PAYING THE PRICE OF FITNESS
By Andrew Biggs
This week I did something as perennial as tulips blooming in the Dutch spring. I decided to head back to the gym.
I need to get all buff for my flight home to Australia in late December. That’s pathetic, I know, but allow me to have my dreams!
I am a fitness center’s dream member; I pay an obscene amount of money annually then hit the gym for exactly two and a half months, only to peter out and disappear, freeing up valuable locker-room space for the next temporary gym junkie. Twelve months later the gymnasium calls asking if I want to renew. Nine and a half months away is long enough to realize love handles and man boobs are as unsightly as they are prominent, and there I go again; another obscene payment for another two-and-a-half-month spurt.
I have a friend who used to be a fitness executive and he told me my behavior is exactly what fitness chains desire of their members. And here I was thinking they wanted us to get fit!
“Imagine if all our members kept on coming,” he explained. “There’d be no room to swing a cat. We’d go bust!” An interesting choice of words because indeed, not long after, that chain did go bust. But we are off the track.
This time it’s going to be different.
For the last five years I’ve belonged to a gymnasium that has a lot in common with Nana Plaza bar beer staff; well-decked out but frayed at the edges owing to overuse. But it’s close and convenient, and at 18,000 baht a year it’s a good deal, especially since they throw in an extra three months for extending your annual membership.
I dredged up my membership card and after wiping off the cobwebs, gave the club a call.
My gym has an attractive young lady at the front counter who is paid to do just two things; swipe gym membership cards and watch Thai soap operas from her cell phone. She performs both these tasks without having to even look up at anything superfluous, like a gym member.
She is clearly in the middle of multitasking when I call, for I can hear the soft strains of bad violins in the background.
“We haven’t seen you here for a while kha,” she says.
“Yes well you don’t have to say that. I’m calling about my membership. Has it expired yet?”
“Just a moment kha,” and she is gone for a good 30 seconds. “Your membership expired 31 days ago kha. You can renew it for 19,500 baht kha. Our annual fee just went up.”
“But don’t I get a special rate? I am, after all, —”
“That is the special rate, kha.”
“But I still get my extra three months, right?”
“No, kha. You only get that when you renew kha.”
“I am renewing.”
“Not immediately kha. Thirty-one days have lapsed.”
I am consumed with the fires of instant indignation. I’m like a social justice warrior having just discovered a flimsy example of cultural appropriation. How dare they take those three months away — aren’t sales staff supposed to track down lapsed members? I am Doctor Livingstone, surely — and she should be Stanley.
“Listen, you didn’t call to tell me my membership was expiring. How was I to know?”
“I’m sorry kha.”
“Well I’m sorry too! Go tell your manager that I, Khun Andrew Biggs, want my extra three months … or … or …”
I pause for dramatic effect.
“… or I’ll go to another gym!”
By a clever coincidence a crash of cymbals can be heard in the background; the soapie cliffhanger has aligned with my own earth-shattering revelation.
Well I certainly showed that gym a thing or two! You don’t mess with Khun Andrew Biggs and get away with it! The adrenaline was racing throughout me that morning. I even thumped the steering wheel as I drove into town. How dare they! Well they’d soon be groveling when they lose their only B-list celebrity member, even if he does only show up for two and a half months a year!
I needed to find a new gym. Fast.
Luckily a new one just opened in nearby Soi Lasalle; a boxing camp with a sparkling new gym attached.
“We’re open from 6 am to 11 pm,” a friendly voice explained when I called.
Perfect! I am already imagining my old gym getting back to me, only to hear me saying: “Young lady, you’re too late. I’ve already moved to your competition.”
But back to reality. “Great,” I say over the phone. “I’ll start next week. And the price?”
“28,000 Baht per year,” he says, and my fantasy shatters into little pieces.
“Do you have any discounts for — people who live in the area?” I ask. How I wanted to say “B-list celebrities” instead of “people who live in the area” but even I have my limits.
“Maybe. I’ll get our sales staff to call you,” he says.
What follows, dear reader, is silence.
Not a brief silence. A week of it.
My old gym doesn’t call back. The new place doesn’t call. I’d burnt my bridges at the first one, and the second one requires my becoming a Nana Plaza bar beer worker to pay off the membership fee.
The next day I carpet-bombed all the major fitness centers in and around my office, starting with Fitness First.
“The sales girl has gone to lunch,” I was told. “I’ll get her to call you the minute she comes back.”
WE Fitness at Ekamai was next. Again, a sales person would call me back “in no more than 10 minutes.”
Half an hour later, and nothing.
There I was, loved-handled and moobed (that’s the adjectival, contracted form of “man-boobs”), having contacted no less than FOUR gyms — and none of them wanted my business.
But as I was wallowing in my self pity, the phone rang.
It was WE Fitness, albeit 40 minutes after my original call, but better late than never!
“It’s 28,000 baht a year,” the sales staff said, and my heart sank. “But we have a discount. You only pay 27,000 baht and you get an extra month!”
Now I was really feeling sorry for myself. I’d been obnoxious to my regular gym, who had the gall to raise their prices to 19,500 but were still cheaper than anywhere else. The boxing gym had not called me back. Fitness First clearly has a policy of allowing its sales staff to segue lunch into dinner.
And then, later in the afternoon — a miracle. A phone call from my original gym!
The moment I heard the receptionist’s voice (and the background violins) I wanted to break down and cry, telling her I’d been an arrogant fool and would she ever forgive me. I wanted to tell her my indignation was a residual effect of living in Thailand for so long, where one cannot lose one’s face no matter if one is right or wrong. If I’d acted more like a westerner I’d have cut my losses from the beginning, but oh no.
She was already speaking before I could get an apologetic word in.
“I’ve spoken to the manager and he says he’ll give you one extra month free kha.”
The amount of time between that final kha and my answer of “done” could be measured in milliseconds.
That is where I leave you, dear reader, back in my clunky but cosy gym, trying to get buff for Brisbane. I still lament my lost two months but sometimes in life you just have to bite the bullet and move on or, in my case, bench press.
The brand new boxing gym never did return my call. And at precisely 5 pm, the Fitness First sales person finally called me back — a four hour lunch? That salesperson really ought to think about going to a gym.