Swimming laps in Korea’s pools is like most social situations in Korea. If you are looking for breathing room then just stay at home. I figured as much when my Korean friend invited me to join him for his Sunday morning swim. I was very concerned about even getting a lane to swim in.
My friend, Jose, is 100% Korean who is about 25% Spanish. I know that doesn’t add up, but for about a decade, Jose and his family lived in Madrid, Spain, while his father studied Spanish. Subsequently, Jose became a Korean-Spaniard. He speaks Spanish almost as well as he speaks Korean, if not better. He takes all of the great qualities of Europeans and Koreans and combines them into one person. He is laid-back and flirts like a European (he calls Lindsay “Pretty Lindsay”) and shows respect like a Korean. He is the kind of person you hope to meet in your Korean travels.
When we eyed the pool from the outside, sure enough, there were no open lanes. In fact, oddly, all of the lanes had about 6 people in them. Undeterred, Jose led me to pay the $3.50 daily fee and to the locker room. There he gave me the pair of “googles” he bought me, telling me the night before he had borrowed a pair for me from a friend. Also seeing I had no swim cap(a major Korean pool no-no) he wrangled one from the pool’s swim pro. I was set, albeit I was swimming in my red running shorts.
Out we went and hopped right in a lane with six other people. We swam in a line staying, for the most part, out of each other’s way. When you did bump into someone, no apology was necessary. Koreans don’t apologize for this, it is assumed you didn’t mean to do it. Not only that, living in a land-tight land like Korea, bumping into each other is just part of the day.
Jose and I swam like I imagine the Spanish swim laps. A couple of laps–stop and chat–a couple of more–stretch and on and on. We ate lunch like Koreans. Kimchi, rice, the works. Jose picked up the tab since he invited me.
I actually really loved swimming among so many people. It felt like I was part of a school of fish. I’ll definitely go back…besides I owe Jose lunch.