Thursday, April 08, 2010

Cough it up

I've been feeling progressively less fit this year, as a result of not doing much running, and sitting around in an office drinking milky coffee and eating doughnuts.

French Wooler and Pon De Lion

I enjoy eating doughnuts a lot; Seoul was a wonderful city in at least that respect, because it had not just Dunkin' Donuts, and Krispy Kreme (much lamented for going bust in Hong Kong) but also Mister Donut, the Japanese powerhouse of doughnuttery.[1]

But it was while trying to run on a treadmill in the hotel one night, and scarcely managing ten minutes without feeling that I wanted to die, that has made me realise that I need to do something about my health. And since I'm too scared to go outside and choke to death on fumes, I thought I'd join a gym.

Obviously, this isn't a simple process. I thought I'd wander in to the California Fitness by LKF, ask for the membership price and then saunter out again, but they first asked me my fitness goals, then walked me through three floors of people working out, and then sat me down to wait for the personal trainer.

It would probably have been a good idea not to go at 7pm, when the place was rampacked full of people using every available machine. I suppose this did give me a realistic view of how busy the place would get, but now I was less worried about choking on exhaust fumes and more concerned about choking on the exuded sweat of all those bodies.

All I really want to do is spend half an hour, twice a week, thrashing myself on a rowing machine, and then go back to the office to throw up my guts. Is that so hard?

Well, of course it's so hard. Like any gym, they want you to show your commitment to them in financial terms, and to justify that, they need you to show you're committed to being fit. So they can commit to you. Or your money. All this commitment made me begin to feel that I was signing up to a cult.

Well, that's an outright lie. It only felt like a cult when they asked me to take my shoes and socks off, and stand on a pair of scales while holding two metal handles that looked like they'd been borrowed from the Scientologists.

All this might have given some aura of high tech professionalism to the sign-up process, except Rotbert, the personal trainer, couldn't stop coughing and wheezing.

I'm not some sort of body fascist - well, actually I am, I suppose. If I want a personal trainer, I want somebody in the rudest state of personal health, not somebody on the verge of coughing his lungs up all over me. First, these are expensive trousers to dry clean, and second, I'm a traditionalist. I don't let bald barbers anywhere near my hair, and I expect a personal trainer to be fit and not sounding like he's going down with consumption.

Not that I really want a personal trainer. I just want to use the patented Foreman-o-matic "row 'til you throw" plan, and to hell with the consequences.

But I neglected to mention this, so they took me through the output of the cough cough fitness report, which ahaaarumph came as quite a snort surprise to ahaaroogha me. Turned out those doughnuts weren't doing their job properly; I've got a fitness score of 85. (100 is a body builder and 91 is a pro-athlete, so maybe I could have stuffed in a few more Krispy Kremes at the weekend.)

I was frankly gobsmacked (in between trying not to giggle at my wheezy fitness instructor). I had been all set for Rotbert to tell me that I was a fat waster, and for me to retort that at least I could spell his name with the correct number of 't's, and for him to sling me out. But no: apparently all I need is sniff sniff 1.9 kg more of muscle, 1.9 less akwumpf of fat, and I'll be a killing machine once again.

Or he put the wrong height into the BMI calculator, and I need the cabbage soup diet for six months.

Away went Rotbert, and I went off to find out how much I'd be paying. Herein it got very confusing. All I wanted to do was find out how much. All the rep wanted me to do was to agree to sign up, and then find out the price.

So eventually after telling me how expensive Pure and Seasons are, she got down to how much California was. About 8,000 for a year.

Jolly good, I said, but I only want six months.

The second six months are free, said she.

Well, I said, I'd have to think about it.

Well, she said. How about 4998 for six months?

No, I said. I asked for her card. I really wanted to go and check out the other gyms in the area before I made a decision.

She went away. She came back, without a card, and offered me another 300 off. So no joining fee, no 698 for "paperwork" (which I wouldn't pay for out of principle - I'm here to row myself sick, not administer state secrets or nurse children, so I've no idea what paperwork would involve).

And it was with a heart that almost broke that I had to tell her no, I would come back on Monday. How terrible I was to trample her dreams of signing up a walk-in customer on a Thursday night. But at least she gave me her card. And I probably will sign up, but it was the strangest negotiation I've ever had:

Here's a price for something inappropriate to your needs.

Ok, here's the same thing, now tailored to your needs, for two thirds of the price.

Ok, here's the same thing, but a bit cheaper.

Part of me wants to go back and see if I can haggle her down some more. And another part of me doesn't want to delay the rowing-and-vomitting any more. What to do?

1 Saying that does make me feel bad for dismissing a country's culture, its architecture, its laudable laws mandating sculpture in public places, and its native cuisine in favour of the fact that it has a lot of doughnut shops, but what can I say? I'm only human. A gradually more rotund human, that is.


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