"This is a murderous murder dungeon, and I will be murdered here."
Nicely honed preservation instincts, Schaefer, I thought, watching the Chinese laoban come around the front desk and latch the metal security door behind me. I’d been on such a mission to find the place that I hadn’t registered my own vulnerability, but it suddenly occurred to me that I was alone in a strange man’s home and no one knew where I was.
I plunked down on the couch in the dingy parlor -- once a private apartment, now a reception area -- at the back of a decrepit cement hallway in Anhuili. Like most first-floor units, the windows were frosted over and barred.
This is a murderous murder dungeon, and I will be murdered here.
“You ever been to a place like this?” the laoban asked, gesturing to the slipper cubbies. Take off your shoes.
“No. You ever have any foreigners in here?”
“No. Well, some Russians.”
Naturally, some Russians.
I’d ended up at Yishengping by accident. Jiuzhou, Wangjing’s highest-rated homestyle sweat lodge, is rumored to offer rock salt resting beds, but the gates to that paradise were closed when I’d showed up earlier in the day, no answer on the cell, and this was Dianping’s nearest substitute. After a casual walk in the area, though, I think the number of unregistered saunas well exceeds whatever’s listed online -- I saw dozens of DIY Hanzheng (汗蒸) signs in residential windows scattered around Datunlu. They can’t possibly all have business licenses.
A bit late to find out now.
Laoban handed me a towel and a set of pink pajamas. It dawned on me that all I do with my life is hump around getting sweaty in various states of undress. No regrets. As we live, so do we die.
“Most people can stand the extreme heat of a traditional sauna for about ten minutes,” he explained, pointing me towards the changing rooms, which was actually a plastic bathroom stall door bolted to a wall.
"You jump in, you get uncomfortable, you jump out. By contrast, the temperature in a sweat lodge is much milder, between 40 and 45 degrees Celsius. The idea is to stay in the room for thirty minutes to an hour, allowing your pores to slowly open. It’s less of a shock to the system.”
The lodge, it turned out, was one tiled room -- probably a bedroom once -- equipped with floor heating and a temperature sensor, very dark but spotlessly clean, with enough space for a max of maybe seven people. There were beaded wire pillows on a raised kang, a tea pot and some magazines. There was a Tibetan salt lamp, a speaker seeping Korean new age dulcimer tracks, a set of Chinese checkers. There was wifi and a wall socket. I spent most of the hour notifying friends of my whereabouts and doing Sudoku on my phone.
The guy was right, it was a different kind of sweatiness, a lazy sweatiness, like when you sit in a hot car for a long time and your shirt starts sticking to your back. Like lying on a bed in a hot room, when your shoulders and hairline get a bit damp but your forearms don’t. Not unpleasant, really, if you like simmering in your own juices. Pretty relaxing.
Laoban checked on me a few times over the course of the hour, I guess to make sure I hadn’t passed out. He knocked on the door again when my time was up.
“Notice anything different?” he asked as I emerged, slightly flushed.
I told him my lizard-face felt less scaly than usual.
“Good for the skin,” he confirmed.
He threw in a free shaman-magic diagnosis on my way out the door. “Show me your tongue,” he said, nodding at it happily.
“You have digestion problems.”
I do sometimes.
-Budget fun-seekers take note: this whole extravaganza cost a whopping 29rmb.
-I would have liked this a lot better if I hadn’t spent the whole time wondering when the Bratva was gonna show up and inject me with heroin. Though no one sex trafficked me to Estonia and the owner turned out to be a super nice guy with a passion for TCM, guests should watch their asses in similar settings. These places are secluded and no one will hear you scream. Go with friends.
-Bring a second pair of undies: you'll get one pair all sweaty, and you really don't wanna go commando in those jam jams.
Wanna go? Of course you do. Yishengping is at Yayuncun, Anhuili District 1, Building 21, Room 108.