Wanted: Aquatics director; Location: Korea

Lindsay here. We are now in the middle of the hottest part of summer in Korea and nothing feels better than getting in some water.

I’ve recently had a craving to get back into swimming (the most wonderful exercise in the world for pregnant women!). And despite my first attempt two years ago in Korea when I was led through group exercises in my Speedo on the side of the pool, I decided I would give it another go.

In Korea, you must always have the gear for the activity. For swimming, that includes a proper swimsuit, goggles and a swim cap. After I headed to the nearest swim store, I was ready!

But, swimming in Korea can be quite the nightmare for a former lifeguard and lifelong swimmer. I spent my younger years around the swimming pool. I lifeguarded every summer of my teenage years and then lifeguarded again for the four years I was in college.

So, suffice to say, I have certain standards I want met. And a whole slew of vocabulary that we lifeguards made up to describe our pool denizens.

Well, old Turner Center lifeguards, would you ever have a time with these swimmers.

At Ole Miss, we had what we called the “bathtubbers”: those adoring couples who spent date night at the pool, clinging to each other in the shallow end. We as lifeguards had our own unspoken rule: If you can do it in your bathtub at home, don’t do it in the pool.

We also had the wallowers: the rather large pool denizens who came to swing their arms and legs in an attempt to shed some poundage.

But in Korea, darling Korea, there is a whole new set of pool-goers. Here is my list:

  • The bunny hoppers: these old women come by the busload to every pool in Korea. And they are always there. They are there when you arrive and still there when you leave. They spend their hours at the pool bunny hopping up and down their lane. When I say “their” lane, I don’t mean just one lane. Because these women are ajummas. And ajummas (old married women) in Korea do what they damn well please. There are at least 4 bunny hoppers in EVERY lane of the pool. Please swim around them.
  • The floaters: These men, women, and young ladies have simply not learned how to swim. But someone has told them that floating back and forth will suffice. They will push off the wall right in front of you, and then stop in mid-float for the remainder of the lap. It can take an hour to get from one side to another. Floaters tend also to not care what the normal speed of their lane is.
  • The wall clingers: This is EVERY swimmer in Korea. It must be a de facto law that every time you swim a lap in Korea, you MUST stop at the wall for 5-10 minutes to breathe, stretch, or just stare at the other people when they come to the wall. Wall clingers do not move if you need some wall space. You must be aggressive!
  • The drowning butterflies: Ahhh, my favorite. Whoever is responsible for teaching Koreans the butterfly when they barely know how to float should be sent to live in North Korea. These butterfly strokers thunder up and down the middle of the lane, arms smacking the water (and every other swimmers’ head) as they make their way up and down the lane in a fashion that looks something akin to a hippo trying to run in water. The drowning butterflies can be lethal! Be prepared to give them a wide berth.
  • The lane rope loungers: These are the children who are taking lessons at all times of the day in the summertime. No  matter what time you go, you cannot avoid the mass swimming lessons, which seem to take place in any lane, any time of the day. These children, all cutely adorned with swim caps and goggles and kickboards and flippers, can be seen staring at you from underwater, as they cling to and lay on their lane rope. These children are mostly harmless and can be easily scared. (See: Drowning butterflies).

All humor set aside, swimming in Korea is quite the experience. I concentrate on being the calm in the storm. And usually I even make it 40-45 minutes without wanting to punch somebody. 

And some days, when you just can’t swim a lap without being kicked, smacked or nearly drowned, remember when you can’t beat ’em, just join ’em.

One Comment

  1. Suggested new category of Korean swimmers: The Family Member (AKA Mafia Dickhead).

    This breed of swimmer are so proud and confident in their new-found ability to cut up the lanes that they get together in a big group and perform a mass-show-off ritual…for two hours… in a free-swimming lane… thereby effectively pushing any other 'free' lane swimmer into any other remaining over-crowded swim lanes. This defacto club of capable, confident swimmers are not a paid up swim group, they are a collection of individuals following some leader through a set routine of swim styles, including having breaks involving walking the length of the pool, two abreast, thereby maintaining hegemony over their territory. Despite that lane being marked by the swimming pool for that time slot as a 'free' swimming lane, should anyone else enter the Mafia Family's General Public No-Swim Zone, said intruder will be grabbed around the ankles and politely told to find another over-crowded lane in which to swim to a different pattern than that set by the Dear Leader.


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