Now that the October 1st National Day holidays are over, swimming pools all across China are beginning their Winter Swimming Club seasons.
From the bitter, harsh, snowy cold of the north to the more temperate and mild warmth of the south, non-heated pools are opening their doors once again to swimmers ready to brave the winter elements in their regions.
In Luzhou, our Number 6 High School’s public indoor 50 meter pool is one such place. During the sizzling 100 degree summers, it’s crowded with those wishing to cool off from the heat while at the same time not having to deal with burning their skin. During the fall, winter and spring, the pool remains quite empty aside from us die-hard fans of the water.
Last week, a few sunny days of 80 – 70 degrees have given the water a boost of warmth. But these past 5 days of rain and cold are sinking us fast into a more chilly swim with chillier yet to come.
Last year, southern China was sent into almost a daily freeze with even snow. Rarely do we go below 40 so I can just imagine how challenged our small town swimmers were last year to brave such an unusual climate. This year, who knows what the weather has in store for us.
The Number 6 High School first built their pool in 2003, the second year I was in Luzhou. Before that, I had no place to swim during the winter so I satisfied myself with daily dog walks around the campus.
Needless to say, for a die-hard swimmer, it wasn’t very gratifying.
Then a magnificent indoor pool arrived which thrilled everyone in Luzhou who was a water person. It was equipped with everything from lane lines to starting blocks to heating. The high school administrators went all out in their building of this facility, including sitting rooms alongside the deck where people could eat, rest or even smoke cigarettes.
When the cold weather hit, the pool’s heating system kicked in to a toasty 75 degrees inside with the water steaming upward, into the 90s. With so many in a small provincial town not used to visiting the pool in the dead of winter, the cost of heating it became too pricy. No one came aside from me much of the time. Not even the elderly wanted to swim in such hot water. A majority who enjoyed winter swimming ventures instead headed to the Yangtze which was where they’d been swimming for years before the pool opened.
The third year, the school decided to halt heating all together. They started the Luzhou Winter Swimming Club starting from Oct. 1 to May 1st. With a photo and 100 yuan fee ($14), anyone could join the winter swimmers and receive a discount of only 3 yuan (44 cents) a swimming ticket to enter instead of the public 8 yuan ($1.17). I gladly joined, not realizing just how cold that water gets beginning late October. By November, I was hardly able to stay in for more than 15 minutes. Meanwhile, my winter swimming colleagues were easily diving in and gleefully making their way along up and down their lanes for more than 30 minutes. Amazing, as most had very little body fat to keep out the cold.
Being the whimp that I am, I cheated. I ordered a wetsuit from America.
That first stroll out onto the pool deck in my Aquaman Pulsar competitive swimming wetsuit brought a lot of stares and whispers from my Chinese friends. They were quite taken by this strange sight, wanting to know what it was and why I was wearing it. I was even featured in the local newspaper, picture and all, of the foreigner in her special winter swimming gear. For a couple of days, I was quite the celebrity.
But after awhile, things calmed down. I and my suit became a regular item at the pool. No one cared much what I wore and went about their own work-outs as usual.
I’ve been a year absent from our No. 6 Middle School pool so my wetsuit is once again causing somewhat of a stir. Everyone touches the sleek, black, tight-fitting material and wants to know how it works. They are especially fascinated by the long cord that dangles down from the zipper in the back. This is the cord that allows me to unzip the suit. We now jokingly call it the foreigner’s weiba (tail).
Years ago in China, overseas’ visitors were often referred to quite venomously as foreign devils. I’m just thinking if I were transported back 100 years to the China of old, wouldn’t my winter swimming appearance cause quite the sensation.
“You see!” the Chinese locals would shout. “It is too certainly a devil. Look at its tail!”
Some positive image of Christianity and foreigners that would leave behind, eh? Good thing the China of today has a more worldly, informed view of overseas’ visitors and their religious faiths.
In all honesty, this is a good time to be in China sharing in the love of other Chinese Christians and also in the kindness of the Chinese people. I feel very blessed to be here, my foreigner’s tail and all. J
Until next time, from Luzhou, here’s wishing you Ping An for your day.