Photo Credit: Physical

Our gym is called Physical. It’s located very conveniently near where we live. It is a fancy gym by Chinese standards, with a synchronized aerobics dance floor and a massage and reflexology parlor, but it also has weights and a squat rack and it does the trick. I’ve been wanting to write about my impressions of Physical for 18 months now, but not until tonight did I have a crystallization of my feelings about the place. Thus:

I went to work out after putting Owen to bed. It’s Sunday night, a busy time at Physical. Lots of 80-pound women in spandex booty shorts dancing seductively in front of the mirrors (easy to do—every wall is a floor-to-ceiling mirror), lots of men pumping a little iron, and one lone woman jogging on the treadmill in a dress and high heels (she must have come straight from work–respect). I did my workout as quickly as possible to avoid interacting too much with our friend B, the beefiest man either Nick or I has ever seen in China. Each of his pecs is easily the size of a watermelon, and he wears a skimpy pink tank top that comes down to just above his bellybutton. B’s pecs are for all the world to see, and they are marvelous. He is Manchurian, and is always rather to quick to point out how the skinny-jeans-wearing men of southern China are all pathetic girly boys. Thus he can be somewhat intimidating when working out, so I try to say hello and then get on with my sweating.

(Nick and B occasionally work out together, with Nick showing B what he knows about Olympic lifts — despite China’s national achievements in this sport, there is almost no wider exposure to it outside the secretive government Olympic development institutes — and B acting ever the humble student. Among the gym staff and other big guys who come to life weights, these encounters give Nick a degree of prestige. There is much face to be gained when those pecks come over to you and ask for coaching tips.)

Anyway, my workout was straightforward but involved a few different lifts, interspersed with running. One of the ten or so (all male) trainers stood behind me and watched me the entire time (about 20 minutes), staring unblinkingly. My audience didn’t end there: an exhausted-looking cleaning woman sat on a pile of exercise mats in the corner, picking her nose and trying not to fall asleep while she stared, unblinkingly, at me.

Once I finished up and put my barbell back on the rack, the trainer came over to help me rack my weights. (Unnecessary, but a nice gesture.) Our conversation went like this:
Trainer (in Chinese): “You like to do the *****. I see you do the *****.”
Me (in Chinese): “Sorry, I don’t understand. I do the what?”
Trainer (in Chinese): “Oh, you speak Chinese!”
Me (in Chinese): “A little.”

Trainer (in English): “You like to do these [demonstrates a burpee].”

Me: “Yeah! Burpees. In English we call them burpees.”
Trainer: “I see you do them yesterday.”
Me: “Okay, yes.”
Trainer: “What do you like to do?”
Me: “I do…CrossFit? Do you know it?”
Trainer: “Cr…what?”
Me: “Well, like, Olympic lifting and running and burpees and lots of other things.”
Trainer: “Yes! I know this! Lots of things!”
Me: “It’s fun.”
Trainer [looking me up and down]: “You want to lose fat?”
Me [not sure I understood]: “What?”

Trainer: “You want to lose fat?”

Me: “Um?”
Trainer: “So it doesn’t matter if you lose fat.”

Me: “I just want to feel good, to be strong.”
Trainer: “Ah. Oh. Hm.”

Me: “Okay, good night.”
Trainer: “Bye.”



Filed under Life in the Bike Lane

4 responses to “Physicality

  1. Wow. That sounds just like the Gold’s Gym in Medford, MA. Floor to ceiling mirrors, lots of giant pecs and tiny women in booty shorts…and people staring when you did anything other than a bicep curl or lat pulldown. Doesn’t China have one of the biggest Olympic weightlifting traditions out there? Those ladies workout to be strong… heart you, lady!

  2. The fitness culture is coming to this country in a big way. It’s safe to say that most of these people never before set foot in a gym, or ever played organized sports, before they joined the workforce and started working and commuting long hours each day. And yet here they are, spending a big chunk of money to drive across town again each night and, for the price of a movie ticket, do lat pull-downs or whatever else they can figure out on their own.

    Oh, and we forgot to mention the gym’s name in Chinese: 舒适堡, which I generously translate as “Comfy Fortress.”

    I like this name. More truth-in-advertising than, say, “Gold’s Gym” back home.

  3. My wife & I are looking to go to Hangzhou summer of 2015. I was curious if there are any CF’s there… or at least olympic lifting gyms.

    • Pete, I don’t know of any now, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there is one (or two). Small businesses like that start up (and disappear) very quickly in Hangzhou. I’d recommend starting your search around the Yellow Dragon Stadium sports complex area. Good luck!

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