Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Gym observations

Prepare to see a lot of interesting things if you ever participate in a race in China... prepare to see more if you enter a Chinese gym....

When I first started blogging I wrote about a gym visit where I watched an un-made-up girl enter the women’s changing room in tracksuit pants, a big hooded jumper and no make-up. Then I watched her as she changed into a tight, slinky outfit, put on make-up and ate the greasy content of the KFC bag she’d been carrying with her. Once she was done, she entered the gym. Funny how things often go the complete opposite way over here!

Some weeks ago at the gym I had another ‘whaaaaat?!’ –moment, as I watched a middle-aged Chinese man walk over to the treadmill carrying a tea thermos of the size XL as well as a cup of steaming hot (what I assume must have been) tea. He carefully placed his drinks on the treadmill before he went back to the changing rooms. A moment later he emerged with a package of biscuits as well as a bag of something that looked like mini-baozi. It took a while for him to arrange everything around his treadmill so that nothing would drop (especially the hot cup of tea was tricky) but he didn’t care and was in no hurry what-so-ever. When he finally had put everything into place he turned on the TV (of course! Watching TV on the treadmill is as natural for the Chinese gym goers at my gym as it is for me to run while listening to music) and started the treadmill. I think he put the pace on something like 1,5 km/hour and sloooooowly started walking, while drinking and eating. A treadmill picnic in other words?! (And I thought I was inventive at the gym, bringing my skipping rope and working out with weights on the balance ball? Gosh, I still have so much to learn). 

What I enjoy to watch the most, however, is the personal trainers working their customers. Since I have a lot of trainer friends (that I also regard as my ‘inside buddies’ –I know I know, I am a total geek!) I get to hear a lot of funny stories from them. Rocky told me that the rates of the trainers are different (the cheapest ones, like Rocky, charges 100kuai/hour and the most expensive one of them all –Scott –a beefy, tough looking dude, wants 250kuai/hour –out of that money, the gym keeps 60% and the trainer gets 40%). I wasn’t too surprised to hear this, and later realized that it makes sense: beefy Scott mainly trains 2 types of people (only males, never women): cooperate office guys and fat, reluctant young boys. The cooperative guys obviously wants ‘the best of the best’ and when it comes to the young fatties I can really imagine them being brought to the gym by their parents, who have decided that their beloved son needs to lose some pounds, and immediately asks for the beefiest, most expensive trainer at the gym to make the miracle happen. It is always a little bit painful to watch Scott and the uncomfortable, overweight young boy who just wishes he was somewhere else while he’s trying to look all cool and masculine under the bench press.

(And who do the not-so-beefy-looking trainers train? Women, of course. Tai tais etc).

Except for dividing the trainers into the beefy, and the non-beefy group, they can also be divided into a helpful and not-so-helpful group. The helpful group are the ones who will tell you if they see that you are using a machine the wrong way (I am always as grateful when they do this) or, who are happy to give you some training tips/advices/help you stretch even though you are not their customer. 

Then there are the not-so-helpful-kinds that will just walk by with a superficial smile on their faces even though they see that you might injure yourself if you continue to do that particular movement, and, who play dumb-struck when you ask them to help you. The not-so-helpful-trainers are also quite peculiar when it comes to handing out 'special equipment' like 'the stomach wheel' that they keep in a back room and only give to customers that specifically asks for it. I use that wheel every single time that I gym, and I know that they all know it, but they still manage to look like living question marks when I ask for it... 'what wheel? No sorry, don't have.' (Then I go to another guy and ask for it and he always gets it for me) 

There's also a third group of trainers: the sleepy kind, who you’re most likely to find napping in the corner of the aerobics’ room after lunch. (Although I don't know how OK this is because the last 3 trainers I have seen sleeping in there have later ‘disappeared’ from the gym, so I am guessing that sleeping on duty is considered a no-no, even in a nap-loving country like China).

Finally, there is the English-speaking personal trainer. The guy who is friends with all the laowais. He rarely mingles with his Chinese training buddies, instead he’s laughing with the big boys at the free-weight session. He knows most of the laowais by their first name and they love him, oh, do they love him! Everyone except for me. Him and I had a little ‘fall out’ during my early gym days when he insisted on speaking English to me and I kept replying in Chinese, and nowadays we acknowledge each other with a stiff head-nod.

Ah the gym.. got to love that place! Especially here in China. So much personality. So much.... interesting stuff happening. I haven't been for 4 days (sore throat) but today I am doing a much longed-for comeback. 


13 comments:

Suiiki said...

The girl you described isn't that different from and American college student...so many times when I was school I saw a young woman come into the change room with me, change from a school hoodie and sweat pants into short shorts or tight work-out pants and a teeny-tiny t-shirt, and go out to work out. They don't seem to care that those clothes will give them rashes and make the workout harder than it needs to be, they only care that it will get them looked at by the college guys across the gym! It's all about appearances...

Jess said...

