Monday, December 15, 2003

Hot Springs and Sassafrass
"Justin, may I ask you a question?"
Sure, I replied. It was only 8 a.m. and the coworker who asked me often has patently ridiculous, mentally taxing queries. I also usually don't take questions until about 10:30, but I was feeling especially benificent and mellow. It was the morning of our second day of a Shenzhen Daily hot springs retreat and tours of nature and historical sites in Guangdong Province.
"What do you call oral sex in your country?"
I almost spit out my mouthful hot rice, mushroom and egg soup -- the Chinese breakfast equivalent of our bowl of Corn Flakes and cup of coffee. The staff was seated at three different tables at a Chinese truck stop, and foreign barbarian coworker Jeff and I were hierarchally grouped with the Daily's two senior editors, older reporters and page editors, and a lone woman, the long-suffering (but eternally patient,) staff secretary, Lilly.
The senior editors looked at me expectantly. They had apparently been discussing the subject with the reporter who asked me. Lilly looked embarassed and stared pointedly down at her lap. Jeff supressed a grin.
"Um...what kind of oral sex?"
"When a man receives it."
"A blow job?"
"No, that is slang. We know that. There is a technical term that we do not know."
"Oh! Fellatio."
All three repeated it with varying degrees of success and Lilly finally looked up cautiously.
"Thank you."
"You're welcome. Now I have two questions."
"All right."
"The first one is, what is the Chinese term?"
"We are not so graphic. We are more poetic. We call it 'playing the flute.'"
"OK, so why are you talking about 'playing the flute' at 8 o'clock Saturday breakfast,?"
"When do Americans talk about it?"
"Usually not at breakfast."
I still don't know why they wanted to know. While some company overnight excursions in the States might result in some employee hanky-panky, this one was strictly G-rated. Well, maybe PG. There were some slightly "yellow" jokes after many beers and shots of Chinese rocket fuel - mao-tai - during karaoke as we celebrated Jeff's 59th birthday the night before. But no flute playing that I could discern. The genders were strictly segregated in pre-assigned rooms at our hotel.
Like everything else that transpires at the office, Jeff and I were the last to know about this trip, a perk we both agreed beat anything any newsroom in the Western world might organize. No particular reason, not even something like a "team building exercise" was given for this largesse, an element that made it all the more appealing.
It had orginally been planned as a weekend flight to Sanya, China - an island resort best known for recently hosting the recent Miss World competition. He and I had cleared our weekend schedules, he had invited his girlfriend...then as the days passed it became clear that the plans might change.
"So, are we still going to Sanya?" I asked the woman who was in charge of coordinating it.
"We are not sure," she replied.
"Well, give me an estimate," I asked.
"I am thinking 98 percent yes," she said.
Take the 2 percent, Jeff told me. This is China.
He was right. But the hot springs in Conghua ("Conghua Fairyland Make Wave Hot Springs Eden" to be exact) was a nice alternative. Like all mass excursions here, this one was a package tour. There's a bus with a video player, a gregarious long-winded guide who carries a colored - usually red or yellow - flag with the tour logo on it and everyone gets a complimentary baseball hat with the tour logo and color. Mustn't leave the group and follow the flag. Group harmony must be maintained at all times. God help you if you're wearing a red tour cap and wind up with a group of yellow caps...
"Conghua Fairyland Make Wave Hot Spring Eden" is only two years old, and I was told that the springs themselves were only discovered in the 1930s when a pilot flying over the area saw plumes of steam rising from the thermal springs.
"Do they have hot springs in the United States?"
I must have been asked that a dozen times. I patiently explained that yes, we do, and we even have them in Colorado. I didn't mention how appallingly dirty and reeking I found the ones in Glenwood Springs in my only, mercifully brief, visit there.
Fairyland Eden was much better than Glenwood Springs. Clean and pristine with 38 pools, including several secluded, screened off with a high fence and barbed wire "Lovers Pools."
The pools we sampled had vaguely medicinal or herbal sounding names, except for the "Emperor's Concubines Pool" which, alas, contained no concubines. But we soaked and lolled and chatted for hours in the soothing warm waters and light scents of the the "Sasafrass Pool", "Wine Pool", "Ginseng Pool", "Lemon Pool," "Peppermint Pool", "Coffee Pool", "Lychee Pool," "Milk Pool" (the only disappointment, it was cloudy colored and smelled faintly of sour milk) and, my favorite, the "Glossy Ganoderma Pool."
I have no idea what "Glossy Ganoderma" means, though I've been meaning to ask. It sounds almost poetic. Maybe it's like "playing the flute" or "clouds and rain." Or maybe it's a rare skin condition.
I've just got to wait until the next 8 o'clock staff breakfast for the right opportunity.

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