I’ve swum in Harlem, I’ve swum in Dover

Today was the first time I went swimming this year. It reminded me of something I keep meaning to blog about: going swimming in different places.

The following song was something we learnt in my elementary school; I guess it was traditionally sung by British sailors.

I`ve been to Harlem, I`ve been to Dover
I`ve traveled this wide world all over.
Over, over, three times over
Drink all the brandywine and turn the glasses over.
Sailing east, sailing west
Sailing o`er the ocean,
You`dd better watch out when the boat begins to rock
Or you`ll lose your girl in the oce
an

OK, so I haven’t technically swum in Harlem or Dover. But last year, I did get to swim in a lot of different places. When I talk about swimming, I’m talking about doing laps, not just splashing about in a pool to play around. Terry, not my cousin, but Zoe’s dad, also swims quite a bit. He told me about this website swimmersguide.com which lists swimming pools all over the world, so that if you find yourself somewhere and want to do laps in a pool, you can easily find out where.

Here’s a brain dump of places where I’ve been swimming when I was away from home:

1) Kowloon Park, Hong Kong: I’ve walked past the length of Kowloon Park along Nathan Road umpteen times, but it wasn’t until this summer when I found out there was actually a pool there*. (I’d been dreading having to have schlep all the way from TST to Morrison Hill just to go swimming.) I went one morning fairly early at about 7 AM. There’s outdoor recreational pools (i.e. amoeba-shaped), and an indoor lap pool. Both unfortunately are really warm (I’m not sure from the weather, or if they’re heated.) I swam in the indoor pool, because it was marginally cooler, but even so, after 20 minutes I had to get out because it was too hot. The lap pool, at that hour, was dominated by elderly swimmers, and it was bit crowded. There were no lane dividers either, so I really had to watch for oncoming traffic while doing my laps back and forth. There is a McDonald’s in the park, right across from the pool entrance, which must do gangbusters business with all the post-swimming munchies. It was there when I noticed McDonald’s Hong Kong had mango pies, but I resisted trying one because I was looking forward to something better: egg custard tarts.** If you want to know it tastes like, check this link out.

2) Lake Michigan, Chicago – I hadn’t really intended to go swimming in Lake Michigan. We were staying in a hotel on Lakeshore Drive that I had booked, in part because it advertised a swimming pool. When I went showed up early one morning ready to go with my goggles, I found out that it was indoors on the third floor, and about twice the size of a baby’s bath-tub. “Is there anywhere else I could go swimming for real?” I asked the gym attendant in dismal. She stopped her mopping for a moment and nodded her head towards the window. “You could go swimming in the lake,” she said, not unkindly.

Outside the window, Lake Michigan was sparking like hematite sequins in the summer sun. I looked down and saw tiny little figures swimming around a line of buoys right off Ohio Beach. Woohoo!
It felt a little weird to walk through an underpass (Lakeshore Drive at that point is essentially a freeway) with little more than swimsuit and flip flops, and a hotel card key to get to the beach. Since it was early, there weren’t too many people on the beach, and the few people who were swimming seemed like the dedicated, athletic types, mostly were wearing wetsuits or tri-suits. “Is it warm enough to swim with just a swimsuit?” I asked a swimmer on the beach. “Yeah, though most people wear wetsuits.”
Oh well. I doggedly jumped in. It was cold, but not as intolerably so as Aquatic Park in SF. My swim was cut short, not because of the cold but because of the waves. They don’t call it Windy City for nothing. I got knocked by a large wave, water went up my nose and down my throat. I stopped to cough it out, but I was spooked. I tried to tell myself to pay more attention to rhythm of the waves, so that I wouldn’t choke a second time, but I ended up resorting to doggy paddling so much I gave up and climbed up one of the ladders to the sidewalk along the lake and got on dry land. Well, at least I can brag that I’ve swum in Lake Michigan. And if there’s a next time, I’ll bring a nose plug.

3) Lake Michigan, Milwaukee – Midwestern geography not being my strongest suit, I didn’t realise that the Lake Michigan that fronted Chicago also bordered Milwaukee up the ‘coast’. We went to Bradford Beach: Joe went jogging, while I was supposed to go swimming. But then it was getting late in the afternoon, with the wind kicking up, the water quite chilly. Plus there wasn’t really anywhere to shower. So I got lazy and availed myself of the free deckchairs that I presume Milwaukee County Parks had so thoughtfully provided for the public. Had a very nice nap indeed.

