A Spa Anniversary in Ya’an —by Jinny Batterson
My husband Jim and I always try to do something nice for ourselves for the weekend closest to our wedding anniversary in mid-March. In Ya’an, Sichuan, China in 2009, the “typical” outlets of a high-end restaurant dinner followed by an evening first watching an English language romantic comedy, then engaging in our own romantic comedy, were unavailable. We wanted to do something special, anyway. We enlisted the help of the Foreign Affairs Officer at the university where we were teaching. We first explained some of our previous activities for making wedding anniversaries special, then asked for likely equivalent choices in our vicinity. Ms. Chen was happy to be of assistance. She suggested an overnight stay at a spa resort a little further from town than our explorations had taken us up to then.
The prospect sounded appealing, if perhaps a bit of a language challenge, since the complex she recommended did not cater to many foreign tourists. Ms. Chen said she’d help us get everything arranged ahead of time, so that our limited Mandarin fluency would be less of a problem. On a Saturday afternoon, after getting all our needed lesson preparations done for the following week, we took a taxi to the NanShuiGe Hot Springs Resort and Spa for a 24-hour date.
Our hotel was one of several surrounding the hot springs and pools near Zhougong Mountain. The hotel entryway and lobby reminded me of a mountainside resort in the U.S. Rocky Mountain West—huge wooden beams, high ceilings, lots of open space. Ms. Chen had done an excellent job smoothing the way for us. We finished our registration formalities with no problem. We were soon installed in a spacious room in a semidetached wing of the large resort and conference center. Our room had a high, king-sized bed. There were matching chairs and a table with solid wood frames, unusual for China, where most furniture has either no wood at all or at most thin strips of wood veneer.
Mid-March did not seem to be the height of tourist season. There was one full-sized tour bus in the parking lot, along with a smattering of cars and minivans, most with license plates indicating their owners came from Chengdu, the provincial capital. We had a covered balcony that looked out over a small stream, on the other side of our building from the hot springs pools. After stowing our minimal belongings, we took a short walk in the neighborhood, across a stone arched bridge and then along a dirt track beside several farm fields planted with rapeseed. Rapeseed is an oil-bearing plant that forms the basis for “canola” oil (much rapeseed is grown in Canada, hence the name). At this season in Sichuan, the plants were blooming, sending up tall spikes of yellow flowers, providing a bright contrast to the backdrop of misty gray mountains.
Returning to the hotel, we changed into our bathing suits, then completed our costumes with the plush bathrobes, plastic slippers, and thick towels that had come with our room to wear or use at the pools. Pools came in several sizes, shapes, and temperatures, from lukewarm to noticeably-hot-but-not-scalding. Most of the pools were edged with volcanic rocks. I found the warmth of the water and the relative lack of crowds soothing. We briefly shared one of the smaller pools with a Chinese father/son duo. I managed enough Mandarin to ascertain that they were from Chengdu and came to the resort to relax on weekends several times each year. It occurred to me later that some of the rooms and suites might be time-shares, but I didn’t have the language skills to inquire.
Jim and I had a pleasant if unmemorable dinner at the hotel restaurant, spent a pleasantly romantic evening, had a comfortable night’s sleep in a bed that was a good bit bigger and more elaborate than the one in our campus apartment. The following morning, after sampling a plentiful East/West breakfast buffet, we took another neighborhood walk before it was time to return to school. I found a four-leafed clover, which is pasted into my journal beside descriptions of this very nice, if somewhat atypical, anniversary getaway.