Sunday, 8 September 2013

Development blends

What's always intrigued me as how bathing customs differ, how they evolve and how current culture seeks to cope with the differences and the outer world trying to influence local culture. 

However, with the lessening of cultural and social diversions, traditional bathing cultures are increasingly threatened. 

Unfortunately the Southeast Asian bathing culture is a modernist one which with elitist overtones has regarded au-naturel bathing as backward and laughable. However the last laughs I believe are of those fully clad snobs who must feel tremendously uncomfortable. Or not?

But internationally, in the bathing custom discourse it are the anglo-saxon wannabe star cultures which are pushing their agenda however unknown. 
For instance, many a blog entry on Japanese onsen reflect on the backwardsness of naked single-sex bathing. 

Which raises the question why travel to a foreign culture at all, if you disapprove?
Others express fear of the unknown, but find out that it's actually a pleasure and become life-long converts. Southeast Asians, while radically opposed to disrobing, will do everything to blend in, however opposite it is of their own culture (remember in Singapore private nudity is even forbidden). Alas, their voices are often too meek in the current day internet overload. The same goes for us Europeans who have less binds either way.
Back in July I visited two hot springs, one in Aachen (Germany), one in Holland (Thermae 2000). In Holland it was a costume free day, which 99% happily enjoyed, whereas in Germany a beautiful part of the springs was suit-free. Not many have qualms about the lack of dress. But that said, overseas guests are at minimum and when researching internet the English language responses are often filled guilt/shame ridden. 
To me simple nakedness is purposeless (we are bathing after all), but it leads to increased self-esteem, self-confidence and acceptance of nature.

Here are some recent examples of au-naturel bathing experiences by you. First by Irreplaceable, from Malaysia (July 14) enjoying an experience in Korea:
'Yeah, the very first time getting naked in public with two of my girlfriends. If you never have such experience before, this might sound so awkward for you, am I right?
In fact, I had been struggling for so long whether shall I try this nude hot spring. For me, it is just so embarrassing to appear in front of strangers without wearing a single piece of cloth. But after all, I decided to try it. How brave am I right. Bravo. To make you clear, it is a hot spring only for girls. Not mix one okay.
Miss that wonderful hot spring soaking moment with my girls. Wish to visit other nude hot springs of another country next time LOLOL. Don't think I am crazy okay I am not. Come on. Don't be shy. You all must try it if you all have a chance. That gonna be a very unforgettable memories I promise. :D 
Peace to you too. Then Big on trips from Singapore in Japan (July 21):
'I started out a bit self-conscious and sheepish about the whole thing. But having the husband in the same bath made me feel more comfortable. It helps that the baths are also sprawling so you can easily stake out your own little nook where no one can see you. After a while, you just get used to seeing everyone’s bits and realise that man or woman, it’s just a different anatomy so no point getting the knickers in a twist about it. Plus if you go as a couple, it is nice to be able to enjoy the onsen together'.
There is the odd exception and some are written with great wit. Take Joann from the USA in Japan (August 12):
'So it was that Diane and I, two fairly well-endowed women, stepped outside, naked as the day we were born, whereupon we made three crucial discoveries: we were the only Gaijin (foreigners) at the spa, the resort was co-ed, and the two of us were missing one small, but essential item.  Every Japanese person we encountered, and 99.9 percent of them were of the male persuasion, was holding a small hand towel the size of a wash cloth, over his genitals. 
Diane and I were not just naked. We were beyond naked. We were Über-naked.
Had we missed the warning sign in the locker room: “Please remember, don’t shame Buddha, all of the Shinto deities and the memory of hundreds of generations of your ancestors by stepping outside without your little washcloth?”  Or perhaps there was no sign because the Japanese are born holding these tiny cloths as they exit the birth canal?
Desperate to cover ourselves, Diane and I crisscrossed our arms over our bodies.  With our hands hovering ineffectively over our nether regions, we darted to the nearest hot spring for cover.  The dark gray, mineral-laden water conveniently covered our nudity, and thankfully, we were alone. 
But not for long.
Apparently, word of the two, too-naked, big-breasted American women, had spread like wildfire throughout the spa.  Suddenly, dozens of extraordinarily friendly men, also unclothed, but of course with the obligatory washcloths, joined us in our pool.  I did my best to fend off the many overtures from these interlopers who floated dangerously into my personal space, trying to chat us up.  The Japanese love nothing more than to practice English, but the last thing I wanted to do was encourage naked fraternizing. 
After a few minutes, I noticed that I had begun sweating profusely from the intense heat. After fifteen minutes, I felt nauseous.
I knew that I had to get out of this bubbling caldron, but escaping would have required climbing up a three-foot ladder to exit the pool, thereby providing a front-row view of that to which only gynecologists and lovers should be privy. My mind, which was now melting along with the rest of me, struggled to reason that I was thousands of miles from home, and the chance that I would ever see any of these men again was infinitesimally small.  But I couldn’t bear the thought of baring my undercarriage, free of charge, to this rapt group of strangers.  Diane agreed, so the two of us waited it out with a steely determination that would have impressed any prisoner of war.
One by one, our fan club left, and finally, we were alone, once again.  We quickly made our getaway. Like two boiled lobsters plucked from a pot, steam rose off our crimson bodies, as we climbed out and once again scurried for cover to the nearest pool.
And so it went.
We spent the rest of the afternoon sprinting from one hot spring to another until we came to the last one of the day.  Divided into three sections, each about the length and width of a bathtub, Diane and I chose adjacent pools.  As we stretched out, we discovered that the water was only a few inches deep, so our entire torsos were completely exposed to the air. 
We sat up and struggled to reposition ourselves to find some cover.  A moment later, a man in a deep pool next to ours who had witnessed our thrashing, floated over to us, stuck his foot out of the water and pointed at it.  It took only a moment to realize that Diane and I were lying in the footbaths—a fitting end, I suppose, to an altogether much too naked and humiliating day'.

