My Chinese Gym Experiences

In this instalment, I talk about what it’s like in a Chinese gym

It’s about a year since I first stepped into a Chinese gym. OK, a Chinese gym is probably not all that different to ones at home, although I cannot confirm this fact as I have pretty much never been in a gym at home before. Yes, that’s right, I lost my gym virginity in China!

We first trialed a gym in Ordos before we went to Beijing last year. We were going to pay ¥3000 (about £300) for a year’s membership. Shortly after we came back from Beijing however, a nice man who we were drinking with one evening gave us free membership to an even more expensive gym (¥7000/£700 a year), in the thinking that foreigners in his gym would attract more customers, (please remember that when I lived there, Ordos was a very rich city, although the economy is now dropping again apparently).

It was a well appointed gym, I have to say and quiet too. Morgan helped me a little at first, showing me how to use some of the machines as she used to go to the gym back in the US. It was useful to see what I could improve anyway. I ended up going fairly regularly anyway, usually in the mornings after I’d woken up as it was a good fit into my day. The gym was always quiet so I never had any trouble getting a treadmill or using the machines I wanted. It also meant that there was no-one watching me exercise, which was nice too.

The changing rooms were nice, although the showers were a little to be desired as they were communal. Two large circular shower areas in the centre of the room. I’m not body conscious but it was a bit weird being unable to shower in a cubicle. That and my white skin and other assets though, I knew that if there were others in the showers, they’d definitely take a look at me. However, as I usually went when it was practically just me in the gym, this was rarely an issue, although on Christmas Eve last year I went to the gym in order to have a shower (our water had stopped) and it was a little busier and I was sharing the showers with more women then.

It wasn’t until I got to Zhangzhou though, that I realised I was in a spot of bother. I arrived in Zhangzhou in February, but by March I was getting fat. I blame the guy downstairs who gave me too much rice for my meals, but I knew that I had to start going to the gym again. Rachel had signed up to one for a trial, so I went along with her one day to a class. And I really haven’t looked back. The class was a boxing class and I was really worn out during the first time, all that punching and kicking in various directions, but I enjoyed it. Now, this class feels really easy, but the instructor regularly mixes new and old routines, especially now it’s winter and we need the exercise for the warmth!

I am much more disciplined on the treadmill now too. In Ordos I would just walk for a bit then get bored. Here, I have begun actually running for about 20 minutes at a time. Still not a world beater, but for me an achievement. Between April and July I had a lot of free time for the gym so was going maybe 3 or 4 times a week and slowly but surely I began to look a little different. People started to comment that I looked thinner, which considering that the Chinese also tell you that you’re fat, is definitely a compliment. (They only say things like that to show they care, apparently…)

Since coming back from my trip home, I have had a little less time that I would like to go to the gym, but I still try and go twice a week, once for boxing class and another time for just some treadmill and weights work. Honestly, I feel like I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been. I’ve even lost some weight, although I think that was kick started by my being sick at the beginning of the month, and combined with me making very healthy soup. Needless to say, I was about 92kg and now I’m down to 87kg. Considering that on my medical form I did in Newcastle I was 84kg, this has to be an improvement, especially considering all the new muscle I’ve hopefully developed. 😉 Plus, I don’t trust scales any more anyway. Every one I step on says a different number, which one is the correct one?! So I’m just going on the one at the gym now…

Unlike the showers in the Ordos gym, the gym in Zhangzhou actually has cubicles with curtains; it is however, a lot busier and to be honest, the Chinese are not shy. They will just walk about the changing rooms in their birthday suit, no worries. I have also noticed that they use the smallest towels ever. I’ve no idea what it’s like in the men’s changing room, obviously. No idea whether they strut their stuff around naked in there, but it’s probably the same. You just have to be prepared for it, that’s all!

My gym this week had another promotion on, I presume to get more customers, although obviously I didn’t know about it until I tried to go to my boxing class on Monday to find it wasn’t on because of it. I was just on the treadmill and doing some weights when a girl came over and gave me a balloon dog:

balloon dog from Chinese gym

I just wish they hadn’t drawn “hair” on the tail…

balloon dog from Chinese gym

She was called Sodrya, or something like that. All I can remember is that it was an odd English name! Her English was pretty good and she helped me play the games. I’d been given 5 cards on the way into the gym, but had no idea what they were for.

Game cards for Chinese gym

5 cards, 5 games.

Sodrya helped me as they were tickets for the various games, which included playing rock, paper, scissors, a Chinese words guessing game, a game where you had to drop chopsticks into bottles, one you had to pull red marbles out of a bag to win and lastly a game where you had to blow a ping pong ball into different glasses.

Ping pong ball game at Chinese gym

I got to the third glass then it fell out 🙁

I didn’t do that well, but came away with a bar of soap and some tissues! What was hilarious though was that because Sodrya was talking to me, a load of people I usually see at the gym were getting her to translate! Don’t know why it doesn’t happen when Rachel is with me, but there you go. It was pretty funny though, and the day after one of the guys wanted me to drink tea with him, although I only had a limited time to work out so I tried to politely decline and say next time, whenever that may be. He speaks no English, so it’s going to be hilarious.

The staff are all really friendly though, even if they can’t talk to me. They always say hello and smile and wave, which feels welcoming. I’m part of the furniture now and it’s not that surprising until a new member of staff arrives at least!

I’m signed up for the gym until December 2013. OK, so I’m not going to be here then, but my for 6 months membership at my Chinese gym finished at the end of September and they were doing a promotion then for 15 months of gym membership. However, it’s ok as if the new FT who comes here wants to try it, we can change the name on the card for ¥60 (£6), as that’s what Rachel did with Phil’s card anyway. In all, for 21 months of membership at the gym I have paid only ¥1388 (£139). That’s about ¥66 (£6.60)  a month, and if I get my maths correct, ¥3 (30p) a day. Not bad I don’t think! Time will tell though if I join another gym when I’m back home, probably unlikely as I know it’s a lot more expensive.

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Author: Bennett

2 years as an expat in China and now doing the same in New Zealand, Bennett sure likes to experience "slow travel!"

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  1. They sound pretty much like the gyms I’ve experienced. I think communal showers are the norm so it maybe best to just accept this.

    It is great to see you so committed to the health thing and feeling the benefits.

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    • I’m worried that as I become less and less body conscious, this will not be so welcomed back in the Western world… haha!
      But yeah, lots of health benefits obviously although I also rarely drink now, as all that’s cheaply available is Chinese beer and I’m really not that keen on it any more.

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  2. Do you have any photos of the gym? 🙂 Where I worked (Hunan province) there were no gyms around, but I had a football pitch where I could ran every day 🙂

    Post a Reply
    • True, I should get some photos of the Zhangzhou gym… promise!
      As to running, although I’m better, I wouldn’t be dedicated enough to run around a football pitch :/ At least with a treadmill I can maintain a speed which is good. I have got over the boredom of it and know exactly which songs are more useful than others to motivate me through the last 5 minutes of my workout or so 😉

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