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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Thoughts in a Chinese Gym

The gym I belong to in Jilin is approximately 300% better than the gym I belonged to in Zhanjiang last year. It has a lot of modern equipment, from treadmills to dumbbells (where you can actually read the weight!) to cable machines. They're all plastered with the brand "Impulse Fitness," which also (coincidently?) happens to be the name of the gym, and this name is everywhere you look, plastered on the walls and mirrors like they're trying to indoctrinate you or something. I find myself just staring emptily into the company's logo on the support beams in front of me as I try to make it through the last five minutes, sweat streaming down my face like tears, telling myself I won't look to see how much time is left until this song is over, OK-now-look, FIVE MINUTES?! WHAT THE?!

Chinese men appear to have no qualms with nudity, and they like to strut around the locker room at what I consider to be absurd levels of nakedness. Nakedness that is so constant that it seems like it's trying to say something, like a point is trying to be made or some kind of silent protest is underway. There's always one guy, fresh out of the shower and yet somehow without even the decency of a towel, gingerly laying out his clothes on the bench, carefully weighing the decision of what to put on first with nude pacing that orbits the entire locker room; or another guy naked in front of the mirror, one leg sprawled high on the counter like he's stretching for a marathon, using a hair dryer to fluff his pubes and dry between each toe, because if any part of you is at all wet, YOU WILL GET SICK; all the while his ass crack broadcasts a vertical smile for all to see.

I was changing in the locker room and overheard three guys, late-twenties-early-thirties guys, joking as they got dressed to leave. And what was funny is how it sounded like my friends: I could tell by the change in one guy's voice that he was doing some line for a show, a sitcom catchphrase or something, and they were talking about what all guys talk about, farts and dumps, saying something about how one guy farts too much and the other guy's farts don't smell. I felt like these guys could have been my room mates, and it was a special if strange moment for my Chinese.

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