Day 5: The Heart, Not the Steel

Weight-lifting sometimes gets a bad reputation. But despite the unfounded stereotypes that often get associated with it—that people who regularly work-out are unintelligent, narcissistic, fanatical, insecure, or simply addicted to steroids—I am not ashamed to say that I have a bizarre fascination with the sport. In fact, it's been such a distinct part of me that at every major, life-changing juncture since entering Oberlin, I have written about it. And so, given that it's been a year for me in Taigu already, this post is long overdue.

During my first semester at SAU, I was disappointed to learn that there wasn't anything in the way of a dedicated weight room on campus. It was only until March, when Nick heard word that there may be a place with a couple of barbells and weight plates, that we had renewed faith. After a grueling and ultimately fruitless talk with a couple of employees, we decided to do a little snooping ourselves, and eventually found a “body-building room” among a row of smaller, unnamed complexes past the edge of the track.

James demonstrates how to ride a bike and do dumbbell curls simultaneously in the SAU weight room.

The inside is nothing to write home about. In fact, it's probably the sorriest excuse for a weight room I've ever seen—charcoal-covered benches, dilapidated foam mats, and weight plates that look as if they've been deep-fried in rust. If you so much as tug on the locking bolt at either end of the barbell, you can actually separate it from the bar, and past sundown, there's only the faint beam from a single, dangling bulb that illuminates about a quarter of the floor. But bare-bones or not, it's a weight room all the same. And although it is only officially open to the track team on campus, the coach has been kind enough to accommodate us, even going so far as to give us a copy of the key to use after hours. Each time we go, there seems to be less fascination with us dressed in tank-tops and shorts in 40° weather.

But the track team is full of characters in their own right. We don't know any of their real names, so for practicality's sake, we've attributed names to them based on their physical appearance. There are our two main protagonists—Big and Little Rippy—both of whom are “ripped.” There's Twan, named after Gwendolyn's brother in “Trapped in the Closet,” who famously remarked that, “I don't have a Chinese body, I'm stronger than them!” And then there are lesser-known bit players—“ugly shorts guy,” “poser strength,” and shot put ringer “Andre the Giant,” the most enormous Chinese man I've ever seen. A couple of girls have yet to undergo the demeaning name treatment—one, who excels in the high jump, and another half my size, who I once saw—much to my simultaneous shock and excitement—squat with 135 pounds on her back.

Yours truly, getting ready to do a squat.

The track team at SAU reminds me of The Mighty Ducks—a little scrappy, a tad eccentric, but ultimately, pretty decent. The same came be said of the weight room itself. Ironically, while it may be the worst-looking weight room I've ever been to, it's the one I've been most diligent about going to every week. Having a workout partner in James who is as committed as I am has been great motivation as we continue the same four-days-a-week alternating chest/arms and legs/back schedule that I started with Nick and Dave last year. The best part of it all? After our work-out, we treat ourselves to banana-yogurt protein shakes, all while reveling in the slow after-burn of endorphins.