Sunday, January 27, 2013

Taechon Beach First Strokes

 So, this is where I learned how to swim.  Sort of.  I say this because I did swim in that ocean.....eventually.

When I was an idiot kid growing up in Korea, many summers were spent at Taechon Beach on the East China Sea.  Well, back in the 1980's we couldn't call it that over there.  The Koreans weren't so thrilled I guess that the Chinese got their own sea, so they called it the Yellow Sea instead.  I don't know why.  It was far from yellow, though on many occasions I did make a small contribution towards changing it that color.  Actually, back then if you bought an atlas in Korea and turned to the page that would show it, the words "East China Sea" would be marked out by hand and "Yellow Sea" written in its place.  Censorship was alive and well back then.  I even remember Sting's song "Russians" being on the banned list in Korea.  But anyway........swimming.

I'm not sure how old I was, but during the summers they'd have these swim schools for different aged kids to take.  The first one was called "Fish," and I remember very little coaching or nurturing of any sort during the sessions.  It was more like we just goofed around in the shallow water.  At some point there was some kind of graduation, in which we had to prove we could swim from one swim teacher to another.  I knew I couldn't do it.  So I did the ol' trick that everyone's tried at least once - go through the motions of swimming when you're really just grabbing the bottom with your hands and pulling yourself along as you go.  I don't know if I really fooled anyone, but they gave me the graduation badge anyway.  I think I gave up on swimming for a while after that.

Monster Island in the background.  There used to be a swim competition that would go all the way to the island.  I thought it was impossible, and I regret to this day I never ticked that challenge off of my To Do List.

It was years later, during high school, that I was back at Taechon Beach for another fun summer.  By then, I was really into running and was spending my summer staying in shape for next year's cross country season.  I think these were the early days of my endurance junkie-ness.  The cabin had this pile of sorry beach toys, among which was a styrofoam board that looked like it had been whittled by hand into something resembling the front half of a surf board.  For some reason - probably boredom - I grabbed that thing and headed out to the water.  Now, if the tide was out, it was a really long walk to get to the water's edge.  The Yellow Sea has the second largest tides in the world.  So, as I walked down the beach with my chunk of styrofoam I devised a plan to make an epic journey of it: I would use this piece of junk as a float and kick my way the whole length of the beach (the American side - which was, I'm guessing, about 1 mile long) and back.  For me, at the time, it was a pretty challenging endeavor.  I could swim, but not very well.  But I did it and it took me forever.  The reward was that the styrofoam rubbed my ribs raw, and I had two blistered and bloody spots on my stomach when I was done.  What a sense of accomplishment though!

I think back now on those days wishing I had applied myself more in the water.  Keeping up with the swimmers in a triathlon is tough enough when some of them swam all their lives.  Us folks that learned it late in life are already sucking hind tit as it is, and I can't help but be jealous of the ones that complete an Ironman swim in 57 minutes.

I don't know that there's much of a point to this post, other than I just wanted this place to have a part in my blog somehow.  I miss Taechon Beach deeply, and it was a very magical place during my childhood.  You will not find a more beautiful, family-oriented haven that also shares its sands with land mines and gun turrets.  For those of you that did the swim to the Monster, or even the swim to the reef, my hat's off to you!