Jackie Chan's House of Pain

No, not that Jackie Chan.

On Monday, Wednesday, and Friday I drag my tired (and probably lazy)body down from my apartment and walk the hundred feet between my building and the gym. The gym is an unassuming place located on the second story of a large square building, the bottom floor of which serves as a water drum (the five gallon ones you see used as the stereotypical office "water cooler") distribution center for the campus. Always waiting there to greet me is a middled aged man who wears glasses as thick as Michigan ice, the gym's owner and sole personal trainer, Jackie Chan.

This is not likely his real name. Being the dumb westerners that we are, many Chinese people have discovered that it's more expedient to come up with a western sounding name rather than trying to teach us their Chinese ones. Thus, many of my students go by such illustrious names as Albert, Bill, Alice, John, Mike and my personal favorite: Boy Gaga. Real name or not, Jackie always waves hello, and assures me that if I need anything I only need to ask for it.

The gym is split into three sections. One section, which isn't gym-like at all, has a group of pool tables that attract Chinese students and western teachers alike for late night games of 8-ball. Another section consists of a large open space with hardwood floors walled off by glass. This section of the gym serves as the dance and yoga room for the girls as well as the kung fu room for the guys. It also houses Jackie's motley collection of treadmills and exercise bikes. The last room houses the things you'd be most likely to find in a gym: the free weights and machines.

All kinds show up there to work out, from scrawny boys that look like they might still be passing through the middle school stage of puberty to enormous guys who have mountains of muscle upon their low lying plains of muscle. There's even this seventy year old ex-champion weight lifter who comes in from time to time and puts us all to shame. The gym also has a cat, which belongs to Jackie, who will come out of Jackie's office and watch the weight lifters from time to time. As Jackie points out, "he knows that (and acts like) he is king here."

While the gym isn't the nicest place I've ever worked out in (the floor is dangerously uneven in places, and some of the machinery was probably in use back when Noah had his midlife crisis), it's certainly the most interesting. What really gives the place it's life is it's owner, Jackie.

When we all signed up for the gym early in the fall, Jackie offered each of us his services as a personal trainer. Most of us turned him down, but a few took him up on it. Word of mouth has spread Jackie's popularity. Jackie has his kung fu masters in training come in every day of the week and rotates through back, arm, leg, and chest exercises that leave his poor students ready to die afterwards. Then he takes them into the dance room to learn the fundamentals of kung fu.

If you watch Jackie at work, you lose a lot of incorrect pre-assumptions about him. He dresses well, usually in a nice sweater and a sharp pair of jeans, but he doesn't strike you as the macho, "I vill paump you aup!" type. At least until you see him roll up his sleeves.

One of Jackie's weight lifting strategies is to put way more weight than you could possibly lift into your hands. He helps you get it up in the air, and makes you let it back down. Inevitably, when you're getting ready to grunt, Jackie will roll up his sleeves (which always seem to fall back down between lifts) and grasps the weight with you. It's then that you spot the iron rods the man has for arms.

"If you here," (he points at your arm, while demonstrating a lifting technique) "and here," (he shows the next position and how to get there) " you will let out the power."

"But. If you do like this..." (he does an oddly apt impersonation of other people you've seen working in the gym, an impersonation that can often reduce even the bulkiest of men to gawky children again) "and this.." (he flops around a little more for added comic effect) "no good."

There's something about Jackie that makes you like him, one of those things that stolidly defies description. When Jackie gives you praise, you can't help but be pleased, and when he criticizes you, you can't help but feel disappointed in yourself.

I personally haven't gotten into Jackie's weight lifting routines (I have long established methods of my own which work to my satisfaction), but I've been drawn into his kung fu lessons like a moth to the flame. Between those and weight lifting, I usually spend two hours in the gym, getting the fat out, as Jackie says.

When the night's over, I wave to Jackie, and his cat, whose name translates into English as Stupid Bowl (Jackie says that if you give your pet a derogatory name it will live longer)before I go back to my apartment and drag myself back up the five flights of stairs to my room. It's weird how satisfied beating the crap out of your body can feel.

Life goes on. I'm reading through Danse Macabre, a piece of nonfiction by Stephen King dealing with the horror genre between the years of 1950 and 1980. I have to recommend Stephen's nonfiction, which is some of the most entertaining I've ever read, especially if you're interested in what he's talking about. I'd sometimes pick it up over a piece of fiction. Sorry Chris; Light will have to wait a few more days. I'm also stewing on other writing projects now that my time has been freed up.

Catch you all later.

PS: (The famous Jackie Chan's Chinese name is Cheng Long, for those of you who were wondering.)