Two Unique Chinese Experiences

I have to tell you about two experiences I have had recently – China’s version of a “day spa” and Shijiazhuang’s night life.

China’s version of a day spa is called a bathhouse. Now, I know in the West, “bathhouse” has a sort of negative connotation, but not here, at least not in Shijiazhuang. It is a place to relax, have a massage, a sort of retreat. I went with the girlfriend of one of the other instructors. (update – turns out that bathhouses have both legitimate and sketchy services.)
The place was very fancy and plush, with lots of ornate decoration and marble. It felt a bit like a very nice hotel lobby. We gave a 100 Yuan deposit (about $12 US) and received a locker key. (The deposit reminded me that this is a place for the upper-class. They are the only ones that can afford it.)

The locker room was not like a typical, grubby, sweaty locker room. This one is carpeted with a gold chandelier and dark stained wooden lockers. There are attendants everywhere to help you, for instance, the attendant took our keys and open and closed our lockers for us. You sort of just get used to being constantly observed as a foreigner and the Chinese have a very different idea about personal space than North Americans – there just isn’t any.

After changing, we went to the steam and sauna rooms (none of this is coed by the way, men have their own section with a Jacuzzi, which the women don’t have.) Evidently it is supposed to be very detoxifying; I found it smothering hot at first, and then quite relaxing. Afterward we went to the showers where there was plenty of hot water. (At our hotel we generally only have hot water from 8PM to 8AM or whenever it runs out!)

After showering, we put on a pair of pajamas that the attendants gave us and went upstairs to the relaxation area. The room is sort of like a dimly-lit movie theater, (there is actually a movie screen, too.) It is filled with waist-high cubicles. In each cubicle are two twin beds, separated by a table. There you can sleep, relax, watch a movie or have a massage.

My friend and I decided to have head and foot massages. The head massage included the head, neck, shoulders and half way down the back, and was heavenly and so relaxing. The foot massage was odd at first, because I wasn’t really used to having my feet touched, but I instantly felt de-stressed. The total cost for 90 minutes of massage and use of the spa facilities? $10 US. I think I will go every week!

The second experience is the city nightlife. When we take the bus into the city, usually the latest we can stay is 8PM, when the last bus returns to the airport. At 8PM we noticed that there were tons of people out in the streets, walking their dogs (mostly little Pekingese and cocker-spaniel looking dogs), doing Tai Chi, line dancing, singing Karaoke, eating, or just observing other people. It is really a lot of fun. In one park we came across a whole group of people ball-room dancing.

Last night we decided to stay in the city late to go out and see how the Chinese of Shijiazhuang entertain themselves. We were a group of 5, an Australian, an Italian, another American, DH and I.

Our first stop was at a restaurant. We were led to a private room, something that is actually quite common here. We had a feast of very good Chinese food, some of the best we have had so far. Then we headed to a “lounge” that the Italian had heard of. Well, it turned out to be a singles bar located in a sort of subterranean club, three levels down. I felt like I was entering a speak-easy or something. There were tables full of Chinese surrounding a stage where a few performers were singing. We were not sure whether they were amateurs or not. It seemed like an open-mic kind of thing.

After about an hour we finally figured out how the club worked. On each table there were pieces of paper and a pen. If you saw someone that you liked, you called over a girl dressed like an angel or cupid, and gave her the message you had written, usually including your mobile phone number or email address. These messages were then posted on an electronic display above the stage, all in Chinese, of course. Occasionally the musical acts were interrupted for a betting contest or a free-for-all disco dance. There were even door-prizes. If you are single and Chinese it looked like a fun place.

After the singles club we went to Disco City which is a big multi-level nightclub. On one level was a karaoke bar, (they call them KTV), on another a smaller bar with techno music and on the lowest level and dance floor with dance music. This wasn’t just any dance floor, however, this one bounced up and down with the beat of the music. It must be set on springs or something. It was a lot more fun than it sounds!

The clientele of the club were Chinese in their mid-20s to 30s, and I imagine they are more well-to-do. We were pretty surprised to see about a half-dozen Westerners as well. The Chinese love to drink, as evidenced by several of them passed out in various places of the club! Doesn’t seem to be the big no-no it is in the West. All-in-all it was quite an interesting night.

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