The hot springs avoided gaffe

The weather looks like rain in Kangding this morning and I don’t know exactly how I’m going to spend my time here. I walk uninspired to the centre, to the meeting of the two streams, watch the housewives buy vegetables from the peasant women sitting on the pavement; the traffic clogging the high street, surges of water rushing downstream between the banks. All of a sudden I have a brainwave: I’ll walk out of town toward the hot springs.

The houses become rarefied and the town gives way to vegetable gardens next to the watercourse in the narrow valley bottom. I am well under way when I convince myself that going to the hot springs alone won’t be a real goal without the full experience of them. I’ll treat myself to a hot bath, too.

The snag is I haven’t brought a swimsuit or a towel and I’ll have to make do with what I have. However, when the attendant that is shadowing me from the entrance spots me trying to sneak into the big swimming-pool in my underwear, he says that is not possible. No other way than use the private rooms, then.


I choose the one with the nan Chinese character for men, turn the door handle locked and strip stark naked before gingerly lowering myself into the tub. There is a healthy odour of sulphur emanating from the bubbling water that soon frees my respiratory tract and nose. I enjoy the relaxing warmth and read a book for quite a while.

Out of the blue, I hear someone fumbling at the wooden knob trying to force the door. It suddenly dawns on me that the room may not be so private after all, but just meant to be used by all nan, men, wanting to enjoy the tub rather than the pool. There is indeed enough space for several people in the large tub.

While the unknown hand is still trying to pick the rudimentary lock that I have no doubt will soon give way, I jump out of the water and slip on my underwear, just in time before a couple of kids break into what I thought my private space. They plunge into the water and soon get bored but my private peace is now broken. Well, I suppose I’d stewed myself long enough in the sulphur broth…

I try to dry myself as well as I can using a t-shirt I won’t be able to wear. Outside the rain has set in. I have an umbrella and a raincoat, but if I have sacrificed a garment to get dry, I’m not going to start walking in the rain so I go for a bowl of jiaozi while the rain dwindles to a drizzle.