A Serendipitous Treadmill?

I think I may have bought a treadmill today.

Talk about jumping in with both (unexercised) feet! For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been thinking about how I really need to make “going to the James,” as Thad calls it, a regular part of my routine again. When we first moved to Chengdu, I went to the “gym” at our apartment complex a couple of times, but it wasn’t a great experience. While the advertisements for our complex include a spectacular list of amenities, including an outdoor pool with sandy beach, a putting green and a well-equipped gym, none of those items exist in reality. The outdoor pool with sandy beach is really about two inches of slimy-algae water surrounded by a gigantic litter box, the putting green is just another section of lawn (which, is actually an impressive feat in and of itself in China and I think advertising it as such would  be a draw for many folks) and the gym, well, it is there. The workout area is right next to the indoor pool, which is very well-maintained and always full, but only for doing laps and swimming caps are an indisputable requirement. The workout room itself though leaves much to be desired. (And this is from someone who is decidedly not a gym rat. I don’t need fancy gadgets and the latest weight-lifting technology. As  a matter of fact, those things just make me more likely to hurt myself.)

So what does the apartment complex’s gym have? There are two treadmills, both of which work, but both of which are usually occupied by octogenarian Chinese women walking backwards for an hour at a time. (There is not an ounce of hyperbole in that sentence. Seriously.) There are two stationary bikes, one of which works and the other of which has a broken strap on one of the pedals, so the rider’s foot flies off at random intervals, creating a rather entertaining experience for those standing around watching, waiting for the slowly aging to walk the equivalent of the equator, backwards. There is a single elliptical machine, but I’m somehow missing the necessary rhythm needed for those seemingly simple devices, so that doesn’t even show up on my gym-dar.  (I don’t think I can accurately express just how spastic I am when it comes to physical activity.) Finally, there are a few random weights.

Really, all I need in a gym is a treadmill, the hardest thing to come by at the one just downstairs.

After hemming and hawing and making repeated promises to myself to try the small gym at the consulate, and then coming up with endless excuses why “today” is not the day to start, I bit the bullet and hauled my duffle bag in to work today. I usually get off an hour earlier than Thad, so I figured I could use that time to work out and then we could scoot home together. (By usually, I mean, on paper I get off an hour earlier. The reality is much more random. Some weeks I am out of there right on time all week long, and then others I end up having a late-afternoon meeting scheduled or people in my office or a report that needs to be submitted to Washington.)

Today was the day.

I packed my adorable pink and navy Nike bag with my kicks, workout gear (apparently called “kit” by those speaking the Queen’s English, which I learned while reading a British fitness magazine at the hair salon in Bangkok), and my MP3 player, filled with all the best (or worst, depending on how you look at it) pop music of the 80s, 90’s and today!

Not two hours in to my day, I got an email from an officer who is leaving post soon. She wanted me to run an ad in the Panda Post, my CLO newsletter, selling her gently used treadmill.


A quick note to Thad and post-visa line conversation and I had decided to put an offer in on the treadmill before it even hit the pages of the Post.

Once I figure out how to get the rather heavy contraption across Chengdu, I will be the proud owner of a gently-loved treadmill. This means I can run (run/walk is a much more accurate description of what I do) and sing along to my playlist of Backstreet Boys, Paula Abdul and Lady Gaga in the privacy of my own home, with my air purifier on high, trying to ward off the potential for black lung that comes with the territory here.

I may even try out the culturally correct “walk backwards for an endless amount of time” technique employed by the locals…but probably only if Thad is waiting to use the treadmill after me.

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To Infinity and Beyond (or Till Death Do Us Part)

I am a sucker for weddings.

