Monday, December 14, 2009

Swimming Safety.

Koreans have had a long affair with swimming. Korea is a peninsular country surrounded by water so naturally, Koreans have been swimming for recreation for some time. However, danger lurks in those calming waters...but I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's set the stage.

In America, typically we teach our children to do three things as soon as possible: feed themselves, ride a bike, and swim. Don't get me wrong - we don't throw kids in the pool and hope they resurface eventually. Traditionally though, whenever a family goes swimming the toddler goes in the pool while the adult teaches the child how to swim. Little by little, once the child gains confidence, we typically encourage him or her to swim relatively unassisted until the child can swim all by themselves. Same process with tying shoes, learning how to dress themselves, ride a bike, etc.

All in all, Americans view swimming much like driving a car - everyone knows how to do it so it's not a big deal. None of us can swim like Michael Phelps but we can float safely and certainly feel quite confident in a pool whether we are using proper form or not.

Well, I'm not sure what exactly where the breakdown happens in Korea, but I notice the vast majority of people terrified of swimming. Like unnecessarily terrified. 8-year-olds practically screaming because of the "lazy river" water current, 11-year-olds complaining about the (not even) 3.5 foot depth, and children of all ages clutching to the closest older relative so as to not drown in the kiddie pool. Not to mention that all the while they are covered from head to toe in safety apparel like innertubes, wingies, lifevests, and bathing caps.
Oh and bathing caps are not optional. Moving on.
The wavepool is where I get emotional. We all know the wave pool, right? It's a simulated beach with a large motor that forces water to rise and fall producing waves. Most waterparks have them to varying size and strength. I visited the lovely 대명리조트 in 부안 this summer and was greeted with a brand new facility, top-class service, and an attached waterpark that was nothing short of stunning. The wave pool here was decent enough and I couldn't wait to tackle the cool waters only to find out that I had to wear a lifevest to go swimming.

Have we not gone over this before? I can swim. Everyone I know can swim. It's not a talent - it's a learned skill. Alas, if I wanted to cool down appropriately, I had to don a seemingly 25-pound lifevest. Mind you, it is quite difficult to swim in a lifevest. I'm pretty sure they are designed for floating as I felt very encumbered. I got tired after five minutes of flailing my arms and had to take a rest. Fear not! Mandatory rests on the hour every hour are commonplace and as soon as the lifeguards' whistles blew, the entire pool emptied in less than a minute.

Speaking of the lifeguards, they take their responsibilities quite seriously. Two of them serviced a pool area about the size of a kindergarten classroom and were not only pacing back and forth, they were giving out suggestions (rather commands) to the swimmers so they could stay safe. It's commendable, if not a little out of place.

The point being is that artificial pools are littered with ill-equipped swimmers who are over-protected and over-dressed with safety.

What really surprises me is the ocean and how people treated the water there. The waves were dangerously violent as I was knocked down several times and the salinity of the water was eye-burningly-high. What was missing? All forms of safety. No bathing caps, no lifevests, no floaties - just a bunch of people having fun when really - it was quite dangerous if you ask me. I left that beach with a headache, sores, and a killer bruise on my leg.
부안 beach scene
Perhaps it's like 정은 said in Advanced Audio Blog #17 about how Koreans have misconceptions about swimming. In her case, she was convinced that women that swim would develop broader shoulders. Is this one of many reasons why Koreans don't bother to learn it? Maybe I have it wrong - maybe Koreans don't have a long history with swimming.

I know that I don't have particularly pleasant memories about learning to swim (as myself and my brothers love to bring up to my parents the story of the borderline abusive swim teacher and how no one believed us that she was pure evil) But even with my tragic initial experience with swimming, I can say that I am an accomplished swimmer. But who cares? Apparently Koreans do.

Oh well.