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Health Clubs: To Be Or Not?

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I checked my watch again for the fourteenth time. Seemingly unaware of the involuntary 'ready for war' expression across my face, the guy was completely ignoring me. I couldn't believe it! He had successfully monopolized the treadmill for exactly 40 minutes. At the front part of the machine there is a huge sign that reads: ' Please respect other guests. Maximum usage is 30 minutes!' He obviously wasn't capable of understanding the language or just being completely ignorant. With headphones on, listening to 'Baby One More Time' by Britney Spears (I could hear it from three meters away), he was running at 30 kilometres per hour. I could see my imaginary cheerleaders continuously yelling behind him: "Run Forrest... ruuun!'

Andy, a very good friend of mine, has given me a complementary life membership at one of the most prestigious health clubs in town. It was very generous of him. He knew I would rather spend the US$ 10,000 joining fee on the stock market than on his club. It is a very well equipped club actually. In the gym, you can find any workout machine you can imagine. They have varied equipment to tone your thigh, chest, belly, arm, or any body part basically. They also have machines that simulate skiing, paragliding, surfing, with matching scenery around them. It is a great place to exercise and have fun at the same time. Only the fee is also great, with a big G.

Okay, ten thousand for a life membership maybe doesn't sound that bad. But hey, I may not want to stick around Jakarta for the rest of my life. I will definitely move to a small village in Bali someday after I make enough money and accumulate enough pollution-related health problems. And also in ten years, who knows what will happen with health trends. Maybe by that time, health scientists will reveal that slouching in your couch with a remote control in your hand is a healthier lifestyle.

Anyway, I finally gave up waiting for the treadmill and made my way to the swimming pool instead. It is an indoor swimming pool. Andy said that a lot of people in Jakarta are not very fond of the sun. I can understand that. Only peasants have dark skin, so they always say.

I was already shivering before I dived into the chilly water. The air-conditioning system made it worse by blowing a 20 degrees Celsius breeze. I asked the pool guard for a diving suit, to no avail. Instead, he looked at me as if I was being ridiculous! Well, you try and put your finger in the water for five minutes, I said, watch it turn into an aged prune!

Later on, I walked into the steam room. It's a two-level, six square meter room, with hot steam hissing from three pipes above the floor. White marble covers the walls around it. It reminds me of Superman's cryptonite home. Three ladies were already sitting inside. One of them, the slightly chubby one, looked like she had been in the room for three months. Her face and hair were completely soaked. When she walked out, she grabbed her bikini tightly. Apparently her nylon bikini has stretched to one size bigger and become loose because of the heat. She looked really happy though, I think she really believed that she had sweated out her unwanted fat.

The gym has four different Jacuzzis. One is filled with ice cold water (as if the swimming pool isn't enough torture), the second is filled with really hot water, the third is filled with a blend of water and aromatic oils; I don't remember what is in the last Jacuzzi, maybe diesel oil or whatever.

I was about to step into the third Jacuzzi when I saw the sweat-soaked lady was already sitting in it. Hmm, I had second thoughts just thinking about the possible exchange of body fluids in the warm oily water, where Legionnaire's was quite possibly thriving.

The women's locker room is the most amusing part in the health centre. Since I have never been in the men's locker room, I can't really make any comment about it. Besides the fact that it's probably the only safe place to throw sexist jokes.

You would expect to meet only well-educated plus well-mannered people in this kind of place, wouldn't you? Well, actually I have discovered that few of them are.

I'll give you examples. One day while I was drying my hair, the lady standing beside me made this horrible primitive roaring sound. She was clearing her throat and spit the horrible stuff from her throat into the sink. Right before my eyes! I was stunned and disgusted at the same time. Wow, can't she do it in the privacy of the toilet with a courtesy flush or something?

You can also see that some women use the changing room as some sort of odd fashion show. I saw one lady pretend to accidentally put on her dress inside out the other day because she wanted everybody else to see the PRADHA label on it. Obviously she wasn't aware that PRADA should be written without an H!

Feeling fresh and prepped up again, I walked out from the locker room with relief. Suddenly, I caught the lingering aromas of fresh bread and chicken soup. Curious, I followed the smell until I ended up in the Health Club's Café. They had a selection of totally carbohydrate-filled Italian dishes on display. How could anybody resist this temptation?

Chewing my last bit of Penne Carbonara, I was thinking. Health clubs are not a bad idea at all. Merely misnamed. They should be called the 'Challenge Clubs' instead; mentally challenging is surely one of the definitions.

First published in The Jakarta Post  on Sunday, June 4, 2000

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