I used to go for massages and such at a spa in Baguio. On such a day, I overheard a man asking if the center offers sauna service. The lady at the front desk replied that she’s sorry their one and only sauna was out of service that day. Such queries are what one would randomly and normally hear at any spa. Minutes later, another man asked for the same service and received the same reply. Then another, this time a small group. My curiosity was already piqued. Since when was sauna in demand in the City and especially on a weekday morning? And by men in suits too? Another man came in and asked for the same service. At that point, I thought the center insane for not putting in double time to fix the sauna. Their loss. Meanwhile, I was more interested at the rate the service was asked for in just under a couple of hours.
That directed my thoughts to first the number of spas and sauna centers in the City and second tying demand for the service to the rate I was witness to at my center of choice the probable reasons for the increase in demand.
I did notice the proliferation based on ads in the City’s weekly paper. Compared to say five or ten years ago, there’s now this and that center, including French-sounding ones which sad to note don’t hold anything close to the French’ dedication to effortless refinement, offering this and that service. The increase says something significant of the changing and prevailing local lifestyle– how did going to the sauna become a practice among City folks? who in the City goes to the sauna?
traditional Finnish sauna
The suited men started to arrive around mid-morning. My guess was they had just gotten out of an early morning meeting the kind wherein hard decisions had to be made, or wherein they put in everything in order to sell an idea to the higher-ups, probably the Board. Perhaps they’ve already made such decisions, or needed some time to mull over a decision or to wash off the pressure from a life-or-death presentation. Perhaps the corner cafe outside the office building can’t provide the kind of environment they particularly needed. I was pretty sure they’ve already been to the sauna and so knew the physical and mental cleansing it brings them and in some instances social bonding and release as well hence their search for such a facility. Since the center of my choice is conveniently located at the downtown area, far enough from the bustle of Session and Harrison Roads but within walking distance of everywhere, this was also where their internal compass led them.
The men were I was sure of it not native residents of the City but rather it’s work that brought them to the City. Native residents haven’t yet caught up with the trend, one reason being that ‘sauna’ has had a reductive meaning equated to activities relegated to the local red light district. If they were from Metro Manila, which I was sure they were, frequenting spas and saunas are as normal a routine as having lunch or dining out with clients or potential clients, or among business associates of a certain income level “sneaking out” for a round of golf. Naturally then they’d bring the practice with them, which now brings me to rounding up the reasons for the apparent increase in demand and therefore supply of it.
It’s a return to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and wants basically, in that moving up the hierarchy needs and wants become more and more sophisticated (i.e. up to a point). On the other hand, there’s the market economy ever ready to cater to material needs and wants. Well, ideally, because as what was the case in my center of choice it failed to meet the day’s demand– an example of choke points in the market. But the thing about the market is there are so-called substitutes. Where did the men go after learning the sauna wasn’t working? Depending on their preferences and circumstances at the time, it could’ve been to the barbershop for a similar physical rub down, or back to the office where hell’s fury awaited the person(s) fortunate enough to have crossed their paths upon their return.
And last but not the least of my observation was those would-have-been customers were men. Meaning? It just cued me to which among the sexes – Filipinos – are availing the service more and whether or not there’s a significant difference and if so why? But would the information matter? In any case, I count myself among those who love saunas and it’s substitute, really hot showers and baths.