In an overview of current day nudism in China (which 'reveals' a few hot springs where nudity may or might have been common practice). From nakedhistorian (August 8):
'Whilst there is very little nudism amongst the dominant Han Chinese, there is more tradition of nudist activity amongst China’s minority groups, especially down south.
In western Yunnan, the De’ang tribe bathe in the Imperial Hot Springs whose waters are rich with coal and salt extracts. We’re not entirely sure how they’d feel about foreigners stripping down and hopping in alongside them, but if you ask nicely, the chances are they’d clear a space.
The Mosuo minority believe in the disease curing properties of their local water, so they frequently bathe naked. During the Cultural Revolution, the government built walls across their pools to segregate men and women, but the Mosuo tore them down soon after. The pools were opened to tourists in the 1990s.
A little further north in Sichuan Province, nudism seems to be all the rage. Chongqing Girls Nude Bathing Area;sounds more like the title of a dodgy DVD, but it’s actually an area set aside for women in the Ba’nan District’s tranquil East Spring Village. The pool has been in use since the Ming Dynasty, and its water is said to cure blindness. If you fancy a dip, you’ll be pleased to know that it’s open to tourists. Female ones'.
A Thai in Japan (Nation, August 28): 
'Most of the skiers in Niseko spend their off-piste time in the Onsen. The Green Leaf Onsen stands out as one of the most beautiful natural rock pools in Niseko. The Onsen has separate indoor and outdoor pools for men and women with the water source originating from mineral spring.
But stripping off my clothes, soaking in hot spring with other men and watching huge flakes of snow swirling down, doesn't turn me on. I decide instead to occupy a bar stool and exchange words of wisdom with the bartender though I do agree to take a side-trip to Otaru and Yoichi'.
That's despite visiting onsen is no. 2 of Japan's Top 5 (Lonely Planet, Sept 8).
Blending in. In Uganda I believe (source).
Thinkgeoenergy (July 12) has an article by Jon Cheetham who can not understand why Indonesia is not embracing geothermal energy more whole heartedly:
'As my proof, take a look at PT Supreme Energy, who just received approval from the Rajabasa indigenous people to explore for geothermal resources in Lampung. What it took was frank information and compromise from Supreme Energy chief Triharyo Indrawan Susilo, who informed the Rajabasa of the minimal environmental damage to be feared from geothermal exploration, and promised to plant double the amount of trees that have to be cut down. How is that for a truly admirable renewable spirit? That was all it took; now Bp. Triharyo gets to go ahead with his project hoping to make himself and his employees successful, and the Rajabasa have nothing to fear for their environment. Everyone wins. The country wins. This generosity and openness is the attitude that is needed'.
In New Zealand they fail to understand why the Chinese would want to invest in geothermal energy in the already saturated energy market in NZ (Thinkgeoenergy, July 1). But also at stake is New Zealand nationalism:
'Overseas Investments Office, so the news, has just approved the deal, but it immediately receives criticism. ”Power is a critical component of any economy,” says New Zealand First leader Winston Peters. “To give away its ownership and profits to a foreign interest is not capable of being explained away.”'
