Saturday, July 19, 2008

Swimming in Beijing

You want to know how I did it? This is how I did it, Anton: I never saved anything for the swim back. Vincent, Gattaca (1997).

A day earlier I had read in my nicked up maroon paperback version of Bamidbar about the saga of the twelve spies of Israel, the infamous dozen whom Moses reluctantly sends to scout out the holy land while the twelve tribes are traveling through the desert. Putting aside the tragic consequence of their journey, I was inspired on Sunday morning to strike out into a new corner of Beijing. With only a watch to assist me in finding my way—useful in timing how long the legs of a route take, allowing me to gauge where I might be on the return run— I headed to the south and then pushed westward until I arrived at one of Beijing’s largest parks: Yu Yuan Tan (YYT).

If you have ever heard me discuss anything tangentially related to running, visiting or living in Beijing, you already understand how the capital’s parks are the best thing the city has going for it. YYT raises the ante a few notches however, because the huge lake that dominates the park manages to pack in some of the best water activities I have yet experienced in China. Look for a later post to detail my chance to enjoy Da Shui Qiao, a fantastically weird version of bubble-boy-esque bumper boating I first partook of a year ago in the western capital city of Xinning. This Sunday run was marked by a more traditional encounter with the water, though one none the less memorable.

There was so much to see around the lakeside of YYT that after completing one loop in a half an hour of hard running I revved up for one more. Fate, in this case clothed er actually unclothed in a pack of smiling laobeijingren, intervened. Two dozen elderly locals were towel maneuvering by the rocky banks of the lakes, with a few of their comrades still basking in the green water. The heat got the better of my urge to keep running and before I knew it, my shoes, watch, shorts and shades were hidden away under a branch while I dove into the water. Within minutes I was working on my first ‘huzi,/feiji/ji’ strokes in China. Yet while my arms and legs monkey/airplane/squeezed my body through the water, my mind was swimming through the summer lakes of Minnesota. The water may have been a bit greener than any of the ten thousand plus lakes of my home state, but the chance to connect to summers of the past in one of Beijing’s most idyllic corners made the swim as memorable a dip in a lake as I have ever had.

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