A Chinese City in Mourning: Summer Pool Fun Turns Tragic

I’ve already written about my Chinese sister, Li Xiaolian (Cathy) who is an administrator at the Luzhou Police College.

Her college is a specialty school that trains young people who are wanting to go into police work, whether that’s a basic cop on the beat or a specialized investigator.  It’s a 4-year college, with students from all over China, and  demands strict physical requirements from those enrolled.  Formal dress uniform is required at all times during their education at the school, a bit like being in the military.  Even Cathy, as an administrator, has to wear a police uniform while on campus.  She’s even been trained in firing a gun, although she is not a police officer herself nor does her major (English education) have the slightest connection to such actions.  That’s just a school requirement for all staff,  instructors and admininstrators alike.

Moving on: News  from her school has shocked the entire city of 3 million for the past 2 weeks.

A death at their swimming pool.

What Happened?  Still Unclear

The Police College opens their campus and pool doors to the public after students have left for their summer break.  It’s an outdoor, 50 meter Olympic sized pool, one used for training the future officers how to swim as part of their training course.  In the winter, it’s closed and is only in use during warmer weather.  The last time I saw it was in December, an empty pit filled with leaves but still a very impressive sports’ venue to behold.

A few  weeks ago, after a majority of the students had taken off for home, the pool  opened for their yearly public swimming times.  In our roasting heat, the place was packed full, I heard.

Then tragedy struck–a drowning.

Before I left for America last Thursday, Cathy still didn’t have all the details, although her involvement in this has been meeting after meeting held by school officials discussing the severity of the situation.  The sketchy story is that one of their Police College students, age 19 and quite tall, was found on the bottom of the pool right before closing time at the  shallow end.  The pool staff tried to resuscitate him but to no avail.,

The school officials have begged the parents for an autopsy but they have refused.  Autopsies are not customary in China.  No Chinese parent wants their child cut into and the body desecrated.  That is just not the Chinese way.

Without evidence of exactly what happened, this places the school in a very precarious position.  Was the boy physically fit or not?  Did he hit his head and drowned?  Did something else happen to him?

Without anything solid, the school is fully at fault.  Compensation will be paid to the parents, which is again a Chinese custom in a death of this sort.  How much will be paid is another thing, to be discussed by leaders and negotiators on the parents’ side.

All of Luzhou Buzzing

            Such tragic news for a small city, where this is  the first pool death they’ve ever had.  It would be for any community, even my own.  I am, however,  a little surprised why more water deaths haven’t happened here.

Professional lifeguards are not required at many pools.  Mostly, the pool manager and his staff (some of which might not be able to  swim well) just sit around on the deck, smoking cigarettes, talking and playing with their cellphones.  Carefully watching the hundreds of people  in the pool is not a top priority.

And in some instances,  even seeing the people in the pool is a problem.

Quite a few Chinese pools are just water without any chlorine or chemicals for sanitation.  After the initial fill, the water slowly turns a dark, muddy, green and brown after a weeks of use.  It remains like that for the rest of the summer.  Seeing the bottom of the pool, must less your hand in front of your face when underwater, is impossible.

Granted, every city has a government sanctioned sanitation detail that goes around and inspects public-frequented areas.  This includes hotels, restaurants and other community used places, such as pools.   They are given an inspection and a sign which states the cleanliness.  This sign must then be prominently displayed for all patrons to see.

An example of China's sanitation inspection sign. This was my overnight hotel in Shanghai, which received a "B" (so-so) rating.

An example of China’s sanitation inspection sign. This was my overnight hotel in Shanghai, which received a “B” (so-so) rating.

My Number 6 Middle School Pool has an “A” rank and a smiley face, meaning they are in good standing.  Many other pools don’t get such a report and still others aren’t even inspected.

The Number 6 Middle School pool gets a much-deserved "A" rating.

The Number 6 Middle School pool gets a much-deserved “A” rating.

Just depends on the city you are living in how diligently followed such requirements are.

My guess is that after this recent tragedy, which was on everyone’s number one conversation list, even up to my flight out of Luzhou, the city government will start to crack down more on pool inspections and safety.  I noticed before leaving the city for my home country, our Number 6 Middle School staff increased their  attentiveness, circulating more about the deck to make sure people were still afloat.

No, they aren’t professional lifeguards, either, but at least they became more watchful than before.

The pool deck staff, while not professional lifeguards, have been a bit more attentive than usual.

The pool deck staff, while not professional lifeguards, have been a bit more attentive than usual.

Back In the States

After landing yesterday in the States, I’m looking forward to my own swims early morning at our local outdoor pool.  No concerns about sanitation or drownings here for the summer, especially as our temps have been so cool, with rainstorms at every turn. The staff told me few have come to enjoy the water.  Mostly, the pool has remained closed and quiet, unlike last summer when daily 90-degrees and bright sunshine had us all sweltering and gleefully diving into our recreational facility with gratitude.

And on that note, I’ll close this entry.  When I fully recuperate from jetlag, I’ll post more stories and pictures to keep everyone updated on happenings from this end.

Here’s sending you Ping An (Peace) for your week!


About connieinchina

I have been in the Asia region for 30 years as an English language teacher. 28 of those have been spent with the Amity Foundation, a Chinese NGO that works in all areas of development for the Chinese people. Amity teachers are placed at small colleges throughout China as instructors of English language majors in the education field. In other words, my students will one day be English teachers themselves in their small villages or towns once they graduate. Currently, this is my 13th year in Luzhou Vocational and Technical College. The college is located in Luzhou city (loo-joe), Sichuan Province, a metropolis of 5 million people located next to the Yangtze River .
This entry was posted in From Along the Yangtze, Luzhou: Yangtze Rivertown Stories, Tales from Sichuan's Yangtze Rivertown, Luzhou. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to A Chinese City in Mourning: Summer Pool Fun Turns Tragic

  1. Kate says:

    So sad….at our son’s college (before he was a student there) there was a drowning. The parents
    were proactive and now every student must pass a swimming exam before they can graduate.
    Will look forward to your post as you settle in at home.

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