In Italy opposition is growing towards the proposed Amiata Bagnore 4  geothermal plant. From Smartplanet (August 8): 
'He [Andrea Borgia, a geologist and volcanologist who works in the Italian High Commission for Environmental Impact Assessment] opposes the new plant because, he says, geothermal fields have already dropped Amiata’s water table, increasing the concentration of naturally occurring arsenic. What’s more, Borgia says that Enel is releasing carbon dioxide and other pollutants such as hydrogen sulfide, ammonia and mercury into the air — and that it doesn’t have to. (Of the geothermal fluid extracted at the plant, only a quarter is re-injected into the reservoir, and the rest, containing these pollutants, is released in the form of vapor.)'. 
All-in-all it's a very complex issue and it seems both sides have the truth on their side. However: 
'She [Adele Manzella, a geophysicist and researcher at the National Research Council] believes the controversy stems from the residents’ lack of trust in Enel and local policy: They did not solve air pollution problems in the Amiata area for a long time, creating bad publicity that is fueling suspicions about the drinking water.
Unfortunately, Manzells says, there is no conclusive evidence as to whether the geothermal work is affecting the level of the drinking water, and a study will take years: “It is a matter of debate, and people there do not know what to believe. It is left to the opinions of the people or scientists or other experts having one interest one way or another.”'
Then we already discussed dual use systems, as proposed for in the Philippines (source). Thinkgeoenergy has an article (August 12) on the Icelandic success of dual use. But that's not all: 
'While the Blue Lagoon remains the top tourist spot in Iceland, the power plants – all can be visited – are among the most visited tourist attractions in the country'.
Malaysia hopes to get it's first own geothermal energy as of 2016 (Thinkgeoenergy, August 8): 
'The power plant at Apas Kiri, would be the first renewable and sustainable project of its kind in Malaysia, with power to be sold to the Sabah Electricity Sdn Bhd (SESB) grid. It was originally scheduled for completion in 2015'.
Ever heard of the Global Spa and Wellness Summit? Well, the upcoming 2013 meeting slated for early October 2013 set for New Delhi hopes to attract hot spring operators and leaders to discuss soaking issues: 
'According to co-organizer Charles Davidson, from Peninsula Hot Springs in Australia, the Forum will include presentations and open discussions on how the best hot springs operators in the world’s most competitive markets build profitable spa, bathing and accommodation businesses; which evidence-based studies in hot springs bathing practices provide proof of the health benefits of hot springs; and the various ways cultures utilize natural hot water for health, wellbeing and community happiness.
Participants will also jointly explore ways the global hot springs industry can work together in marketing, research and development and on philanthropy projects to bring hot springs bathing facilities to communities in third-world countries'.
The press release certainly pushes the right buttons and this initiative is to be applauded. What I have my doubts about, is the insistence on commercialism. Little is done to preserve, protect and allow enjoying hot springs so how hob-nobbing with the rich will enhance this remains a question mark.

