Going to the gym in Kunming is a real treat. Not only do you get some good exercise, but you also get to experience a whole host of idiosyncrasies you might have thought you’d never see at a gym. Here are my top 5 favorite aspects about Kunming’s workout facilities:
No. 1: the garb
The first thing you’ll notice at Kunming’s Surmount Fitness gym is peoples’ interesting choice of workout clothes. In the U.S., it’s pretty much all the same: tennis shoes, athletic shorts and a t-shirt. InKunming, it’s like stepping back into the 80s (or so I’m told). You’ve got a surprising number of guys wearing sandals, which you hardly ever see in the states because of the closed-toe shoes rule.
Along with sandals, many wear jeans and button down shirts. I couldn’t imagine working out in such garb because I’d be a sweaty mess in no time.
I think my favorite outfit, though, is a toss up between the jeans, no shirt and sandals and the skin-tight shorts, singlet and body belt.
No. 2: please (don’t) rack the weights
In the U.S., most gyms I’ve been to make it a pretty clear stipulation to rack the weights and put dumbbells back onto their shelves once you’re done with them. There are practical, safety reasons for this, namely so that you don’t trip over an idle weight on the floor and break your nose.
Not so at the Kunming gym. The dumbbells area looks more like a graveyard with stray weights littering the floor and finding the matching dumbbell so you can do a set of curls is like going on an Easter egg hunt, because someone has inevitably taken the exact one you need to some other place in the weight room.
No. 3: the music
I’ve been going to this gym at least three times a week for the past two weeks now, and every time I come in, the same, awful Western music CD mix is playing on a loop. I don’t know how they came to own this mix of music, but if they asked a 老外 (foreigner) to burn them some popular Western music, that person failed them. The mix covers a smattering of genres, ranging from some old Eminem to Monrose’s “Hot Summer” (who is Monrose, you might ask? — yeah, I don’t know either), to a remix of Tears for Fears’ hit single “Shout.” Naturally, I’ve made it a point to bring my iPod.
No. 4: at least it’s not crowded.
I’m talking about swimming pool lanes now. You get to the pool and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a lane without a few people in it. In a country whose land area is about the same as the U.S.A., but which has 5 times the population, it’s no surprised that the Chinese have a saying “人山人海” (“people on the mountains, people in the sea”). The swimming pools certainly illustrate that “people in the sea” sentiment. Whenever my friend and I find a lane already occupied by at least four swimmers, we can only turn to each other and say, “At least it’s not crowded.” Seriously.
And last, but certainly not least:
No. 5: thank you for smoking
Locker rooms at the gym and the swimming pool share this phenomenon. About 90 percent of the time that you walk into the locker room, you’ll be greeted by a lung-full of smoke as at least one or two people have inevitably lit up a cigarette. I know smoking is a widespread habit in China, but I know the gym forbids it because I’ve seen the “no smoking” symbol and the accompanying characters enough times to know that it’s against the rules. Even over the loudspeakers, about every 30 minutes, they remind patrons not to smoke. Yet these warnings go unheeded and patrons smoke at their leisure (unpunished). It’s always most striking for me to see this at the swimming pool. In the higher-than-Denver elevation of Kunming, the last thing I want to do is light one up before getting in an exhaustive cardio workout swimming laps. However, I once heard that some Chinese mountain bikers said smoking helps one open up the lungs and breathe better. I’m not about to bet my life on that, but it certainly seems to be working for them.
So there is your introduction to gym life in Kunming. I could go on, but I still need to burn a new multi-genre CD for the gym (I’m thinking a mix of metalcore, R&B and gospel) and buy a pack of cigarettes before I go swimming.
Warning: Do not read this hungry. It’s that delicious sounding.
I have been eating well during my stay in Jordan, and have had the pleasure to try a number of local foods. Wow. These Jordanians have a really good handle on tasty eats. Everything I have consumed, from meat to sweets to drinks, is superbly delicious. The staple of my diet (and the Jordanians in general) is shawarma and falafel. I have at least one of these items every day, and now all the local falafel restaurants know me by name. My favorite falafel is from “Tamaya,” which is a small, hole-in-the-wall joint that only makes two dishes: falafel and falafel with tomatoes. It is always packed with people but I still manage to carry on a conversation with the cooks every time I go. Shawarma is stacked lambs meat with a skewer down the middle that is placed on a rotating stand over a hot fire or stove. Slices of shawarma are shaved off and placed in a tortilla shell with vegetables, creamy sauces, and fries, then grilled panini-style. It can then be eaten as a sandwich or cut into slices. Shawarma is sold in almost every restaurant, and the owners like to brag that their shawarma is the best because of this or that ingredient. The cost of a shawarma or falafel sandwich ranges between $0.50-$1.50 and is always a good on-the-go snack.
