Tonight I decided to write my weekend Blog from Starbucks. I simply felt like getting out of the hotel for a change of scenery. I’d spent the last couple of hours working on that annual odium – performance appraisals – and figured some traffic clogged streets, freezing fruit vendors and hot coffee would be good for my weary soul. So now I’m sitting by the window listening to Miles Davis, kindly provided by the company’s music programmers and listening to a couple of small groups of Germans talking about their day in Kai Fa Qu.
It’s been an interesting weekend in a boring sort of way. I began by being able to sleep in until 9 AM yesterday, perhaps an indication that I am once again on GMT +8. It felt good to be awakened by the sun as opposed to an alarm. I had set a goal of going to the gym on both of these days having not been there since the holidays what with the New Year’s holiday and my trip to Spain. Saturday was to be the 1st day of the rest of my expat life, one that offered a solid balance between Dove Bars and exercise.
I packed up and headed down the two block walk to the hotel which is the home of the fitness center. It was a really beautiful day, still on the cold side with a bit of a stiff wind but completely sunny and cloudless. I arrived and handed in my membership card and climbed the four flights of stairs to the spin studio. I checked the board to make sure there was no class scheduled and went in choosing my standard bike in the far, dark, out of the way corner.
The first thing I discovered was just how much of my fitness has gone straight out the window. My heart rate was high – I could barely keep it contained no matter how little I pedaled. But I figured I was on the road to recovery and unlikely to die there and then so I simply kept turning the cranks.
Lots of tours came and went and I was quite an attraction being the only foreigner in the place and off exercising alone. The Chinese don’t seem to like the bikes unless there is a disco fueled class going on so I have the studio 100% to myself aside from the occasional person who comes in to warm up for something else, and these tours where the gym managers drag prospective clients around showing them the benefits of Inn Fine membership. “Look there, an American is a happy member!”
I sat there watching a thin Chinese girl dressed from head to toe in white tights and top going through those same programmed steps you see the professional ballroom dancers doing on PBS. Over and over, back and forth, tiny little steps and much flailing of arms in some pre-ordained ritual manner. She finally quit and went off to do something else, out of my view. Things were rolling along; I was visualizing myself riding down the Bosque Path when suddenly the lights went out. Some other young woman had come out of the dance studio and in taking her breather had decided to lean on the light switch for the spin studio. She looked at me and smiled and did sort of a shrug and tried to find the switch to put the lights back on. She had no luck so she gave me a wave and walked away. I got off the bike and went looking only to find a single switch which when activated turned on the rotating colored light ball in the middle of my room. I turned that back off and went out to the desk where of course there was no one to help me. I made eye contact with a guy and girl sitting off to the side and they sort of gestured at some people out among the treadmills. Figuring that was going nowhere I went back to the switch. I pressed it once – disco light ball. I pressed it twice – black lights shooting around the top of the room. I pressed it three times – flashing strobes. I pressed it four times – disco ball and overhead lights. Five times was the charm – overhead lights. Leave it to Chinese ingenuity to use a single position light switch to control five different sequences.
Back on the bike, I continued to forge ahead even when the sound from the dance studio became so loud I could hear it over the music coming through my headphones. What finally drove me off was the time – I’d been at it for 1:45 and the two young men who came in to do a sound check on the equipment in my room. I guess they figured I would appreciate the extra bass layered on top of what I was listening to. They were wrong.
Walking home with my ear buds in I was reminded of all the arguments I’ve been in with people who insist that iPods are safe for cycling. I walked directly in front of a motorcycle cutting across the parking lot, didn’t see it or hear it, I was so engaged with my tunes.
I got cleaned up and had a snack and decided to go out for a walk. No real destination in mind, I headed in the direction of the seacoast and of the giant flying saucer that overlooks the city deciding mid-route on the latter. I got turned around a bit but finally figured out the correct way to go. I climbed up through some small neighborhoods surrounding what must have been some sort of service yard though now abandoned and completely strewn with trash finally reaching the base of UFO Hill I stopped to assess my challenge – a half mile or so uphill on what must be the world’s longest deck. Why they decided to build a boardwalk up a hill is perhaps a decision best lost in the sands of time.
There were quite a few people going up and down, including a few elderly doing the walk up backwards. I passed many small groups of teenagers, apparently out for a day of flirting and romance. A couple of young girls said “hello” to me a couple of times before I realized they were talking to me, so deep into oxygen deprivation was I. It was steep, really, really steep. And such a nice follow on to my just completed spin routine. As though I needed more exercise to further counteract those Dove bars.
I rounded a corner and looked down on a small reservoir with a Dutch windmill standing guard by its dam. For some reason, these European windmills are not uncommon here. I finally reached the 2/3 point and stopped to look at the big bronze bell and the view of the city which on so clear a day was pretty spectacular. But I wasn’t done; I still had a bit more to go up a closed road to the top. It was either that or the stair route and frankly that didn’t much appeal to me.
I walked for a bit in parallel with a guy exercising his dog. It saw me and started barking, blocking my path. Well, as much as a small black and white Tibetan Spaniel can block one’s path. He called it over just as I was hearing in my mind all those admonitions about rabies vaccinations. I’m guessing I could have kicked it 20 yards before it had a chance to bite me.
Near the top I stopped to take in the view. Off to one side was the sea with the giant cranes at the port looming on the fuzzy horizon like big steel dinosaurs. A seaward wind must have been blowing in the valley between the peak I was on and the next one over because a steady stream of those colorful Mylar party balloons was blowing through the gap on their way to the ocean and perhaps that giant trash vortex that twirls out there in the middle of the Pacific. A couple of pheasants were calling down below reminding me that if I was home I’d be hearing the same thing out in the back arena.
I went on to the top and spent some time looking at the view and then headed back down and back to the hotel.
Today was the same routine, off to the gym where I was able to get through my entire routine without any noise or lighting issues. As I was leaving a Chinese belly dancing class was getting started and I was a tiny bit sorry to not be able to stay and watch what was almost certainly a chance for cultural enrichment.
I met some friends for coffee and then extended that into lunch at Eddy’s where a good old cheese pizza fit the bill nicely. From there I went over to a shopping “mall” to help them shop for a ping pong table. An interesting place selling everything from sporting goods to clothes to the most amazing collection of hardware I have ever seen. I stopped for a while to talk to a young man selling cell phones impressing him with my iPhone. He’d seen the Chinese knock-off but never the real thing.
And so here we are at the end of another weekend, sitting typing and drinking coffee. The expat experience in spades.