Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Field Trip to the Hot Springs with my Work Unit

Picture a bus-load of your bosses and colleagues.  Now picture them in bathing suits.  And there you have my Sunday excursion -- a holiday at the Guantang Hot Springs with my department.

Academic departments (and other types of work units) frequently have some kind of excursion every semester, either for leisure or political instruction.  For most of the teachers in the department, their colleagues are some of their best friends since they not only work together but also live on the same campus and have children that grow up together.  So it makes sense to plan some outings.

Usually at my school the foreign teachers are not invited, but the tide seems to be turning.  Last year I experienced all the extremes of Chinese tourism on a two-day trip to The Eight-Li-Long Ditch with my department.

This past weekend, they told us they were going to Linyi, a nearby town, to go to a spa.  The only information we got was to prepare a bathing suit and be ready to go at 7:00 a.m.  I was dubious.

It turned out to be a GREAT day.  Linyi's Guantang Hot Springs are apparently well-known, and a huge complex has been built for tourism.  There's with a nice lobby and several floors of entertainment and relaxation.  We heard there was also a fish spa, a basketball court, a gym, and maybe even a salon.

Entering the complex with our colleagues

After a two-hour ride, our group arrived, got off the bus (all 50 of us, including lots of families and most of our department leaders), and were ushered into our respective locker rooms.  The women's locker room alone was bigger than my apartment, and uniformed staff was ordering everyone around with their headset microphones.  If you don't know what a Chinese shower room is like, ask me sometime and I'll tell you.

We were given some yellow pajamas to change into and told to go upstairs and eat some snacks.  So we did.

Snacks upstairs in our yellow pajamas


Then we went back to the locker room.  We were told to take a shower, don our bathing suits, and go see the hot springs.  So we did.

The first area had six large hot tubs under sun roofs, and staff brought us hot tea as we relaxed in the Turkish bath.  Some children were playing in the hot pools with their parents and their floaties.  "This is great," I thought.  Little did I know, we had barely scratched the surface.

Further in, there was a large, hot swimming pool with jets and fountains for your feet, your back, or your head.  There were water slides.  There were more small hot tubs.  There was a full-length cool pool that no one was using.  The inside area alone was the size of several gymnasiums.

No cameras allowed in the hot springs area.  Use your imagination!

We had a great buffet lunch upstairs, where there were dozens and dozens of recliners for anyone who wanted to take the customary after-lunch nap.  Some people lounged on the chairs watching TVs in the darkened room.

Buffet, in our yellow pajamas

Hundreds of chairs for napping

After lunch, we checked out the outside.  Awesome!  There were tons of people, but there were so many hot pools it was easy to find one for just me and Sara.  We just wandered on the paths and marveled at how everything seemed fairly clean and well-organized and relaxing.  We tried out the milk pool, the saffron pool, a few flower pools, and more.  Some pools promised health benefits, like improving digestion or reducing "foul gas."  We found that we couldn't tolerate anything hotter than 41 degrees Celsius, which limited our range since many pools were 42 or more.  One 50 degree pool warned that staying in longer than 5 minutes could result in severe burns.

Overhead view of the outside -- dozens of hot tubs you can't see very well here.

Another poor view, but you can see every little roof is another tub

Our teammate, Jason, made quite an impression when he showed up with his bright red board shorts amid all the Chinese men in their tight little suits.  One guy asked him why he wasn't wearing swim clothes.  He said, "I am."  Haha.  Many of the Chinese bought their swimwear on-site, since they can't swim and didn't have any of their own.  It resulted in lots of groups of guys or girls wearing the exact same suit.

My overall impression was that it was still a very Chinese-y day, but in the best way.  It was an all-inclusive, gigantic tour complex filled with bus-fulls of huge groups ready for a day of relaxation.  It's a collectivist culture -- when people go to the spa, it's to be together and to have a loud, fun time.  You're not sitting in a hot tub by yourself, bored to death.  You're there with your dean and your Communist party secretary and a colleague and a colleague's spouse and a bunch of kids running around.

We got cheap tour hats, we were herded around with megaphones, we drank a never-ending stream of green tea, we cured our digestive problems in Linyi's famous hot water, and then we came home.  I wish I could go back every weekend.  (And apparently it only cost the department 200 RMB per person -- a day at the spa for $30!)

We wore the tour hats for 30 seconds and they turned our foreheads blue.


  1. That sounds really fun! Actually, this week I am going to a jade bath house with a Chinese friend from church. I am not sure what to expect, but she says you get to nestle your body down into hot jade stones.

    1. I hope there is a post coming about this experience!