In addition to shawarma and falafel, I have tried a lot of other foods, so many that I can hardly remember their exotic names. When I am feeling adventurous, I simply walk into a restaurant and choose anything off the menu that is within my price range. It has not failed me yet. One of my favorite things I discovered using this method is zinjar. Zinjar is like shawarma, but uses fried, boneless chicken instead of lamb. It is a little more expensive, but well worth the extra bit because it is meatier. Outside of the sandwich realm, I have had the opportunity to eat mansaf and its cousin magloobeh. Both dishes consist of grilled chicken over a bed of rice mixed with different vegetables. As far as I can tell, the main difference is that mansaf is served with a cheesy – almost soup-like – sauce that is poured over the rice and chicken, while magloobeh has more vegetables and sometimes includes nuts. Separate from the more meaty items, I frequently eat baked goods from a local bakery. I have tried so many different items that I do not remember any of their names. All of the items are essentially freshly baked bread stuffed with a different filling. Some of the baked goods I have tried were stuffed with beef, mixed veggies, hot dogs, spinach, olives with spices, and, my personal favorite, spicy potato.
Lastly, I have been converted into a sweets aficionado since my arrival. As my family and friends can vouch, I hardly eat or crave sweets in the States. At Thanksgiving, I always have another helping of mashed potatoes rather than a slice of pumpkin pie. That is not the case here. Almost every other day I try a new desert or candy. If you walk into any supermarket, you will immediately spot the long aisle devoted solely to candies and treats. I like to try a different cake or candy every time I stop in. My original goal was to try every single candy before the end of the program. I now know that this is impossible – there are just that many varieties. My favorite is the mini cakes. They come in every flavor you could imagine and can be filled with nuts or a richly flavored cream. But, the local sweet stores are where I indulge my new vice. These stores are like bakeries, but only make sweets. I have tried many of the different items from Kunafa to baklava to mammoul. Every new sweet tastes better than the last and is always unique from anything I have ever tasted before. It is a different taste from the deserts we eat in the US, which tends to be more sugary than sweet. These treats mix the right amount of sugariness with sweetness, and are delightfully consumed with ease.
Things I have not eaten include: burgers, tacos, bagels, deli sandwiches, pasta, and Chinese food. Not that I do not love those foods, but switching to a new, Arab diet is one of the biggest reminders that I am fully immersed in the culture.
The first half of our trip has come to a sad end. I had to say goodbye to everyone at the youth center, the principles, constructions workers, the Vietnamese roommates, and, most importantly, my little Mushroomie.
BUT, before I go into all of that, let’s catch you up!
Okay. So, we ran into another BIG issue last week. Katie, a Duke student, had her stuff stolen from her room for the SECOND time! She was robbed the first week we were in Quang Tri. The robbers took her laptop and wallet! This time, the robbers snuck into her room while we were all outside in the front of the hotel (I was teaching the whole neighborhood cardio dance! SO fun!) They broke her window, slashed her luggage, and stole her big, expensive camera and her ipod. So long story short, we had to switch hotels last minute and everything was pretty chaotic.
Anyways, that weekend, after some of the craziness settled, we were able to go to the most beautiful site that I have seen thus far inVietnam. We went to a town called Quang Binh and went inside these GINORMOUS caves. We all got into these wooden, dragon boats and went up this beautiful river into the “wet cave.” It totally looked like we were in Hawaii with the turquoise water and green, jagged mountains. The caves are up for becoming part of this year’s “7 Wonders of the World” and were featured in National Geographic a couple of months ago. We went really deep into the cave (over 20 minutes) and it was awesome-lots of stalagmite thingys! Then we hiked up tons of stairs to the top of the mountain where there was a “dry” cave. We all kept saying how crazy it was that we could just walk around the cave and go wherever we wanted-if this was in America, there would be guards everywhere, fences, ropes, etc.
That Sunday, we had to head back to the restroom to finish everything up. At the end of our stay in Qunag Tri, we ended up building an entire new restroom (with a sweet mural on one side) and renovating the old one. It’s pretty amazing to see that all the hours we worked and sweated through finally made something that this community and school really needed.
On Monday, we woke up early to visit each of the sites that our Duke Engage team built-the restroom and the parking structure-to take pictures. That night, we had a closing banquet with all of the people that worked with us at this completely open restaurant right along a lilly pond. After dinner, we all headed over to the final cultural show at the youth center.