Given that living in Hong Kong as an expat isn’t that difficult to adapt to thanks to the city’s magical convenience and western influence, one would think that getting a gym membership and going to the gym wouldn’t be such a struggle.. Wrong. If you have ever frequented the popular gym chains throughout the city, this list will be all too familiar (and just might bring back some haunting memories). For those that have yet to experience the frustrating and downright bizarre antics that occur at one of these gyms, here’s a peek into what you can expect before joining a gym in Hong Kong.
10. A Painful First Step Into The Gym
So, you want to join a gym and figure you’ll walk into the closest one you can find to your flat or work, have a look around, and then decide for certain whether you want to sign up later. Unfortunately, that’s not quite how things work here. Once you inquire about a membership at a gym, so begins a painful process; they take your contact information (I suggest giving a false number/name because sometimes they only offer “special rates” if you’ve never been to any other locations previously or they’ll repeatedly message and call you) and then someone hastily shows you around. You’re then prompted to sit down and listen to a drawn-out spiel while they pressure you into signing up right then and there.. because the deal they’re giving you expires today (see #9).
9. This Is A Special Price For Today Only
As soon as you sit down to speak with them about membership fees, they’ll tell you they’ve got a great deal for you as they scribble everything out on a piece of paper while you try to make sense of the numbers. They’ll tell you that the rate they’re offering you at that moment is only valid for today, so you must sign up now unless you want to pay more tomorrow. The frustrating thing that I came to realize is that their promotions throughout the year are totally random and, while they don’t last for only a day, you can’t predict when they will happen and what the promotion will be. You could walk into a gym on Monday and sign up for $700/month and the next week your friend might come in and get the promotion rate of only $500/month.
8. Personal Trainers Will Hover Around You
Thankfully this hasn’t happened to me, but I’ve seen it happen to many gym-goers and have heard stories from friends. If you’re working out, whether it’s cardio or weights, it’s likely at some point you’ll have one or two trainers watching you for a moment. They will then approach you and attempt to persuade you to buy personal training by making remarks similar in tune to, “you shouldn’t just focus on cardio – you need to lift weights”, or “it looks like ___ is a trouble area for you, we can fix that with personal training”, as though you are completely incompetent at the gym (which, I admit, some of the people are; see #2).
7. Interesting Choice Of Workout Attire
I thought that most people understood the concept of gym clothes, but it seems as though some are completely aloof here. I’ve seen people wearing work clothes (think dress pants, flats for women and dress shoes for men, and a button down shirt) and most local men wear shorts that are the same length, if not shorter, than women’s. On the other extreme, you’ll sometimes see an older lady or man decked out in excessive gym attire; sweat bands for their wrists and foreheads, knee-high socks, neon running jackets, and all. One of my all-time favourites is this man who wears loose cotton shorts and would tuck them up into the elastic part of his underwear so it literally looked like he was wearing a diaper.
6. Joining A Gym Just To Use The Changeroom
As a regular Friday morning gym enthusiast, over time I’ve taken notice to the other gym goers who wake up at an ungodly hour to get a session in before heading off to work. These people belong in one of two groups: those that actually workout and those that just come to the gym to shower and get ready for the day. This is something I can’t quite wrap my head around; why would you willingly wake up at around 5:00 am to go to the gym and not even work out?! Can’t you get ready at home? If anyone has a logical explanation for this, do let me know!
5. So Much Nakedness In The Changeroom
I’m all about loving and embracing your body, but the sheer amount of naked women in the changeroom at any given moment can be a tad much. These women aren’t just naked while they’re changing, either. They’re naked while sitting on the bench and talking on their phones, while at the mirrors doing their make-up or blow drying their hair (in both places, might I add; see #4), and while having a loud conversation with another naked woman in the middle of the changeroom. This may not bother some, but it is quite different to what most North American expats are used to back home.
4. Zero Shame
In the gym I’ve seen patrons horking, excessively clearing their throat, and making some of the most intensely bizarre grunting noises I’ve ever heard. In the changeroom, women here (and I can only assume it’s somewhat similar in the male changeroom as well) have no qualms with clipping their toes on the bench, changing their pads in the open instead of using the washrooms, using the hair dryers to dry their private parts, and lying soaking wet and naked on the bench in front of your locker with only a little towel covering them (yes, this happened to me!). Another strange thing I saw the other day was a lady who lined her locker with newspaper because, I assume, she didn’t want to put her gym bag in the “dirty” locker. I literally think I could write a book with all the weird and gross stuff I’ve seen happen in these changerooms.
3. Eating Food In The Changeroom
Okay, okay – I get it. Maybe you’ve just come from work and need a quick bite to eat, but a) it’s super awkward in general to be sitting on a bench in the changeroom eating while everyone around you is getting changed, and b) the only thing I’ve seen people eat are McDonald’s or some type of a bread bun/pastry out of a bag. I find it perplexing and ironic that these people who are at a gym have made the conscientious decision to eat something so unhealthy AT the gym. At least wait until you get home to gorge yourself.
2. Abusing The Gym Equipment
If you’ve ever been to a gym, you’ve likely seen someone making a futile effort at using the equipment. I’m no trainer, but I’m pretty sure when you’re using a seated calf raise machine like a leg press, you have no clue what you’re doing (not to mention you look like an idiot). It’s baffled my mind on numerous occasions how people think they are using the equipment correctly, as they confidently jump up and down while thrusting a 20 lb barbell in the air. Also, you’ll get plenty of people just sitting on the equipment and talking on their phones or playing Candy Crush, seemingly unable to notice that they are actually in a gym and people actually want to USE the equipment instead of just taking up space.
1. No Flexibility With Contracts
If you do end up signing a contract at one of the chain gyms here in Hong Kong, be sure you read through it very carefully beforehand. Most of the people who work at these gyms need to meet a certain membership quota (as do the personal trainers), and will say just about anything or omit important information to get you to sign up. An example of this was when I had three months left on my 18 month contract, the membership consultant who had initially signed me up told me that in order to renew I would have to pay an additional $200 per month. No thanks. After about 2 months of not extending my membership, he offered it to me for the same price I had been paying all along. Now, I thought I was just signing the exact same contract as my old one, but he actually ended up changing a clause in my contract which stipulated I couldn’t use any other facility except for that specific location. I was not made aware of this and when I moved to another part of the city, they would not let me change locations (even after I spoke with head office). These people can be very shady, conniving, and sneaky, so be aware.
Note: The above information is based solely on my experience at the California Fitness gyms in Hong Kong (which have now all gone bankrupt [surprise, surprise] and shut down). I’m now happily at Pure Fitness.