Let’s face it, the United States of America is an extremely fat country. (Not #1 anymore, though! Thanks, Mexico!) That is simply a fact. But, what we never thought of, until recently, is the fact that this spare tire on the U.S. actually has some pretty great perks. The one we will focus on here is this: There are an innumerable amount of gyms, fitness centers, rec centers, etc. all across the country. There are extremely “classy” and expensive ones. There are extremely cheap ones. There are ones for bodybuilders and power lifters. There are ones geared towards women. There are even some that are geared towards pole dancing! So, in a sense, the extreme fatness in the United States also creates a situation in which the U.S. is also a haven for those who want to stay in shape. it’s a place of extreme fitness and extreme fatness. We didn’t really notice this, and/or appreciate it, until we moved abroad to Taipei, Taiwan. Now, though, it would be nice to have the luxury, diversity and range of prices available to us in the U.S. But, fear not, those of you abroad, we have learned how to manage here in Taiwan!
So, there are a few options for those who wish to stay fit here in Taiwan. The first we will talk about are the gyms that more closely resemble those in the U.S. In fact, there are World Gyms here. Alas, though, these are not the best choice, at least not in our eyes. Why? Well, the reality, at least in what we have seen, is that these gyms tend to be far overpriced for what they give you. (If you know of any gyms that are not like this in Taipei, please tell us! We, by no means, know every gym in the city.) For example, there is a World Gym near us in our new apartment. We walked in with high hopes, but walked out annoyed and disappointed. You see, while the gym had something like 6 floors, the amount of and quality of equipment filling those floors was less than desirable. There were not enough treadmills and/or other cardio equipment meaning that, especially in a rush, you’d be hard pressed to find an open one. Two of the floors were taken over by locker rooms that were, quite literally, the nicest part of the gym. Squeezed alongside those locker rooms were a claustrophobic spin room and a similarly claustrophobic boxing ring. Even further upstairs, the weight room was the most disappointing. One bench, one squat rack, one incline bench, dumbbells up to 70 lbs., and multiple out of date and dilapidated machines. To make it worse, there was very little free space to move around or do anything dynamic. Finally, the second nicest part of the gym was the top floor-dance studio. It was large and, really, very nice.
Now, as for the pricing and membership, it got even more annoying. First and foremost, we were told that we couldn’t get a membership without a credit card: which is something that we neither want, nor could we get easily. We’ve been told you can bargain and barter and eventually force them into accepting what you are giving, but in our experience they weren’t going for it. Their solution was to ask us if we had any friends who also went to the gym, and to ask them if they would pay for us with THEIR credit card. Really helpful stuff. On top of all that, we haven’t even told you the price per month: about 1,400NTD (~$48). Ya. Fucking. Right.
To be fair, you can find places with more, and nicer equipment and facilities. But, those places are also comparatively more expensive. In a country where you get paid less and everything (for the most part) costs less, the prices are simply too high. There is an alternative, though. It’s the route we took: the government owned fitness facilities.
The government owned fitness facilities are located in every district of Taipei. This makes them quite accessible and convenient to anyone who wants to use them. Furthermore, they give you almost everything, and in some cases more, than any of the monthly membership gyms you will find. The ones we have been to (disclaimer: we haven’t been to all of them) have had pools, basketball courts, tracks, fitness/aerobics classes, weight rooms, and even a shooting range. They really are quite extensive. But, it must be said, some of the same issues as the ones mentioned above do exist in the government gyms, too. The weight rooms are a little worse, with basically the same equipment, just less of it. Space is quite confined and, therefore, it is hard to do anything outside of the small spaces allotted to the machines. There isn’t enough cardio equipment. And, finally, crowding during peak hours can make a workout a very, very slow and frustrating experience.
So, what we have shown you are two very similar situations. What sets the government gyms apart? The price, of course! These government gyms cost 50 NTD (~$1.70) an hour, and there are no memberships necessary. Just show up and work out. Will it be frustratingly busy at times? Yes. But, it costs less than $2.00 USD per hour, and, thus, you can go, or not go, without feeling guilty about having paid. Finally, with the many locations, you can always find one near where you live, work, or on the way home.
Moving outside the confines of the gym is where you will really find the best and most unique ways to stay fit in Taipei. The city is surrounded by mountains, and, therefore, is surrounded by a multitude of hikes, mountain climbs, and biking routes. Thanks to the amazing public transportation system here, travelling to one of the above-mentioned locations can be done within an hour from almost anywhere in the city. Just hop on the MRT or a bus and you’re well on your way.
Beyond that, the mountains and hills create a great environment for really pushing yourself on runs, jogs, or sprints. We live on a small mountain/hill (whatever the distinction is there), so we use that constantly. The best, or worst, part about it is that at the end of our jogs we always have to end climbing this damn mountain. Once a week, we even run sets of sprints on the side of the mountain.
Finally, play sports. Zach plays on a flag football team (Go Big Smooth!), a softball team (Go Kings!), and a soccer team (Go Celts!). Beyond that, there are baseball leagues, basketball leagues, and many other sports leagues/activities. All it takes is for you to get out of the house and find them. Clearly, supported by the options above, one of, if not the best way, to stay fit in Taipei is to use Taipei, Taiwan’s natural beauty, geography, and climate to your advantage. Most important of all, it’s free (except for small costs on transportation). Get out and have fun!
As was shown above, Taiwan is not the same as the United States of America. (DUH!) Here in Taiwan people are extremely thin. It is probably more rare to see an overweight person than it is to see a foreigner. Thus, this is the first real distinction, and possibly a reason why fitness, at least the way it is done in the U.S., hasn’t caught on as thoroughly here. But, it will. The continuing growth and popularity of fast food as well as continued economic growth will make sure that is a reality. In the future, as more and more people get fitness crazy, the prices of the gyms will inevitably go down. Until then, though, there are always ways to stay fit abroad in Taipei.
Anything to add? Any comments? Any suggestions? Tell us below…