Unlike Ohio Beach in Chicago, Bradford Beach is really wide and long and heavily used. There was a building on the beach with a concessions and toilets, which wasn’t all too pristine, and the beach was lightly littered. It had a seediness that made it seem raffish, in a happy way. It reminded me of Repulse Bay in the 80’s. A beach that provided fun and relaxation for so many people from all walks of life.

4) Lee, Massachusetts: I find New England so quaint. In Cape Cod, they have signs that say “Thickly settled” which serve as warning signs to motorists to slow down as they’re approaching a town’s main street/commercial area. Around here, the signs simply would say “Reduce Speed Ahead.” Just the words “Thickly settled” connote the way Puritans talked, even through they probably could have never fathomed streams of speeding rental cars in the 21st century around the towns they established in the 17th. At the other end of the state, in the Berkshires, they have a quaint thing about their lakes. Towns have these beaches on the lakes, as part of their parks system. But the beaches aren’t public in that they are open to anybody; you have to be a resident of the Town of Lee to use those beaches. Fortunately, if you are staying in Lee as a visitor, you also qualify as an honorary resident. Your innkeeper can give you a temporary pass, or in our case, the park ranger at October Mountain State Forest where we were camping.

Lee’s cozy little lakefront beach came with picnic tables, adirondack chairs on the lawn, a sand pit with a net, a basket full of paddles and balls for beach games, and a changing rooms but no shower; and a porta-potty. I guess it’s more like a frugalistic country club for the residents of the entire town! There was a swimming deck buoyed maybe 35 yards away. Two teenage girls in red swimsuits (were they even lifeguards? Maybe they were beach attendants for their summer jobs) had paddled out in a canoe to the deck and diligently scrubbed off the bird poop with their broom brushes. I swam out there, feeling very happy. First, unlike the hike up Mt Greylock the day before, where I kept lagging behind; I was actually in my element in the water. Second, I rarely get a chance to swim in open freshwater; I’m usually in a chlorinated pool or saltwater when I swim. The algae or water weeds in the shallows didn’t bother me at all.

Since it was an overcast day, it was a little too cold to hang out on the deck, although the scenery of the forest ringing the lake was very nice.

5) Stadtbad Charlottenburg – Alte Halle, Berlin: It’s a public bath/swimming pool. They have a specialised schedule, where certain times are reserved for the elderly, the disabled, women only, . . .and if you see ‘FKK’, it’s an abbreviation of Freikörper-Kultur, which basically means naked swimming.
It makes me wonder if there are onsens in Japan that also offer lap swimming pools.

6) Hotel Del Coronado, San Diego: Rare is the hotel that actually has a pool that is functional for laps. Hotel Del has a beaut of a regular rectangle, 30 yards long. The one time I stayed there, the pool was roped off into lanes in the early morning for lap swimmers. (Later they remove them for the general free-for-all for kiddies.) A big plus is the setting of the pool near the beach; you can even look up and see the iconic red roof. Very civilised. The pool at the Oriental Hotel in Bangkok is almost as nice: it’s almost a regular rectangle, almost long enough, near but not within sight of the river, in a lushly landscaped setting.

* The other thing I found out this summer that I never noticed before was that there was a public light bus (minibus) that served Austin Road, close to our flat. “Is this new?” I asked Pat. “No, it’s always been here!” I guess all this time we would just walk to the MTR station. But to get to the Star Ferry, which is quite a bit further, the public light bus saves you a long walk. Problem is, it’s hard to get a seat on it during peak periods from our stop. PLB’s have strictly-observed maximum seat capacities; there’s no strap-hanging on them.

** Would you believe that in the 5 blocks between Kowloon Park pool and the flat, I couldn’t find any egg custard tarts for sale? This is a stretch with 3 bakeries (including a St. Honore — local bakery chain, a 7-Eleven, and a Starbucks. For some reason, they just don’t sell egg-custard tarts in this ‘hood. “We’ll have them in the afternoon,” St. Honore told me. I had to make do with the healthier alternative: overpriced imported plain yogurt.

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