The International Writers Magazine: Lifestyles in Taiwan
A Sauna in Taipei
Some people say Wikipedia is unreliable, some try to savage it's contents, others spend their time protecting the questionable references, many use it. Ultimately it is accurate to a degree we can all benefit, I'd not use it as a point of reference for a thesis. It's banned in pub quizzes.
en.wikipedia.org says "A sauna session can be a social affair in which the participants disrobe and sit or recline in temperatures of over 80 °C (176 °F). This induces relaxation and promotes sweating."
This has to be dependent of space and time. Perhaps a social occasion for some, somewhere, sometimes. I agree wholly about the temperature thing, definitely over 80°C, anything less would merely constitute warm. As for the relaxing part, I don't know. In those temperatures are we relaxed? Or, anxious to get out when we've sweated our 10 minutes. Some sun-light deprived Scandinavians enjoy 40 minutes of masochistic heat torture. Being an Englishman, and having had a more balanced Vit.D diet damaging myself further by way of heat exposure isn't a favoured past-time. 10 minutes. Sweating, naturally.
Scandinavia, the cold countries. It's a place of snow, ice, reindeer and 24 hours of day-light and darkness. It figures they invented the Sauna, their behaviours about the wooden box don't figure quite so much. Whatever takes one's fancy. What else doesn't figure so much is Taiwan, a sub-tropical climate, has adopted the Sauna. I know, the reasons go a little further than climate to explain our global love for the Sauna. We all enjoy this hostile environment.
A Scandinavian might derobe, lie about the sauna, chat to friends. Somewhat familiar behaviour, some might take it to the next level, maybe the Sauna is a mixed affair? Who knows. Those blonde hair beauties and liberal attitudes, it could all get quite hot in that box.
A Taiwanese, I have discovered, isn't quite so liberal in their Sauna etiquette. On the contrary, it would never happen. I say never. Not, that my experience led that way. Towards blond hair and steamy experiences. No steam or blond hair in the Taiwanese Sauna.
At the local Zhongzheng Sports Centre in Taipei I'd finished my swim, a swift 30 minutes of over-taking and getting thwacked by folk who consider a flail and splash a worthy alternative to Crawl or Breaststroke. I took to the Sauna's and other beautification and relaxation therapies dotted about the pool complex.
Entering the steam room a gentleman is crouching, in true Chinese style, on the benches and panting rapidly moving his arms about his space in a controlled and contorted manner. Wax on, wax off. I lay on the bench to try to offer some other peculiarity, get in on the act. Raising my legs and lowering them, working the abdominals - get a sweat on! Another gentleman walks in and starts showering the room down, creating more steam or washing away the phlegm on the floor? It all ends suddenly and I'm left to wonder the openness of these expressions, these bizarre acts that would simply never happen where I grew up."
On to the Sauna after a dip in the ice bath, and a group of man are socialising. Space and time, back in the West a social occurrence might involve chatting and so forth. These gentleman were more interested in massages, hot rocks and a paddle. Don't get any ideas, it wasn't parodying a night in with Marilyn Manson and Dita Von Teese, there was no S&M carry on. Just, a strong likeliness to a clan of Bonobo chimps dutifully preening their brothers. In the corner, out of the preening group sat a chubby, Buddha-a-like fellow grunting and slapping his limbs and belly - for circulation. This was all too much, I thought about hitting the floor and push ups, but I couldn't compete. My stoic British sensibilities had me held back in awe of their carefree attitudes, their desires to perform such rituals in open view of all. Instead I stood, closed my eyes and soon as my presence was fully acknowledged there was another en masse exit. I was curious whether both these sudden departures, a couple of minutes after my arrival, were coincidence. Soon enough, some other Bonobo's rocked up and stood on the seats carefully pushing air around the Sauna box with controlled motions.
The famed Taiwanese, and Asian, hot spring pursuit. Marketed by many hotels in the Taipei suburb Beitou as a famous and must do for tourists, and couples. Or, the individual connoisseur. Island wide are these geothermal phenomena, water heated by hot-rocks on the Pacific rim.
Matt, from the USA, and I, took a day trip through YangMingShan national park just north of Taipei. Hiking to the summit of Mt. Qishan, a relative baby at just over 1100m, compared to Taiwan's central mountain ranges 200+ 3500m peaks. The idea was to finish with a soak in one of the natural springs at Lengshuikeng. Turns out, derobing is a faux pas only in public swimming pools, or just Saunas. The nudity of seven retired gentlemen of Chinese origin straddling the pool side, some offering an akimbo view, was too much. The delights of a hot spring bath in a national park whilst marketed particularly well by so many of the local hotels wasn't to be enjoyed by us that day.
Nudity in Taiwan is ok, in the right place, at the right time. But, it's not for Sauna's at the local baths. That's for Tai-Chi.
Come to Taiwan, bring a spank paddle.
© Andrew Reece Jan 6th 2010
andrew.j.reece at googlemail.com