Dec 172008
 

Most Asian cultures seem to have some form of communal bathhouse: in Japan there are the onsen, in Korea there are the chimjilbang, and in China there are the mega bathhouses.

The first time I saw one of these glimmering Chinese behemoths I had no idea what it was. It looked like an overly-extravagant first-class hotel…so overly-extravagant that it was almost weird. I’m talking chandeliers the size of big rigs, doors that are several stories high, and so brightly lit that you can see them from miles away. The buildings themselves – rather than the typical tall & thin shape of most upper-end hotels – are shaped more like warehouses, occupying a truly massive footprint. Except that these warehouses are decorated with white marble, fine art, huge plants, and thousand-gallon fishtanks (sharks and sea turtles included).

Visiting a Chinese bathhouse was on the top of Andy’s list for what I simply had to do before leaving Shijiazhuang. Now I see why.

The service inside was absolutely firstclass, and the place offered everything from steam rooms, Turkish baths, skin treatments, massages, and “special massages.” The main pool area itself reminded me of the fountain in front of the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas. Only nicer.

And how much do you think entrance to all this cost? Not even $10 USD.

The only treatment I went for was a sort of skin-purification scrub. Now that was WEIRD. Basically, a Chinese man puts on a glove of sandpaper and uses it to scrape about 2 pounds of dead skin off every inch of your body.

I’ve seen some pretty bad jobs in my day, but getting paid $2 to rip dead skin off of random naked men for twenty minutes each has got to be pretty high up on the list.

But I guess that’s just the way things work in China. If you’re not part of the labor class, you don’t have to do anything for yourself. Most every foreigner I’ve met so far has a personal assistant of some sort. When you go to a restaurant, they’ll polish your shoes for free. Haircuts for $2 include 2 washes, and if you decide later you don’t like the style, they’ll re-cut it again at no charge. If you have garbage, you just throw it on the floor – nobody bothers to seek out a trashcan – because by the next morning, everything has been swept and scrubbed all over again. Even in nice, first-class restaurants – if you get something you don’t like, you just toss or spit it on the floor.

When Andy first told me about this I simply didn’t believe him. I refused to dispose of my garbage in such a way. But that really is just how it’s done. Even when I try to dispose of it properly – for example, by handing a wrapper to the vendor who sold it to me – they simply throw it on the floor in my stead. I’ve asked both Andy’s very successful business partner and his female college-student friend about what to do with yakitori sticks or fruit seeds in an upper-class restaurant: “Just throw them on the table or floor. They’ll clean it when we’re done.”

Crazy.

I will tell you one thing: despite some of the unusual or unfamiliar behaviors, I’ve never felt like such royalty. After finishing up at the bathouse and having our robes taken away before they even hit the bench, we walk through the lobby where a crowd of twenty servicemen bows and holds open the door. Outside, the black, tinted SUV waits – as a white-gloved attendant guides us into the back seat. He shuts the door for us, and the driver speeds off. By the time we get home a 3-course meal is on the table and waiting.

Like a movie star.

  18 Responses to “The Chinese Bathhouse”

  1. Hi Justin

    Very interesting comments on China. I had the same feeling when I worked for one week near Tianjin 10 years ago, comming from Japan where everything is expensive.

    Nice to hear news from the real China without any modifications from broadcasting.

    By the way, I now following your travels as I follow some TV programe like global trecker with a new episode every days.

    looking forward for the next news

    FrΓ©dΓ©ric

  2. Glad to hear you’re enjoying it πŸ™‚

    Are you referring to the TV show “Globe Trekker,” made by Lonely Planet? If so, I didn’t even know those were still being produced!

  3. That’s it

    I think they don’t produced it anymore but it can be watch on the French cable TV.
    French TV are very late to diffuse foreign TV show

  4. Ah, gotcha – I’ve seen quite a few of those myself.

    Often I’ll check out the episode based in the country I’m about to visit…although it’s really just more for entertainment, as I haven’t found them to be particularly useful as far as advice goes πŸ˜›

  5. I was the one who went back for a second touch-up on my haircut btw πŸ™‚

  6. Can I post a photo of the first cut? Pleeeease? πŸ˜†

  7. The thing with the thrown away yakitori sticks reminded me of San Sebastian. In Pinxchos/Tapas bars they throw them on the floor just like that, too. Wasn’t easy to get used to it.

  8. …Except those are bars. In China, they even do it at the fancy restaurants!^^

  9. Hi Justin – great blog! I found it while searching for Shijiazhuang bath house. After experiencing Queen Spa in Shenzhen and Orient Rome in Shanghai I’ve become a bit addicted to the sandpapering you mentioned in this post. My partner and I have just relocated to Shijiazhuang for a short stay to learn Mandarin and one of the first things on our to-do list is to find one of these spas and were thrilled to stumble on this. Would you by any chance remember the name of the place you went or at least the area in which it was located? Thanks in advance.

  10. I don’t – but if my friend Andy is still subscribed to this post, I’m sure he’d be happy to let you know πŸ˜‰ He still lives there in fact, and knows the city like the back of his hand!

    (Actually, as a member of the city’s small expat community I wouldn’t be surprised if you even crossed paths at some point or another)

  11. I am still subscribed…..

    Janet….leave a comment on blog (andrewstrauss.net) and I will get back to you via email

  12. LOL…the infamous AndrewStrauss.net: “Four Years of Silence and Counting!” πŸ˜†

  13. Thanks both! Andrew, I’ve left a comment as directed πŸ™‚ Let the sandpapering begin!

  14. Janet…..just sent you an email

  15. This is the first blog post I think about when I think about living in China.

  16. it must be so many stares and surprised looks you get when you guys naked in bathhouse. I can’t imagine how awkward it could be))

    • Haha well, I’m pretty used to it…lived in Japan for 2 years and been to more than a couple mineral baths πŸ™‚

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