Thursday, 11 April 2013

the culture of somewhere new...

Growing old with a travel bug can be problematic; more places to see, less time to see them. When travel opportunities present themselves, a balance of the familiar with the new is needed. For example, my January trip to South America: it was my 3rd time to Santiago, but I also crossed the Andes from Temuco to Neuquen to see native Monkey-Puzzle Trees. With too many destinations to choose from, I often forget there are also many places to discover at home as well. Yesterday, for example, I pumped myself to go somewhere I had never been before: I decided to go to a gym. 

Araucana (Monkey-Puzzle Tree) Grove, Chilean Andes
Other than a day spent bonding with my Uncle Jim and family in Toronto recently, the closest I've been to a Gym is seeing it through the looking glass at the local rec centre as I swim laps.  I'm as comfortable as a lab with the water, but I've never ventured to see what mysteries lay beyond the other door. Two things motivated me to take this unusual venture: first, I need to strengthen my left leg that I injured in Uruguay; second, if Holly and I are to rekindle our romance (see March 31st entry, une affaire hollandaise), I had best get fit with this Jim fellow people talk about.

In my best attempt to blend with the locals, I passed through the golden gates (well, glass door) to the land of Jim Nasium clad in track shorts, tennis shoes, short socks and my phys-ed class T-shirt from Japan (obviously hardly worn these past 20 years - and still fits!).  I soon discovered, however, that although you can look the part, the world beyond the looking glass is completely different than the one you are used to. In short, I found myself in culture shock.

Both impressed and intimidated, the number of free weights, benches, yoga mats, and various equipment left me as though lost on a foreign street of significant buildings and signs in an unfamiliar language. Not knowing the difference between my deltoids and my trapezoids, I hadn't a clue on how to work the various weights to my advantage (or, in most cases, work them at all). When a similar feeling of bewilderment befalls me in a strange new place, I look for the familiar as I adjust to my new surroundings. In lieu of a Starbucks in Vienna or KFC in Bangkok, I headed straight to the relative comfort of the exercise bicycles.

Whoever first said that doing something easy was "like riding a bike" clearly never tried an automated exercise bicycle. With too many buttons that don't work as you'd think, I've had an easier time figuring out the multitude of remotes needed to operate my TV. After several failed attempts to pick a programme (what happened to just pedalling?), I finally got going on the "varied" routine. A good start to rehabilitate my leg, from my stationary cycle I could also observe the rituals of the locals.

First thing I noticed was the effortless rhythm of moving from one weight to another. Each person knew exactly what to do at each machine; locals accostumed to their daily routines. Furthermore, despite the increased testosterone levels in the room, the concept of play-nice-with-others and share-your-toys is very strong in gym culture. Nobody a particular weight, and politely let someone else have a go when it was their turn. Not only that, but the "be-a-sweetie, wipe-the-seatie" mantra apparently goes beyond just bathrooms. Spray bottles and clothes are neatly placed around the gym, and everyone kindly cleans their station when their exercises are done. Too bad most places in the world do not put as much thought into leaving something behind in the condition you found it.

My alloted bike routine complete (and seat cleaned), I felt a little more adjusted to the new culture in which I found myself, but not yet brave enought to atempt the complexities of bicep curls. As with taking a tour to get to know the sights and sounds of a new city, maybe next time I'll hire a personal trainer as my tour guide to better understand the cultural ethos of the gym. Or, do I go somewhere new again, like joining a running club? So much to see, such little time to see it.

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