath. The family don’t think the police dealt with the incident properly.

Shi said four masseuses who worked with Yang in the same building told her that they heard police banging on the door that fateful day. “I want to know whether my daughter was harmed and whether that was the reason that prompted her to jump,” Shi said.

Zhou said he was in California when Yang jumped, and was only notified of Yang’s death the next day by the police. He questioned why the police didn’t notify him earlier.  

The family said Yang’s body has undergone an autopsy. The samples of DNA are kept in New York-Presbyterian/Queens hospital and not accessible to family members. But they can tell from the photo provided by the hospital that Yang’s face was bruised and swollen.

But the police denied any wrongdoing and said they were not in the room when Yang jumped. Shi and Hai said the hospital told them the autopsy report will come out in three to five months. The two now live in a hotel and are trying to contact lawyers for legal advice. Michael Chu, the head of the Flushing Neighborhood Watch Team, said he’ll help Yang’s family in the process. He said the lives of the masseuses working on 40 Road are miserable. They are always bullied by troublemaking teenagers.

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