It’s supposed to be fun to go to hot springs in the wintertime here. It’s supposed to be relaxing. It’s supposed to rejuvenate you for the coming cold months. But that’s simply not the case when a giant foreigner goes. Oh, it was hot alright… but it was nothing close to relaxing or rejuvenating at all. It was near torture.
My “boss” at work told me, through a coworker, that they had arranged a trip to the TuanBo Lake Hot Springs area outside of town. Now, when I hear things like this, I figure my company was going out of their way to provide a little trip for us workers and I assumed that I was required to go. So I blocked it out in my schedule and mentally prepared for a new adventure.
The morning of the event came, but my coworker said she wouldn’t be going with me anymore. (What? We could get out of it?) Still not wanting to offend my company and all the effort they had seemingly put into setting up this excursion, I went on my own. They told me that I didn’t have to bring anything. But with my swim trunks… and [not] my flippie floppies, I headed out. Big mistake. I met up with this huge tour bus full of Chinese people and I was, oddly, the only foreigner in sight. I reluctantly went with the flow. Bigger mistake. Will I ever learn?
We arrived at TuanBo and everyone was shuffled into this large auditorium-type place for what appeared to be a business conference. Chinese people were getting up in front of ugly PowerPoint presentations, speaking in Chinese of course, and selling their business ideas… I guess? And then my boss from ACES got up! I felt like cheering! But she did the exact same thing. A whole schpeel in Chinese about our company and why native English teachers are so cool… I guess? (I was half-expecting her to call me up on stage and testify.) Two hours later, it was finally wrapping up. And by “wrapping up,” I mean over half the crowd had left to go to the bathroom or take a smoke break – if you smell what I’m steppin’ in.
What happened to the hot springs!?
After they officially dismissed us from the massive, but polite, sales pitch, I found my boss and asked her what was going on. “Oh, didn’t you know this was a business meeting?” No, I didn’t. My coworker might’ve forgotten that bit of info. I then asked her about the hot springs and she replied that it’d be after lunch. The deal was that if we listened to the entire seminar, we’d be able to get a nice lunch and a few hours at the hot springs. Ah, now it all makes sense! Gotta love marketing. At least I get some free food.
After a less-than-mediocre lunch, I follow my boss and her friend, along with some others to the springs area. At this point, my boss turns to me and says, “Go with these people and they’ll show you where to go! I’ll see you next week! Bye bye”. Umm, okay. Obviously, this wasn’t the fun company picnic I had imagined. I’d have to watch my own back from thenceforth. So, I was now with some Chinese people who were all smiles but who didn’t really speak English. The girls went one way, I followed the guys another way. We walk into a locker room and all I see are birthday suits. I almost panicked. My mind had a flashback to a former girlfriend’s story about the “baths” in Japan. Nah, it couldn’t be… could it?
My thoughts were quickly ceased by a fully-dressed security guard yelling at us and pointing at our shoes. Can’t wear shoes in the locker room, I gathered. We retraced our steps out to the front desk, and the other men started taking their shoes off and trading them in for flip flops. I did the same. Except that the flip flops they gave me were tiny. I knew I should’ve brought my own! I tried asking for a bigger pair and pointing at my ridiculous hoofs. From what I could translate, I think they said they had already given me their biggest ones. Oy vey. I was definitely getting off on the wrong foot.
As I forcefully tip-toed back to the locker room, I immediately thanked the Almighty that I had brought my own bathing suit – the aforementioned “security guard” was passing out tiny speedos to everyone else. “No thank you! I brought my own.” Phew! That was close. We changed, grabbed some towels, and with a few chuckles and fingers pointed at my feet, we entered paradise.
Let me paint the picture: imagine an outdoor amusement park, beautifully decorated, but without any rides; instead with numerous pools of varying liquids and hundreds of Asian people in them.