There’s the massive amount of preparation necessary, which means lots of organizing and planning and  the possible purchase of loads of office supplies to make the organizing and planning more productive and fun. There is the choosing of colors and cakes and centerpieces.  There is flower selection and venue selection and photographer selection. But, more than anything,  I love the dresses- whether long and flowing sheaths or fluffy and  frothy ball gowns or traditional with a splash of color, I could thumb through bridal magazines all day long, critiquing each aisle-bound set of attire. (Just Friday, I was headed home from the consulate, in a cab rather than on my scooter, because it was mail delivery day and we got not only an awesomely large care package from Thad’s sister, but also a couple of his birthday gifts arrived. I know if I were truly integrating into the Chengdu culture I would have loaded it all up on my bike and headed out, but I just can’t put that much on my scooter and expect to make it home in one piece!  I’m doing well to make to and from work each day when I have nothing more than my mere person with which to be concerned. Anyway, as I was headed home on Friday, I noticed, not far from the consulate, a brand new shop had opened up. What kind of shop you may ask? A wedding dress store! I will definitely be heading down there on my lunch on Monday to check out dresses in the windows. Oh, and buy a smoothie on my way, as the new bridal shop is right next door to the new smoothie shop, from which I carry a VIP card!)

But, back to weddings.

I love them.

So, several months ago, when I got an eVite for two of our friends getting hitched in Guiyang, I think I RSVPed before the entire page had even loaded on my somewhat lagging Chinese internet.  Of course we’d be taking the one-hour flight to the capital of Guizhou province to attend the ceremony! (The fact that Thad was the best man, while important, didn’t play in to my decision at all. It was a wedding. I was invited. I was going.)

Thad and I had the chance to attend several wedding banquets when we were in Peace Corps in Gansu, but we never participated in the morning part of the ceremony, which includes the groom breaking down the door to his bride’s parents home, after offering money and promises to do all the household chores; tea being served to the parents and grandparents, followed by the newlyweds bowing to these elder members of the family; the giving of red envelopes filled with money as a gift to the new couple; and the serving of and eating of gooey balls of dough served in a warm soup, called tangtuan.

I was super excited to find out we got to ride with the wedding party in the decorated cars. I see these caravans headed through town all the time, sometimes covered in flowers and other times draped in balloons. We were lucky enough to hop in a balloon laden car to make the trip to the bride’s father’s home and then again heading back to the bride’s mother’s place. I can definitely check that off my Bucket List! (Okay, I don’t actually have a Bucket List, not because I don’t think it is a good idea, but because it has become so much of a fad, I just can’t bring myself to follow the herd that way. I tend to do the same thing with books. As soon as it becomes uber-popular, I am suddenly not interested in reading it, even if everyone tells me it is great.  Girl with the Dragon Tattoo? Haven’t read it. 50 Shades of Gray? Too ridiculous. Harry Potter? Only got through the first two before the hype became out of control.  I know.  I should be less of a snot.  But, maybe I’ll make myself a “Pushing Up Daisies” list. That way, not only am I making a set of goals for before I die, but I can adorn said list in every shade of pink and purple Gerber daisy known to man! I think I may just be on to something here…)

The morning wedding ceremonies were followed by a brief afternoon rest, during which I may or may not have gone to the ATM with Thad’s debit card, thinking I knew his PIN, and finding out I was not correct in that thought process only when the ATM gobbled his card and would not give it back after entering the wrong number twice. (Notice it was his card that went in the machine. I need mine for online shopping!)

An evening banquet wrapped up the day’s festivities. There was no ride in a balloon bedecked car, as the dinner was held in the hotel we were staying at, but it did entail a lot of food and even more alcohol.  After walking up the aisle together, Lulu wearing a beautiful knee-length red dress and her hair curled and up in a dainty bow, they addressed the crowd of nearly 200 guests. (Three of which were not Chinese- Jessica, Thad and me.)   A Chinese wedding does not include vows the way a western wedding does, which is, after the dress, my second favorite part of a weddings. Whether it is “Till death do us part” or “To infinity and beyond” (which I think would make a great addition to the traditional American vows),  that part of the event where the bride and groom turn to each other, hold hands and promise to love and cherish and honor and all the other gooey and sappy stuff that brings a tear to the eye of even the most stalwart guest, this is what I missed the most when comparing the ceremonies of the two cultures.

Lulu sang for John and John put together an adorable video, fashioned after the introduction to How I Met Your Mother.   The evening seemed to be a success. Toasts were made and then more toasts were made. And then, a few more toasts were made.

While a traditional Chinese wedding is not a white wedding, and it is true that nothing in this world is fair or safe or sure, I do think Billy Idol would agree that it was a nice day to start again.

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