More indepth soaking enthusiasts will be looking at:
'On the table for discussion:
  • How do the best hot springs operators build profitable businesses? 
  • What are the key evidence-based studies supporting hot springs bathing practices? How can they be promoted better? 
  • How do global cultures use natural hot water for health, wellbeing, and community happiness? 
  • How can the global hot springs industry better work together in marketing, research and development? 
  • Are there joint philanthropy projects that can bring hot spring facilities to third-world communities? '
Tellingly there is yet to be a sponsor for this part of the programme .... 

Especially in China, hot spring development is taking on a commercial dimension unbeknown to traditional soakers. Take the doughnut hotel (Yahoo, July 20):
'It's a hotel Homer Simpson could love.
China's Sheraton Huzhou Hot Spring Resort's deliciously shaped oval design looks like a giant doughnut. The building, dubbed the "horseshoe hotel," opens next month in the town by the same name, Huzhou'. 
Though it names itself a hot spring hotel it's own web site is conspicuously silent on what it entails.

More high end development pouring in. Banyan Tree Chongqing is receiving it's first guests (Breakingtravelnews, September 6): 
'Nestled within the new Banyan Tree Chongqing Beibei, the first international hot spring resort in Chongqing, the resort embraces the natural healing waters of the North Hot Springs'. 
Dieng plateau, Java, Indonesia. From My Journey keeps Inspiring.

Mostly unhopeful dreams 
  • Brunei
Brunei is eyeing yet again the development of a remaining hot spring. Read what the article (mysarawak, July 30) thinks is the good news: 
'Second Minister of Resource Planning and Environment Datuk Amar Awang Tengah Ali Hasan said lessons could be learnt from the Republic of Czechoslovakia, which managed to turn a valley with a hot spring into a renowned medical tourism attraction.
“Tourism is a money spinning industry, and it can provide employment and economic spinoffs. Czechoslovakians used their creativity and innovation on the valley, which now contributes to their national coffers,” he said at a Sarawak Energy Berhad (SEB) gathering in Hotel Seri Malaysia to present Raya goodies to orphans, the disabled (OKUs), and single mothers over the weekend.
Awang Tengah said Lawas had great attractions in the Merarap hot spring and Mount Murud, the highest mountain in Sarawak'.

'Indigosix outing! Yipeeee ...'
West Bali, Indonesia: Menjangan hot springs. Source: nininathania
  • Laos
Hot springs are increasingly becoming popular says the Vientiane Times (July 19). But is this the start of the end?
'The house's rooms will be built as many visitors like to bathe naked in the spring; however, visitors are required to bring a large towel to cover themselves when they emerge from the water. Bathers say they feel healthy after they finish and walk out of the bathrooms at the hot spring.
Since the bath opened last year, visitors there are mostly Lao people. Mr Phouvanh added about 40 foreign tourists per month have visited the hot spring to relax in the refreshing water. The cost to use the bath is 5,000 kip for a foreigner and 2,000 kip for a Lao person.
The department has received funding from the state to build a bathhouse and a souvenir shop at the site'.
It's bye-bye to this?
'For many local people, the spring is even better than a regular hot shower – while they have electricity installed in their homes, most still head to the springs for the traditional experience.
The local community often prefers to bathe communally in the hot spring before turning in for the night and again before breakfast'.
Then on the 25th of August, the same source mentions finding a new hot spring:
'Zone Administrative Office Head, Mr Somphone Southam, said a group from his office visited the hot spring at Poungloc village earlier last week on an unofficial trip, and discovered the spring was the biggest any of them had seen in the province.
“The spring boiled in the middle of a stream in the centre of the village; it bubbles hot water to a height of about 40cm while the stream covers the entire area,” he said. Mr Somphone said a local official had told him the village was located near an ancient volcano, which explained the hot spring activity'. 
Obviously, authorities want to develop the site ....

Viengthong hot spring, as it is.
  • Malaysia. 
Another nail in the coffin for a yet to be well visited hot spring? Metro online broadcast Malaysia (21 August ) reports
'AMONG hot springs in Hulu Selangor, two are already well known — Kerling and the Hulu Tamu hot spring in Ulu Yam. 
However, a third hot spring is begging for some attention. It is located in Jalan Ariff 12, Taman Ariff, Kuala Kubu Baru.
Although the hot spring was discovered almost 10 years ago, it remains a well-kept secret among locals.
Last year, the Hulu Selangor District Council (MDHS) beautified the area by covering the dirt road to the area with gravel, building a small concrete pathway, and a few seats. However, there are still no toilets and changing facilities.
MDHS’ aim is to make the Kuala Kubu Baru hot spring an international tourist destination'.
  • Philippines
Asian Correspondent (September 2) visits Manquinit hot springs, Coron islands, the Philippines: 
'... reputedly one of just two saltwater hot springs in the world'. 
Not really good research. A simple google search will lead you to f.i. the Zhaori Saltwater Hot Springs, Taiwan. It's 
'This is one of only three saltwater hot springs in the world along with the springs on Kyushu Island of Japan and Sicily in Italy'. 
But no Manquinit. Or what about Mount Mangunui, New Zealand? Triton Bay, China?

Who knows this hot spring in Chaiya, Thailand?
Further afield. The Secret of India website lists a couple of Indian hot springs.

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