California Fitness came in 1996 in Lan Kwai Fong. It was odd watching people running on the treadmill as we walked past, especially in its Wan Chai location which is on the way to the Immigration Tower.
But nowadays these fitness places have sprouted all over the city, and the only drawback is that none of them have swimming pools, so you either don't swim at all, or pay an arm and a leg to swim in a pond that only takes a few laps to go across.
Over nine years ago I used to swim regularly at the Island Shangri-La before work which helped keep my waistline at a reasonable size.
And now that I've come back to Hong Kong and more interested in exercise (again for waist-trimming purposes), I'm on the hunt again for a gym.
A few days ago I checked out Pure Fitness along the Mid-Levels escalator, just up from Hollywood Road. It's quite a trendy-looking place, with pulsating music constantly pumping out of the speakers. I sat through a sales pitch complete with a physical assessment. This entailed standing on a machine and holding some handles while electric currents went through my body determining how much body fat I had, how much protein, minerals and the strength of each limb.
Then I inspected each four floors of the club, with the changing rooms at the top. Members have access to not only towels, but also black T-shirts, shorts and white socks to wear so you don't have to deal with your smelly gym wear afterwards.
There are also neatly designed day lockers, along with a steam room, sauna, and many shower stalls that have shampoo, conditioner and bath gel. Again, no need to bring that either unless you must use a particular brand.
The changing room also has toiletries like hairdryers, cotton pads and Q-tips to use -- as well as deodorant and hair gel.
However, for all this convenience you pay a price -- HK$999 ($128.50) for the initiation fee, followed by around HK$900 a month for a one-year membership.
Pure Fitness also has a location near my office, but it is only a yoga studio offering all different kinds of classes for you to twist your body into a variety of pretzels.
After sitting through the sales pitch I got a three-day pass and of course used it up. Yesterday was my last day to try out the gym and after work at 6:30pm the place was packed. Almost all the cardio machines were occupied and I managed to find a treadmill tucked away in a corner.
It was pretty intense pounding the treadmill like everyone else -- it was hardly considered relaxing. We should have all been hooked up to a power generator and we would have been able to save the gym some money in power costs.
Some of the people working out were intently watching movies as they ran or cycled, others listening to music.
There were some people who were poseurs and only there trying to look good, while others like myself were sweating up a storm.
I had no chance to use the mat in the stretching area as they were all occupied, and as it was dinner time I was anxious to get home for some dinner.
The next stop is to hit Fitness First in Sheung Wan, near where I will live... but not without a free trial!