Swimming is a confusing sport, because sometimes you do it for fun, and other times you do it to not die. And when I’m swimming, sometimes I’m not sure which one it is. – Demetri Martin
Can you swim? It’s an interesting question in an EFL (English as a Foreign Language) classroom and one that I took for granted as an American. It seems that all American kids learn how to swim and looking back I can’t remember anyone (although I’m sure there was someone) who didn’t know how to swim. Of course, I grew up in Hawaii and we had to take a water safety and ocean survival course in grade school.
We went to the nearest recreation center and had to tread water in the middle of the pool for some horribly long time, but most of us cheated by touching the side of the pool for a brief relief. Then there was learning how to float properly (who knew, eh?) so if by some crazy chance we got stuck out in the middle of the ocean, we knew how to conserve energy and survive.
While I didn’t grow up far from the beach, it wasn’t part of my family’s regular routine. We enjoyed the beach, many times, but we didn’t live for the beach. My mom never learned how to swim, something that I found outrageous, but she’s from a different generation and world, even today there are still a fair amount of non-swimmers in Thailand.
I have my father to thank for teaching me how to swim, for signing me up for swim classes at our local rec center. I’m not sure what kind of swimmer he was, how much the US Air Force required of him, his passion was golf, but I certainly did not get the feeling that he was uncomfortable in the water. After all, he had the peculiar habit of sinking to the bottom of the pool, cross-legged and timing himself. But don’t ask me what his time was, I always got nervous when he stayed underwater for a long time. I’d yell, “Dad! Dad!” at his watery form, until he came back up.
As a child, I was a strong swimmer because I loved it. One of my main childhood homes was in a townhouse complex with a pool, so I swam often. I used to carry my younger brother to the deep end on my back and then drop him off, watch him flounder, laughing, because every time I carried him, I lied to him, I told him I wouldn’t drop him off and every time he fell for it. Yes, yes, yes. I’d rescue him, too. I wasn’t going to let my baby brother drown. I’d like to think I helped him learn how to swim…in my own cruel sisterly way.
After we moved away from the pool, I stopped swimming regularly. The middle of the Mojave Desert didn’t provide much inspiration, although, it could have, I suppose if I wanted it badly enough. Becoming a teenager and then a twenty-something girl transformed me into a body-conscious ninny who was more concerned about how I looked in a bathing suit rather than simply enjoying the water.
But these days, I’m swimming again. Even though we lived next to the pool at two different places in Chiang Rai, Thailand, I hardly swam. In Siem Reap, Cambodia though, I can’t get enough of the pool. Probably because it’s HOT and dusty here and swimming has cool lasting benefits long after I’ve left the salt water pool.
It all began when, on a lark, a coworker asked if I wanted to join him at the gym because he wanted to get in shape. And on a lark, I said yes because I, too, had been thinking of the same thing. So, we two larks ended up going. I’m grateful. It surprisingly doesn’t take that long for your body to adjust. Now, I’ve got the b/f joining me and it feels like a treat as well because it’s at a fancy hotel.
I can’t say that I swim correctly or that I do laps. I like to play around and do what feels good. I know the regulars, but I can’t guess the tourists schedules so sometimes I’m around loud Australians and other times loud Chinese. I like it when I have the pool to myself, but I’m never really alone. Red dragonflies hover in clouds and land long enough for me to discover that they actually have purple bodies. Shiny skinks deceptively look like leaves twirling and sliding on the ground, and birds dive and swirl around because the pool is surrounded by greenery.
On cloudy days, I like floating on my back and luxuriating in a life with small-big moments of play and freedom.
What about you? Can you swim?