By Austin Shiner
Beijing, China, 1:11 PM — Tropical fish nibbled at my feet.
Thousands of them.
The “fish cleansing pool” at the East Hawaii International Club is nearly beyond belief, and totally amazing. Complete with four über-gaudy golden pineapples on the roof, the club is, and is not, like American sports clubs. Sam and I first marched into the locker room accompanied by legions of golden-robed male attendants. My two “helpers” handed me my own robe. I stripped in front of their starring gaze, as is the awkward custom, and donned my club-wear. We then headed to the pool. We took a quick stint in the Chinese traditional medicine pool (filled with green tea so that, as Sam pointed out, one can’t tell if there’s been an “accident” recently. The water’s warm too, which doesn’t help). Toweling off, I looked across to an oriental gazebo with a small pool underneath: the fishpond. “It feels amazing,” Sam said. “After a soccer tournament they eat your blisters right off.” My feet are baby-butt smooth so I didn’t know how interested they’d be in me.
We sat on the edge of the watery abyss – the pool was thick with 1-inch long tetra-like fish. Sam entered first, feet only to begin. The school cleared the area so as not to be crushed, then raced back and surrounded Sam’s feet entirely, literally hundreds nipping at each foot. I had to try. After clearing the fish swarmed back to my feet. It tickled lightly, but the psychological terror was the real barrier – all I could think of were piranhas stripping flesh from bone. My feet twitched and the fish scattered, but came back immediately. After 10 minutes I was totally hooked. It was time to get in entirely. They swarmed around my arms, my back, and one or two even dared nibble at my nipple. That was intolerable. After 30 minutes I felt wonderfully clean, and here’s the really good news: the fishpond is coming to America! A spa in Alexandria, Virginia has introduced the same treatment (albeit with fewer fish and only for the feet). And don’t worry, for some reason the fish don’t swim up board shorts – that would be the deal breaker.