Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Swimming Lessons

I've been going to Zhongshan Sports Center for awhile now to try and get in shape. It feels good - and I love knowing that I'm doing this for me and not some weird notion of societal approval. It makes the workouts more pleasant and the rewards - to the tune of better health and some weight loss - all the sweeter.

The sports center itself is, while not exactly top-of-the-line fantastic, certainly very good for a municipal facility. Better than anything most American cities seem to throw together.

Every Tuesday and Thursday it's an hour on the treadmill followed by stretching (I am also starting to do crunches and the like at home to help tone a few petulant muscles), and every Friday (and sometimes Monday) I head to the basement and do 15-20 laps in the pool followed by a lovely soak in the hot tub.

On many of these days, there's an elderly man who comes to the pool and occasionally ends up in my lane or one next to mine. As the regular swimmers all know each other by sight now, if not by name, swimming near each other is becoming more common. We gravitate to the people we know - at least we know they won't kick water in our face, cut in line and then swim a very slow butterfly stroke, or spit in the pool.

I’m no Michael Phelps, and I never took proper swimming lessons (just learned on my own) so you can imagine that my form is pretty awful. I know this.

The man, despite being about 75 to my 27, can swim dolphin-like circles around me. He claims that this is because he “is from an island” which means “of course he is a good swimmer.” I assumed he meant Taiwan, whether the main part or an outlying island.

He started giving me tips on my form, from how to move my arms to how to get my body to glide through the water, when at that point it was more like bumbling through it. I listened to him, because I was jealous of his ability to sluice through his laps while I gurgled along, competently but in a very ungainly way.

But every time I tried to chat with him in Chinese he seemed confused, uninterested or just plain uncomprehending. I think it’s rude to ask about ethnicity so I never asked, and just assumed that my pronunciation was tripping him up.

One day he finally said that he is, in fact, Japanese so he barely understands when anyone speaks Chinese to him. Well there ya go.

I was curious about what brought him to Taiwan, what he thinks of Taiwan as compared to Japan (Taipei reminds me more of Japan than of China, though the rest of the country doesn’t necessarily share this similarity), what he was doing in Taiwan and other culturally-minded questions. The barrier down, I began to ask.

He, however, just didn’t feel like telling me. He grew quiet - even a little distant - when talking about Japan, but very animated when talking about swimming; he obviously did not mind the chat.

I realized pretty quickly that he wasn’t interested in cultural exchange or even chatting about his origins – he just wanted to get down to the business of swimming or at least talking about swimming, and wanted to help the nice (if talkative) foreign girl swim better.

And I have. I don’t quite glide seamlessly through the chlorinated lanes the way he does, but I’m a little less like a swimming Labrador and a little more like a creature who was born to the water (not a dolphin or fish, maybe a walrus or polar bear) and I don’t look so embarrassingly clumsy. I’m faster and stronger, as well.

You can find Zhongshan Sports Center in the lanes between Zhongshan and Shuanglian MRT stations. Take the Red Line MRT to Zhongshan Exit 2 and immediately U-turn into the "park" area. Walk straight back and keep right, and on your right you will soon see a sign for "Beautiful and Breakfast" and a lane just after that with a sign for the center. Turn right in this lane - the sports center is the huge gray building right ahead.

1 comment:

India said...

there's also a nice municipal facility in Datong District, leading me to believe every district might have one? it's on Datong and Changji Roads, near Minquan W. Road.

[i know this post is old, but if it helps someone, it helps someone!]