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Harbin Hot Springs, July 2001 

Seekers of an alternative lifestyle need not look any further; all of your wacky compulsions will be accommodated at the Harbin Hot Springs.  Emily and I found ourselves there after my company’s picnic at a vineyard in Napa.  We decided to make a weekend out of the trip so after everyone headed back to the Bay Area we drove into the mountains, eventually arriving at our destination.  It is a quite popular spot, so I had made reservations in advance, that is, reservations for a place to pitch our tent.  Looking back at my credit card receipts it appears that we spent $80 to pitch the tent one night and also for the required membership fee, yikes!

Once the tent was staked we walked along a path to the hot spring complex and encountered the first of many naked people.  Actually, they had sandals and backpacks.  At the complex we showered and joined the “naturalists”.  At Harbin, they have pools fed by hot springs at different temperatures.  The hottest pool is at the top and enclosed to create a steam room effect.  It feels wonderful, if not painful at first, and was so hot that we couldn’t stay in for more than a few minutes.

Left: The upper hot pool.  Middle: The warm pool.  Right: A “watsu” session in the warm pool.  The instructor is on the left and moved the pupil around the pool, carefully avoiding the other people.

This pool feeds into a lower pool that is much larger, open, and not as hot.  While the upper pool could accommodate maybe 15 people this one could hold 50.  It was in this pool that we witnessed a sort of, err, ahhh, eeehhmm, I have no idea what to call it.  People pay the Harbin employees to hold and move them around in the water.  All the while the Harbin employee is slowly moving the person around, shifting a leg here, an arm there.  Both are totally naked and the recipient has their eyes closed, perhaps it has something to do with rebirth.  I’m sure that their website will explain it.

We spend the rest of the night moving in and out of the hot pools and even jumped in the cold pool a few times.  That night we used the communal kitchen to cook something although I don’t remember what it was.  Before leaving the next morning we also took another quick dip.  I am glad that places like Harbin exist, and had a good time there, but certainly would not be a regular customer.  

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