I still can't get over the chinese guy with the biscuits and tea on the treadmill!!!

Lover of Life said...

The gym, a little microcosm of China!

Heli82 said...

See, I am one of your many fans here!! Hahaha!

What I especially enjoy are the trainers who try to be the English-speaking trainer when they really don't have the language skills necessary to fill that roll. I played sports in high school and knew my way around a weight room, but the trainer saw a foreign female and felt the need to tell me how to do the lat pulls, "You, hold, pull. OK?" Then when I spoke to him in very passable Chinese and explained that I knew what I was doing he still insisted on speaking english. Eh, some things will always be the same.

Have you noticed also that sometimes people forget that they're supposed to wipe their sweat (or maybe in the case of your gym, their biscuit crumbs) off of the equipment? That was a problem at my gym in Beijing. Nasty!

kdobson said...

沙发

Your gym has a stomach wheel? Jealous.

Other things my gym lack:
trainers that speak english (except "come on!" and "no no no" and obscenities)

kdobson said...

Definitely not the 沙发 after all...

My gym is overrun by small teams of girls from the local university who come to stand around in groups, and walk very slowly on treadmills as part of their CNY resolutions. HIIT, people!

Also, what do you do, if anything, to work your hip flexors?

Jonna Wibelius said...

suliki -yup there are girls like that everywhere. What I found to be the funniest bit with the girl I saw was all the deep-fried chicken she ate before working out...

Jess -hehe... he made my day :) You could tell that he'd really planned his picnic treadmill walk!

Heli82 -wiping the machines after using them?! whooooa... no no no.. that is NOT happening at my gym. In fact, I think I am one of the few people who ever bring a towel to my work out sessions... no one else cares. Although the gym has 7657645 cleaning people who are constantly wiping everything, so I guess that makes up for it. Sometimes when I run on the treadmill for a longer period of time (like 1-1.5 hours) one of the cleaners will spend a good 10 minutes at my machine, cleaning it while I am still on it... (as I sweat quite a lot). I find it as annoying every time.

kdobson -maybe yours do too... u just have to ask for it. I didn't know that they did until some months ago when I saw someone else using it.. like I said, they don't keep it at the gym all the time. The amount of people 'walking and watching TV' on the treadmill is evident at my gym too. I find it kind of annoying to be honest with you, because u can tell they are there for the TV show, and not for the work-out.

Anonymous said...

Your last comment does not make sense. Here in Japan its fairly common that people watch TV on the treadmill while working out on it. Why is it annoying when listening to music is not? There must be a point that the treadmills are equipped with a TV in the first place?

And 50% of the treadmill users are walking on it, while the rest combine walking and running. I'm of the latter. Just because you can run 1.5 hrs doesn't mean everyone else is up for that. And walking IS work out.

kanmuri said...

the treadmill picnic made me laugh! Funny story ;)

Jonna Wibelius said...

anonymous -Maybe I expressed myself a bit blunt. I don't think there is anything wrong with walking on the treadmill -I do it too at times, especially as a warm up and cool down... and sure, it IS exercise, especially if you work up some sweat and add some incline etc... But there is a difference between walking and... barely moving at all. Some treadmill walkers at my gym simply stand on the treadmill and watch the TV for 15 min before they even to bother to start the treadmill and move for a little bit... sometimes when all the treadmills are taken it is quite annoying to have people just standing on them and more than once have I asked if they are planning to use it or not (as I feel they can just as well watch the TV from the side of the treadmill). I feel that after all, the gym is a place for exercise not TV watching.

konichiwa, bitches. said...

awesome. i go to an almost all-turkish-male gym. If i ever write about it I'll send you a link, cos it is hilarious. I particularly loved your description of the KFC girl and the XL tea man... we have a couple of girls who wear pounds of makeup, one of whom is about 5'5" and 300 lbs and is clearly just there to pick up dudes (she plays around on a machine until she gets bored of it, then starts chatting) and of course women with hair down to their butts who wear it long and make sure not to sweat at all...

Jonna Wibelius said...

konichiwa, bitches -hehe, sounds awesome. Can't wait to read that. Being a gym geek, I love gym stories :)

Patrick Kelso said...

Having just arrived in Shanghai last Sunday I immediately set out to investigate the gym, sorry health club in my hotel. It was described as:

"The Health Club available for in-house guests with a selection of equipment which includes treadmills, rowing machines, bicycles, stair master and free weights. There is also a large indoor swimming pool and an outdoor tennis court available."

Of course the outdoor tennis court could be used as a pool this week, the indoor pool is about 10mx10m, so I have to tumble turn every few seconds. But the free weight selection is what got me, apparently they haven't heard of barbells, all the free weights are dumbells. There is no equipment in the gym that can be used for squats safely. The dumbells also go up to only 25kg.

At least all the cardio equipment has a TV in front of it ;) The nice attendant from the desk even turned it on for me when I "forgot" to do so when I started running.