The Starter Spa
This first “springs” was actually indoors and we slowly waded in, supposedly to get our bodies adjusted to the heat. Everyone started sitting along the edge and relaxing. I tried to do the same, but when I sat on the underwater bench along the edge, half of my upper torso was above water! Many noticed and nonchalantly whispered things to their friends. Great, the big white guy would once again provide the entertainment. We barely stayed 10 minutes.
The Private Barrels
Next, we found these wooden barrels with deliciously hot water pouring into them. Everyone started finding their own barrel and basking in the comfort. It kind of reminded me of Pippi Longstocking and the waterfall. Hmm. Anyways, I got a leg in mine, that’s about it. Gladly, they only stayed about 10 minutes in these as well.
The Milk [or something] Springs
As we approached the next one, I could tell something wasn’t right. The color was white-ish. Similar to the picture in this post, this pool was quite shady. But everyone else started piling in, so I did the same! It was quite smooth to the touch but took a while to get used to. Maybe I’m just fidgety. Right about when I was starting to relax, everyone started leaving. You guessed it, the 10 minute mark.
The Green Tea Springs
I tried asking someone about why we were only staying ten minutes, but we were already to the next one. And you could smell this one a mile away. We were about to soak ourselves with light mix of green tea! It has to be good for your skin, right? This pool would’ve been nice but the stench was too much. Twas a bitter smell, like the tea had been seeping a bit long. Or something else had been seeping too long.
The Red Wine Springs
Thankfully, I know the characters for “red wine” and knew what this one was by reading the sign. Does anyone know if you can get drunk by osmosis? Well, I was about to find out. The answer is no… if you’re only in it for ten minutes. Maybe the tannins hadn’t had enough time to cause proper aging, as “Resident Rob” would say.
Now imagine a huge room with sauna conditions and a long marble slab. Envision high stacks of soft, white towels. Now visualize Asian people lying on those towels on top of the slab. It works perfectly for them! Too bad I’m a giant and didn’t fit on the marble slab. And that I needed two towels to cover myself. Gosh, we had to have been here for 30-40 minutes. I figured out too late that this was a time to nap, rest, and drink water before hittin’ the spas again.
The BBQ Springs (actual translation)
WAY too hot to sit… or stand… or do anything in. My pale skin turned red. I escaped without any injuries. But remember, this was an outdoor park, and once you step out of each pool it’s freezing! Compromise, I did.
The Dead Sea Wanna-Be
This is probably the only one I felt relaxed in. Having been in the actual Dead Sea, I’d undeniably say the real thing is better, but this was quite adequate. It wasn’t deep at all and it didn’t need to be, because we all just floated to the top. The Chinese people loved this! I could tell everyone was having a good time and I wished I could communicate some stories from Israel. Alas, someday. Despite having such a nice time in this one, we still departed at 10 minutes. I probably could have stayed.
The PNG Springs
My name for this one comes from the Como Zoo Conservatory in my hometown where they have many trees from Papua New Guinea and elsewhere around the world. It’s one of my favorite places and truly feels like you’re in another land. This particular spa had trees covering all sides and over top, just like I was at home! Nothing special besides that. There were some old Japanese men who were looking at me strangely, though.
The Little-Fish-That-Eat-Your-Old-Skin Springs (not an actual translation)
I admit, I was hesitant about this one. But what did I have to lose? I try not to have too many regrets in life, like the time I ran away from jumping off the high dive in 1st grade or the skipping out on one stinking college credit to have graduated with honors. I was not going to let this spa pass me by. I hopped in. Now… this was the strangest feeling I think I’ve ever felt. The water wasn’t too hot, but what was inside the water started tickling my feet like nobody’s business! I looked closer and saw dozens of little fishes sucking my heels and toes. Being so ticklish, I couldn’t sit still for five seconds. It reminded me of that horrific foot massage I tried to get once in Chiang Mai, Thailand – it was anything but a massage. Our 10 minutes were up, and this time we strolled back to the locker rooms to rinse off.
And that was that. I turned in my tiny flip flops and tiny towels. With my confidence restored and my head held high, I walked straight into a low-hanging ceiling. Good thing laughter is the same in every language, because everyone had the last laugh for that one.