Swimming in Korea: The Ultimate Test

How Korean are you?

Perhaps the best way to find out is to go for a lap swim at your local swimming pool. It separates the locals from the waygooks.

Imagine traffic in Seoul and scale it down to a swimming lane. You might get cut off, bumped or have the person in front of you come to a dead stop. For a North American used to empty swimming lanes it can be incredibly frustrating (not a quality I’m proud of). For Koreans, it’s all in a day’s swim. Koreans tend to have an uncanny ability to not be bothered by crowds. Because life can be one big crowd for them, they have dealt with it by perfecting their tunnel vision. It is a trait that I have come to both despise and admire.

Photo credit The Malay Mail Online.

Sometime late into my Gwangju years, I came up for air after swimming into a walking ajumma and came unhinged. I slapped the water, made a noise through my throat verbalizing my disgust and stormed out of the pool. All the kimchi, makkeoli and Korean vocabulary in the world could not prepare my body or mind for lap swimming in Korea. I must have looked like a complete ass. I swore off swimming in Korea. If I couldn’t be civil on their turf, I felt it was best to avoid the situation altogether.

But on Friday I had to swim. I went to a lap pool in Gyeongsan, Korea and I was met with a familiar scene. Crowded lanes, ajummas swimming slowly, group stretching and close calls. This time I tried to take the lead from all of those around me. I continued to swim completely oblivious to the madness and disorganization. I put on my tunnel vision goggles and did what I could, and let that which I could not control float on past me. It wasn’t the greatest swim session I’d ever had, but it sure felt good to not give a shit.

**If you made it this far here’s a tip. 12 noon is magic hour. Koreans split for lunch and the pool empties out. Yesterday, I was in a lane with 2 others. Just perfect!**

**We’ve written a lot about lap swimming in Korea. One about mandatory stretching, one about swimming types and the need for an aquatic director and one about a pleasant swim session with a Korean friend.**