"Offbeat" is a SmartBeijing column about stuff to look at or do or experience in Beijing that's interesting or weird (relatively, of course), that doesn't fit anywhere else. It appears weekly, monthly, or maybe even annually, when we're not busy working on other superfluous column ideas.
I spent my first year in China living in a dormitory in the middle of a village cornfield in northeastern Jilin Province. The winter months, though the moth plagues mercifully lifted, were gnarly. We hit minus 20C pretty regularly, the only xiaomaibu in walking distance was closed for the season, and every night from seven to eight, we girls would shuffle down to the lady’s communal bathing room and wait for Shower Dude to start shoveling coal into the water heater. Bad showers are the worst, you know? You never quite feel clean.
Life is warmer in Beijing, and a reasonable rinse is easier to come by, but there’s always a point in the year when the chill gets lodged in my marrow, intractable, and it’s not a matter of layers anymore, I just can’t get fucking warm.
And so begins the Hajj to Number 8 Hot Springs Business Club.
I’m not sure why there isn’t a bathhouse on every street corner, or why a trip to the spa isn’t part of the quintessential Beijing experience; in many second-tier cities, it’s a standard twice-a-week social stopover. And well it should be, since Number 8 is basically a 6-floor, exquisitely appointed lair of jungle enclaves and plush carpeting where all the extras from Octopussy hang out between scenes.
The Hot Springs Business Club is located in the massive 8号 compound 100 meters north of Chaoyang Park West Gate. The developers had big dreams for the other buildings in the place, back in the day. There used to be a crazy anime-sushi-bar-nightclub in there, a with a view of the Chaoyang Park roller coasters. Now it’s all cement and silence, like everywhere else.
I got some pretty crappy photos of this awesomeness, mostly because taking pics in the shower room is a super no-no, the interior lights are pretty dim,
and people got weird with my camera, so this is gonna be a mix of pictures I took while pretending not to take pictures, and promotional shit from the BaHao website.
The lobby: two may enter, one may leave
Number 8 starts out as a sex-segregated experience. As you head towards the reception desk, the ladies will drift off to the right and men to the left, where you’ll take off your shoes and give them to the fuwuyuan as collateral (you’ll get ‘em back after you’ve paid your bill). They’ll hand you a wrist band, which you’ll use to open your locker and keep track of any additional purchases you make once inside. Most of the facilities in Number 8 are included in the base ticket cost (198rmb), but if anyone asks to see your number and writes it down, they’re saying “this costs extra” and the price is being added to your final bill. So, yeah. Don’t take your wristband off. You’ll need that shit to get your Sketchers back.
Patter down the stairs, find your locker, strip down full frontal, and get wet. Frolic around like a frisky Nyad in showers with magical water pressure, bask in the dry sauna with free salt scrubs, chill in an herbal-infused steam room, powder and primp at the vanity stations. You’re not on the clock, take your time. My eyes and ears whisper that the men’s side is way more lux than the lady's and twice as big, with an outdoor waterfall pool for the hotter seasons, and another pool full of those creepy little fish that like to eat the dead skin off your nipples. If you’re down to pay a little extra, cough up 128rmb for the full-body skin-sloughing scrub down at the tables in the back. This is probably the one extra service I’d recommend ponying up for.
Some Admonitions for Nevernudes
Calm down, ya freaky puritan, no one’s gonna hold a gun to your head and make you take it all off. Wear a bathing suit if you’re hell-bent on externalizing your self-hatred. But everyone else will be walking around with their giant disco-bushes and/or dangly balls hanging out, giving zero fucks.
You will be astonished, in fact, at the extreme lack of fucks.
Just try it. Just air it out down there one single time. Within ten minutes, I promise you, you’ll completely forget that you’re nakies and that everyone else is nakies and you’ll be languidly sprawled in the sauna wondering why you’ve been torturing yourself by not doing this.
The Land of Milk and Honey
The sexes re-convene on the second floor, in the buffet room. Eating in the dining hall at Number 8 is like doing rehab in a swank mental hospital. Regular street clothes are disallowed, so everyone’s pattering around in these sets of Patient Zero silk jam-jams nibbling on like, parfait while some lady in a ball gown sits on a raised dais and plays Twinkle Twinkle Little Star on the baby grand.
GET IT GURL.
With the exception of the special seafood stations, meals are included in the ticket price and all-you-can-eat. There’s breakfast. There’s lunch. There’s afternoon tea around 2:30. There’s dinner, at 5:30. And around 11:30, a late-night nosh. Fuck, stay all day if you want. The food’s super solid. It’s great. It’s all Chinese Sizzler salad bar, 15 solid meters of dishes. Sit-down tables fill up early on weekends, with groups of diners parking it in a seat 30 minutes before the food, so timing is key. Protip: Get there at 3:30pm. If you show up at 2, you’ll miss tea, plus you’ll have a long wait for dinner.
The Hall of Nappery
Look, I know what this sounds like. I know this sounds like I’m dicking you around. I’m not, though. Remember that I’m not.
Are you ready?
Okay, I’m gonna say it: there’s also a massive room dedicated to napping which full of giant personal lounge chairs with private TVs attached. No, no, really. Listen to me. Just listen: you go in, you find an empty Lay-z-boy, you curl up, the fuwuyuan brings you a fluffy white duvet, and you just watch fucking TV lying down in your pajamas, or go to sleep or whatever, in a room full of other people watching TV and sleeping, also in pajamas. No, really. Really. It’s a thing you can do.
The Upper Floors
Number 8 is a six-story building, but everything north of the dining hall scares the bejeesus out of me. They’re running some kind of government mind control experiments up there on top levels, man.
I stepped out of the on the “Business Suit Room" floor and before I could say anything, the three guys standing at the entrance get all squirrely.
“That’s fine, what’s on this floor, though?”
“Okay, but if I wanted to book for next time?”
“We’re full. Talk to the front desk.”
“But what’s in the rooms on this floor, though?”
“Beds. We’re full.”
Couldn’t tell if it was a hooker thing, or a shady deals thing, or what but uh, don’t bother. Go take another nap, dude. Go play some majongg.
Number 8 is open 24/7, but if you’re planning on hanging out there past midnight and crashing in the arm chairs, you’ll need to bring your passport, since overnight stays make Number 8 beholden to Chinese hotel regulations.
Downer: massages as Number 8, even foot massages, aren’t worth the shell-out. They’re working on the Disneyland model, here: once they got you, you’re not leaving, so it’s about 150RMB for a foot massage and over 500 for a full-body rubdown.
Along the same vein there, if you’re a smoker, bring enough cigarettes to last you: anything you have to buy inside is four times the price. You can’t smoke in the bathing areas or the nap room, but the dining hall is a smoke-friendly zone.
It happens to us all: at some point during this experience, you will vow never again to leave the building. You will decide to stay at Number 8 forever, forsaking the sunlight and all of its joys. Which is why everyone’s gotta settle their bill every 18 hours.
Number 8 Hot Springs Business Club is at No.8 Chaoyang Gongyuan West Road. They're open every day, all day, 'til the end of the world.