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Alexandra Sieh
Alexandra Sieh

Together, a staffer and I toured the gym floor.

At her gesture, I hopped on an elliptical machine.

“You can pick what intervals you want here,” she explained. Or at least that’s what I assumed she was saying. As she was speaking fairly rapid Mandarin, I could barely keep up. But as she pressed each button, her point was obvious.

I hopped off and we continued.

“And here,” (I assume) she continued, “are the ab machines, and over there are the free weights.”

“Ah,” I nodded back. Through miming (and sparse understanding on my part), we were understanding each other.

For the most part.

We chatted some more, about the classes they offered, and then I was off. My first proper gym session in two years.

My body was not pleased.

My first year in China, I’d joined a gym near my apartment. It was cheap, and my friend figured it’d keep us fit. I proceeded to go about five times that year and gained about 5 pounds.

Not too effective.

This past year, though, Manfriend and I realized the need for more regular fitness and proper diets. We both had a bit of a problem with carb consumption and tubby tummies. So this past month, he went on the hunt for a new gym nearby.

Upon negotiating his gym rate — seems everything in China is negotiable — he even swung a rate for me. It was an incredible deal, too: He assured them, since I was unlikely to go more than once or twice a week, they could afford to charge me next to nothing.

And so it was: I was a gym member again.

“Why would you want to waste your money again, especially with such a large language barrier?” I can hear you all now. But it’s going to be better this time, I swear!

This time, I’ve got my own personal trainer in Manfriend. He teaches me how to use the equipment and then keeps me honest counting reps.

“I don’t even have those muscles,” I whine as I lifted the lightest weights possible. “You can do this! Just 10 more!” he insists.

A couple of visits later, my Mandarin has caught up a bit. I can read about half of the gym equipment. I’m no burgeoning fitness buff, but every step counts, right? (At least that’s what my new fitness band tells me.)

On our most recent visit, I set down the weights, sweaty but pleased with my effort.

I looked up. “What are you grinning about?” I asked a smiling Manfriend

“It’s just … you’re so chuffed of yourself. Like the nerdy kid on the playground who finally got picked for the team.”

I pouted a bit, but he was right. Part of the team, indeed, and a bilingual one at that.

Read more Sieh: Stalk her:

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