So last week as I was preparing myself for an early night of lesson planning and book worming, I got an unexpected call from a friend asking would I like to accompany her to a bath house (which in China could mean a number of things, but in this case was fairly self explanatory). My friend uttered the outrageously cheap price of 50元 and there I was, agreeing to leave the house I had only moments earlier arrived home to. Off I went, excited and somewhat anxious as to what this bath would entail. But I knew one thing; I certainly was keen for a soak. It’d been almost six months since my idyllic welcome home bath I’d given myself in my family home in Wexford upon touchdown in Ireland for my summer holiday, so I was not about to pass up the chance.
I got to the hotel and made my way to the fourth floor as instructed. Upon arrival I was greeted by a woman baring flip flops and a sly glance at my size 4 feet. I knew she was considering whether or not the women’s flip flops would suffice or if men’s shoes were needed for this strapping young foreign woman. She must have deemed my feet an adequate size as the flip flops were shortly cast at my feet and the woman waited eagerly to take my own shoes from me, clip them together with a large orange peg and store them away safely.
Shortly after reluctantly putting on the assigned flip flops, we made our way to the tub area. My anxiety and I entered the door, but actually, it had no need to accompany me, as what I found was a most pleasant surprise. The place was clean, warm (in a region of China with no central heating) and packed with women looking relaxed, healthy and naked. We two a little more hesitant to shirk all our garments due to the watchful eyes that surrounded us, made our way on tip toe to the soaking area, keeping a shred of modesty with our skimpy bikinis.
The baths were no less than perfect.
While in the full swing of soaking with nicely pruning skin, the manager peeped her head around the curtain. ‘Hello…’ she began awkwardly. I quickly realised the reason for her awkwardness as she told us no garments of any kind were permitted in the baths and we must remove our swimsuits immediately. My friend and I looked at each other, wondering if we wanted to withstand the staring of being naked in a place like this, not to mention the American High School movie feel of being entirely naked in a bath next to your gal pal. Finally I played the card I knew best and began “Well… in our culture….”. Although it seemed the manager of this particular establishment did not care too much about the culture card. She told us it was a rule and if we would kindly remove our clothes we could rest assured no one would come in. Suddenly my friend said to me in English “Well if they don’t come in they won’t know we’re not naked”, and then in Chinese to the woman “No problem”.
Although the curtains were translucent, no one bothered us about this particular matter again and during my post soak shower all the workers were very helpful to translate which bottles were which so I didn’t end up washing my hair with ginger extract body wash.
After using the shower facilities I was pointed in the direction of a towel where I was also given silk pyjamas (XL of course) to slither in to. The trousers were shorter than I would’ve liked and I had to remind myself that in Eastern culture pasty white legs were coveted while hairiness was entirely normal.
We changed and were soon led to a room to get the rest of our 50 kuai moneys worth. The first thing my senses were greeted with was loud pumping music, followed by the cloud of smoke which met us at the door. The room was filled mostly with men, of all ages, pounding beer in their silky jammies while chomping on a selection of snacks. Little did we know then that here in this very room were each of the entertainers for the evening.
The first man doubled as a singer and MC for the evening, who over the course of the evening sported a variety of costumes. In this particular moment he was performing Gangnam Style with the help of these lovely ladies while this wide eyed child stood and observed.
Following this somewhat raunchy rendition, a seventy year old man crept onto the stage to do some traditional Chinese writing, which was later to be auctioned. It certainly seemed like an unusual following act, but the men watched closely with interest, never forgetting to maintain a solid drinking pace.
A series of traditional writings were auctioned, this one going for a reasonable 800 kuai, which is just over 110 euro.
Following this man came a magician, a stand up comedian and another wonderfully in sync dance performance, captured only too well by the weak link on the left.
Some two hours later the show ended, and the night’s performers gathered together on the stage to bid each of the silk clad audience good night. They certainly were one of the stranger bunches of people I’ve seen thrown together.
I looked around the room to find most people amused, satisfied and wielding self-made balloon animals which the MC had handed out earlier in the evening in the form of long thin (and at that time animal-less) balloons. He’d given an example of a what a balloon animal should look like, followed by an encouraging smile and only the instruction that people should try their hand at their very own dream balloon animal.
As I looked from performer to performer on the stage I could see many of them were already drunk, which wasn’t surprising since a large part of the show itself was watching these men time how fast they could down a bottle of beer.
I wondered how people could possibly be charged money to see this but when asked would I come back I thought to myself; for five euro, a wonderful soak and the most ridiculous entertainment you could fathom, the answer seemed simple enough…