So anyway, the gym. The gym in XuanDieu where I’m the fat guy. The fat, sweaty, irritable guy.
Now we’ve got that out of the way I can point and giggle at everyone else.
Talking with friends about my intention to write about gym life, one shared his horror of the changing rooms – Vietnamese guys, butt naked, drying themselves all over with hair dryers. Apparently it’s remarkably similar in the women’s. A female friend told of a lady standing proudly central, hair drying “her magnificent bush”.
But Tays are exempt from neither daftness nor unsociable gym behaviour.
The Italian lady, too busy to take a break from work, schedules all her phone calls for treadmill time. The skinny white guy with the Penelope Pitstop high-knee run that gets locals’ heads turning. The couple who, for reasons best known to themselves, play a hopping version of catch as part of their stretching routine.
There are also the Vinateens.Some chubby, some skinny – no doubt sent to the gym because of their parent-disappointing physique. They shrug from machine to machine, moved on as people want to use the equipment they’re playing with their smart phones from. They occasionally settle on exercise bikes, feet resting on the pedals, watching the attached TVs.
The staff are all lovely, though having not tried it myself, the induction one-on-one workout seems a little odd. Vietnamese exercise routines seem to be 90 percent mirror gazing with instructors only too happy to share the best gazing techniques. The mirrors remain the most used equipment in the place.
One trainer insists instructees do a long striding, low bobbing, Ministry of Silly Walks manoeuvre down the corridor.
In the evenings when the boss has gone home, attractive, young, single girls are enthusiastically assisted by up to four trainers at a time.
Moving into the weights room and there are the foreign body builders with their strange noises – earnestly discussing ab strategies in between their grunts and “pfsshhhttss”.
I heard one French/British duo discussing the issue of eating too much after work and being bloated by gym time.
“Just have a tin of baked beans,” said the Brit.
The Frenchman looked like he’d rather die.
“Maybe an egg,” he countered.
Eyes and Ears
There was a time when it was foreigners who were considered to dress inappropriately. Vietnamese have long since taken over. Ladies in hot pants and bra tops mean I have to adopt a fixed gaze ahead of me when exercising with my wife.
One regular hot panter, I noted out of the corner of my eye, did a brief run this week before retiring to the stretching area where she did a 20-minute dance on her own in front of the mirrors.
And me, I like to forward exercise. It’s the western way, but there’s not a machine in the place I haven’t seen used backwards by locals.
“It’s better for your knees,” my wife tells me.
Ah yes, knees, worn out by decades of forward walking. When will we learn?
A mixture of Vietnamese gym bunnies and Tay NGO types is a perfect storm of flakiness. Vietnamese old wives’ tales meet foreign fads. Communist-era physical jerks meet Californian yoga.
The daftness extends beyond staff and members of the gym itself. Most specifically the music. Every last person has headphones on turned up to 11 to block out piped music no one wants to hear.
You remember that Friday song? The track that was supposed to be the worst song ever? The international YouTube hit famed for its sheer awfulness?
A whole quarter of all songs played sound like that. Another quarter are oddly out-of-place rap tunes, another that loveable niche, vocoder-based R&B. The final quarter is interchangeable corporate rock.
All of which makes me irritable – which goes well with the red face and the sweat patches.
To its credit, in some ways the madness has been a distraction, 11 kilos have gone already.
By next summer I also hope to be considerably less sweaty.