Sunday, March 12, 2006

Off the Deep End

Bryant, Bryan and I decided it would be fun to hit a pool here in Gumi. While the three of us have set foot in many a Jim Jil Bong (Bath House) we had no idea what to expect when it came to actually swimming. In any event, we figured most any experience would be pale in comparison to the fist time you bathe with a hundred naked Koreans...

It was a balmy 15 degrees outside , a perfect day for riding our motorbikes to the Olympic size pool. I had packed some high bounce balls to throw around and my water proof camera simply so I could justify having bought a waterproof camera.

We paid the $2.50 entrance fee and headed for the changing room. The change room put most other changing rooms to shame. It was laid out exactly like a Jim Jil Bong. Two large wooden platforms sat on the heated linoleum teak. Lockers covered in the same fake hardwood surrounded the changing area. There was no need to bring your own lock or fumble around looking for change, the lady at the entrance had provided us all with keys, free of charge.

Just off of the changing room was the shower room tiled with thick slabs of marble and granite. Here 10 showers and large mirrors took up two of the walls while the adjacent wall had four seated showering areas. Koreans do everything in the shower: washing, shaving, oral hygiene... even workouts.

From the showers we found our way up the steps into the main pool area. The smell of chlorine lingered in the humid air and echos of splashes and shouting filled the giant rectangle room. I couldn't quite put my finger on it at first but the entire situation seemed extremely foreign. The enormous room had two pools, one for swimming lengths and another for learning to swim lengths. I scanned two or three times for diving boards and play pools filled with mats fountains but there was nothing.

By this time all eyes were tuned on us as we were the only foreigners at the pool. Furthermore, the three of us we sporting large baggy shorts rather than the Speedos and black one piece bathing suits the remaining 150 people were dressed in. Feeling a little out of place we jumped into the training pool where 30 or so mostly Korean woman were learning or practicing swimming. I was shocked to find the water only came up to my waist when I plunged in.

Bryan, Bryant and I had figured that once in the water we would blend in. We splashed around a bit, swam to the opposite end and stood side by side along the edge. Then this slightly eerie feeling came over us as we noticed all activity had ceased and every Adjuma (old married women) was lined up along the opposing wall 20 meters away. It was at this point a swimming instructor came by and started giving us what we thought was shit. It turns out we were breaking the number one rule... swimming WITHOUT a swimming cap! Suddenly it became even clearer why things felt so strange... absolutely everyone was wearing a swimming cap and goggles. Kindly, the swimming instructor lent us three caps, two yellow ones with a shark and dolphin playing happily and one red and white one bearing a big maple leaf. Bryan beat me to the draw!

After donning my new cap I instantly felt a little more at home. The three of us decided to vacate the little pool so that the Adjumas could resume their strange pool activities. Over in the lengths pool there was a lot more going on. Three lanes were filled with people doing some kind of pool aerobics... hitting the water with all their fury. Two other lanes must have been reserved for classes because we were kicked out of them into the last remaining lane that looked like an overcrowded salmon run. Here an Adjuma became our self appointed coach, pushing us to keep swimming and following so close behind we could feel her fingers hitting our toes.

After one length I pulled my exhausted body onto the edge of the pool and sat quietly, taking in the surreal environment that surrounded me. I studied the overbearing pixilated pictures tiled into each of the four walls. An array of tiny, colorful square tiles depicted a man doing the crawl and little squares of water splashing up from where his hand had just exited the water. The three remaining pictures were just as simplistic as the first. Finally, the perfect adjective came to me... COMMUNISTIC. The giant, white tiled rectangle room, the lack of decor, the absence of furniture and 150 people dressed the same and moving in unison. It was as though I had stumbled into Kim Il Sung's athletic training center.

Coach and a few other Adjumas waved good bye as we left. The three of us sauna-d it up before hitting the showers. Then came the highlight of the day, I got to put my bathing suit in this little cylinder next to the shower entrance and with the turn of a dial it wound up to speed and water started pouring out the bottom... a suit juicer of sorts! On our way out we hit the Pro-Shop searching for caps and goggles to use next time.


Anonymous said...

what an experience!! haha
finally i will have muscular, sexy and fit boy friend. or just one with goggles and swimming cap..haha
have fun, my dear!

comatose said...

No... he'll be muscular, fit AND have a goggles and a swimming cap!