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2002-02-18 10:03 a.m.

A weekend at Harbin Hot Springs is so relaxing, meditational, and full of peace. Imagine a foggy forest—the kind of forest they use to make movies with elves and damsels on horses and such—with a rustic retreat hidden away in it, a retreat full of naked hippies hanging around in hot mineral springs, doing yoga, reading, and trading massages. People here have names like Ananai, Yona, Star, and Bravelight. They eat food that has names like carob, tempe, seitan, organic, and oat cake. This is where I chose to spend my birthday weekend.

While Harbin Hot Springs touts itself as a new age retreat center, it is really mostly about bathing in the hot springs. What amazes me is that I love coming here but hate taking baths at home. Baths seem so boring and pointless—sitting around in stupid human soup as my filthy skin sloughs off in handfuls, bored to tears. I think that it is the unique environment here which makes melting in steamy, stewed hippie water so much more compelling than taking baths at home.

For example, one of the coolest things about Harbin is that it is mostly silent. In the common areas, while conversations are permitted, they seem to seldom pop up. In the main pool areas, only the quietest whispering is allowed, while silence is requested at the other pools. Life is so loud at home, and people talk, talk, talk. Engines rev, and stereos blare. Homeless vagrants scream nonsense or ask for change. I guess that is the point of a retreat—a retreat is a place to escape from the hostile, invasive, unwanted forces in life in order to think, emote, and exist more purely for a period of time.

From left to right: filthy crap in shopping carts, annoyed person, annoying homeless filth–monger. The universal and overwhelming urge to beat homeless people such as this one with reckless abandon, without the slightest iota of restraint, fades away at Harbin Hot Springs.

Another reason I enjoy this special retreat is that everyone here is naked. Naked people are like exotic fruits. Even the distasteful ones are pretty interesting compared with most things in this world. [eg., naked people are better than work, school, the car mechanic, soft drinks, hardware stores, fishing, suit pants, and metric bolts.] It is so fun to sit in the warm pool, relaxing, watching the winter–bare branches of the surrounding trees reach for the grey sky, while hot, steamy naked people parade up and down the stairs, in and out of the pool.

Like an excited child at the zoo or the toy store, I whisper to Andie, DUDE! Did you see her breasts?, Where is that old man's penis? Did it crawl back inside?, Oh my GOD. That scar looks like Norway!, and Did you see that? His cock is HUGE!.

My sense is that carob, tempe, seitan, organic, and oat cakes must be good for you, because most of the people here have very fit bodies. Either that, or they are simply thin from undernourishment.

Life here is pretty simple, and quite obviously water–themed. Yesterday, I: ate breakfast, soaked in the hot tubs and ogled naked bodies, went in to town to get lunch (taking special care to ogle the clothed, just to make sure I remembered how), came back and soaked in the hot tubs (more ogling, paying special attention to penises, breasts, and labia, when available), ate organic dinner at the Harbin restaurant (where you get to see your favorite naked people clothed in their traditional hippie attire, including hemp hats, Patagonia fleece, vests from Peru, and sandals), and then went back to the pools for some relaxing meditational ogling before my 8:15PM massage appointment. Oh, and then some more soaking in hot water, too.

I better go soak some more, as we only have a few more hours before we leave, and there may still be some naked people to look at. Although I will be sad to come home later tonight, I think this retreat will energize me and remind me of a greater appreciation for life in general.