I had an interesting experience today.
For the last few days my wife had been talking about taking our daughter swimming. I thought this was a great idea and supported it wholeheartedly. It would be a good mother-daughter activity and great exercise for both of them, because like a lot of Westerners when I think babies swimming I immediately picture mothers and babies swimming in a large group in a small public swimming pool.
However in China they do things differently. For one here is the baby swimming pool.
This wasn’t exactly what I was expecting. It’s more of a glorified kitchen sink, with a disposable plastic bag to hold the water and keep things clean. But pools are expensive in China, and most mainland Chinese think that letting a newborn swim in a regular pool is dangerous. So if a baby is going to learn to swim it’s this or nothing.
With some trepidation I agreed to let my daughter go ‘swimming’.
It was actually a great idea.
First the woman in charge of the swimming gave Anqi a quick massage, working her arms and legs in a swimming pattern to warm her up. She moved quickly, but Anqi didn’t care although she had a curious look on her face as if asking what the silly lady was doing.
One thing I’ve learned about is that Chinese massages and warm-ups are fast and furious. Even for babies.
We quickly stripped Anqi, and surprisingly she didn’t cry once. Usually she’ll become fussy when she’s naked, but I think she was happy because they kept the room very hot at +30 Celsius. I thought I was in a sauna, and I’ve learned that my daughter doesn’t like the heat either.
After stripping her we prepared her for her first swimming lesson. This involved placing an inner-tube around her neck.
I honestly kept expecting Anqi to start crying. She was naked, she had a strange thing around her neck, and she was being handled by strangers.
But she never made a peep. It may have been due to the fact that she was tired as she hadn’t slept all afternoon, or she may have seen her mommy and daddy right there, I honestly don’t know.
She was put in the water and the woman removed her hands allowing Anqi to float freely. Anqi took a few seconds to realize what was going on, quickly discovering that she wasn’t going to sink, and that she could move freely.
Once she discovered that interesting fact she started kicking, jerking and waving her arms. She slowly but steadily bounced around the extra large sink, reveling in finally being in control of where she wanted to go. That is, as long as she could remember which leg to kick and how to move her arms in just the right way.
There was one thing I wasn’t keen on though. Chinese people like to show off their children ,and have a weaker understanding of privacy than Westerners. So there is a large glass window allowing people at the street entrance to look in at the swimming babies.
Since I’m a foreigner, this attracted some attention from people wanting to see a mixed baby. There is a belief in China that mixed blooded babies are cuter, smarter and better than pure bloods.
If I had waved them away that would have only made more people come to see a rude foreigner. So I simply ignored them and realized that my 3 month old daughter couldn’t have cared less.
Although as we were leaving I was surprised when a girl who was almost three was stripped right in front of me and the window as she prepared for her bath.
After the swim which lasted for around 15 minutes, Anqi was taken out of the pool and given a bath, which she hated. Then she was dried off, rubbed down with baby lotion, and dressed. She cried for almost every minute of it.
The swimming lesson was far different from what I had expected, but after thinking about it I realized that it made sense for China.
In Chinese cities, land prices are sky rocketing. So pools are hard to come by and very expensive. Setting aside a pool for babies even for an hour, would not be cost effective. Yet people want there children to be in the water and learn to swim. These little pools are seen as a way to get children at least used to the water at an early age at an affordable price.
Also most Chinese houses do not have bathtubs. The poorer and older houses sometimes only have a toilet and small sink with no hot water, or no bathroom at all. So babies and children have to have showers, bathe in tiny baby baths, or have a sponge bath with boiled water. The little swimming area my wife and I went to allows children to have a nice warm bath where they can actually play in the water and follow it up with a good scrubbing afterwards.
The baby pool we went to is a lower priced one at 50rmb (approximately $7 US), but there are some that are even cheaper, and many that are much more expensive. I’m not sure if I want to do it on a regular basis, but it was interesting, and Anqi got a lot of exercise that ensured she slept all evening.