Monday, April 06, 2009


A clever foreigner living in China once said, "Spare the spa, spoil the soul." We found out recently from our sisters in Xiangfan that there are hot springs outside their city, and since the boys in Shiyan held a guys' retreat this weekend, we could think of no better time than this to check them out. Jess, Meg, Kat and I joined the two Xiangfan ladies - Carie and Brittany - for a weekend of pampering. It's a good idea to avoid high expectations of activities that seem prone to disappointing, and relaxing in sanitary pools of hot water with rumors of tea soaks and pools of tiny fish which eat the dead skin off your body seemed just such an activity. We left Xiangfan early Saturday morning having already started off on the wrong foot - McDonald's, our one consolation for leaving at seven in the morning and our one guilty pleasure, was both without pancakes and without apology. We settled for something other than pancakes, which is a travesty from my point of view, and got on our tourist bus to head out for the hot springs. Three hours and a horrible lunch later, we descended upon an oasis of beauty. The spa was large, the workers were helpful, the whole system was organized and made practical sense, and the hot springs - once we were dressed and ready - were plentiful, diverse, and perfect. We had just under four hours to wander about, dipping in warm pools of various fragrances, minerals and natural materials that are, no doubt, good for your health. We even found the pool of tiny fish, hungry for what we're hungry to be rid of - dry skin. That was an interesting experience. The six of us plopped down in the middle of this cool pool, and dozens of tiny fish surrounded us, nipping at our toes, our legs, our arms - anything submerged under the water. I was extremely uncomfortable at times and amused at times and appreciative after it was all over. I'm pretty sure I'll never have a reason to do that again, but I'm happy for the experience.

We got back to Shiyan Sunday evening. The guys' retreat was "awesome." That's the word from the foreigners and from my seekers who attended. "Awesome" minus a small potato incident which already seems to have been written down in Shiyan folklore. Turns out, cooking potatoes over a campfire isn't the easiest thing to do. Luckily, Happy Guys is always a viable backup plan to any cooking endeavor gone awry.

Our Finer Things Club finished the final book we had preselected before coming to Shiyan this year - The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway. Tonight over a couple of homemade vegetable and Mediterranean pizzas, we discussed this book and with a sense of satisfaction, recounted our feelings about all the books we've read this semester - One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Jesus for President by Shaine Claiborne and Chris Haw, The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyesky and The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. Although we've finished the books we set out to read, we aren't finished with Finer Things just yet. We are now all attempting to subdue our "white whale" - that one elusive book which always seems to get away from us. For me, this book is A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. I've tried to read it three times but find myself returning it to its dusty spot on the book shelf before I'm three chapters in. Now, with the eyes of my literary sisters upon me, I feel a certain momentum that I'm sure will sustain me as I read this book whose author, as Kat loves to point out, "was paid by the word!"

The weather is warming up. People are shedding layers of clothes and subsequently losing half their body size. Students are becoming emboldened to ask for class outside, and we're becoming lax enough to comply. April is a great month to be in Shiyan.


Beth said...

April is a great month! I love your Finer things selections. What a great idea!! Glad you ladies were able to take a load off and especially encouraged by boys retreat report. :) Yarp for you daily.

William said...

I can't believe you didn't get pancakes at McDonald's. Actually, I can. They tell me they don't have them all the time when I go. Were they really out, or did they just not want to make them?

They usually tell me "meiyou," but then I ask them if they can make them and they say it will take 10 minutes. I tell them I'm willing to wait and everyone is happy.