You KNOW you're really friends with someone when you've spent a couple of hours naked with them. We don't realize this in the West, because we only get naked with people if they are doctors or lovers. And if you are western through and through, you will probably live your whole life without experiencing this, and be no worse the wear for it. But I lived in Korea for three years, and while my physique is nothing to brag about, I have no major body-image issues, which is good because I feel like I would have missed out if I'd said, "No," when Ange first invited me to go to the bathhouse with a group of friends from church.
It's been almost six years since then, and there's a bathhouse half a block from my new apartment. I mentioned at the housewarming last week that I'd been there, and several of my new friends expressed an interest in coming along, so Thursday three of us went and checked it out. Yep, it's pretty awkward the first five minutes or so - when you cross that line from "just a normal girls' night" to "Ohhhhhhkay...we're not wearing any clothes." Heck, in the sauna here they don't even give you your towel til you finish the bath, so you don't even have that tiny bit of modesty to get you through the changing room. But pretty quickly you realize it really is only that...we're not wearing any clothes. That's all.
Unless you've skinny dipped at some point in your life, I don't know if you understand exactly what a luxury true bathing is. Here you are, in a big warm pool of water, soaking your skin and relaxing the stress of the day away. And because you're with friends, you have someone to talk to - I go by myself but it gets boring quickly if you're alone (also, the locals might think you're weird, because it IS a social thing for them...also also, if they've never seen foreigners, it's nice to have more than one of you getting stared at). We all agreed we'd have to do it again soon...and it was wonderful to realize I'd found friends with the sort of temperament to enjoy these wild and crazy things.
Also wonderful? Weighing yourself and discovering that you've lost almost 7 pounds in three weeks....another one of the things I do when I go to the sauna.
Another night this week I went for a nice long bike ride, winding up and down the streets of Hongqiao, and for the first time in Shanghai I discovered one of what I like to call the "senior fitness hours." Outside a small mall there was a horde of mostly old-ish Chinese people doing light aerobics together. I swooped in on my bike to marvel - this is China! You get old, and rather than sit at home after dinner petting the pooch next to the fire, you put on your tracksuit and go meet 150 of your closest friends for a little exercise. A middle-aged Chinese man noted my wonder and started a conversation with me, asked if I thought it was weird. We chatted about it and America and China for ten minutes, and then went our separate ways. China's set to inherit the earth in another 20 years or so (maybe less), and moments like this make me hopeful about this probability (there are bits that make me terrified, too, but we'll leave this post on a positive note). Let's hope the Krispy Kremes and Coldstones and, of course, McDonald's don't ruin it for us in the meantime.