Hohhot, Inner Mongolia
(04-16th July, 2004)
We reached Hohhot, the Capital of Inner Mongolia at about 9:00 am. We proceeded for Cathy's house which was on the fourth floor of a five storey building. I was warmly welcomed by her parents. Since I was the first foreigner in their locality, many curious neighbours came probably to see what an Indian/foreigner looks like. I had a feeling they're a little disappointed to see that I don't look much different to the Chinese other than the fact that I have bigger eyes and darker skin. But they were all very friendly and asked Cathy a lot of questions about me.
After the visitors left, we had tea, Cathy showed me to my room and prepared to take shower. Unfortunately the bathroom was on repair, so Cathy apologetically explained that we had to go to the public bath to take shower. I found nothing strange in that until we proceeded for the public bath which had separate rooms for men and women.
After paying for our shower, we proceeded for the locker room and next to it is the shower room. Cathy started stripping and I followed suit. Quite normal. But to my shock, there was no stopping! She discarded all her clothings until she was standing in front of me stark naked! I stopped and paused......Oh Lord! Do I have to do that? She doesn't look the least flustered.
I've heard of students taking shower in the public baths before. But what I didn't realise until now was that it was quite normal for them to take shower naked in the public ones. Cathy waited for me with a questioning look. I found it very difficult to proceed. At some point I finally decided to do the same, for the sole reason as not to offend her. So I took off (all) my clothes pretending hard not to show my embarassment and self-consciousness while reality is quite the opposite. Right at that moment, I wished I'd just 'poof' into thin air. But no turning back now. I thought to myself, 'It's just Cathy here. I don't want to offend her. Quickly strip and run into the confinement of the shower room'.
I stepped into the shower room flushed with embarassment still pretending hard to be casual about it. But oh no, there was more shock in store for me! There, in front of me were about eight women of various ages, all taking shower naked in one room without any partition. I wanted to turn back and leave instantly. But drat....Cathy was right behind me blocking my way out. I was trapped!! I had no choice but to proceed.
Before entering the room, I thought that there would be partitioning on each shower for privacy. But nay, that's not to be the case. I wished Cathy had informed me in detail what to expect in public baths. I really felt violated! All I could remember from then on was that I turned my back to all the others and glued my eyes on the wall, and the bag of toiletries I kept in front of me. I could sense Cathy taking shower next to me and talking to me. I bet she sensed then that it was my first time in the public baths and was trying her best to ease my discomfort.
Looking back now, I realised that the incident was all part of the culture experience which can help me better understand the Chinese society. But going back to the public bath will be something I'll try to avoid as much as possible. One public bath experience is quite enough for me to last for a long long time to come.