The Benefits of Swimming

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“Solitary trees, if they grow at all, grow strong.” Winston Churchill.

“I feel most at home in the water.  I disappear.  That’s where I belong.” – Michael Phelps, Olympic Gold Medalist.

The silence that comes when your head disappears under the water must be similar to that of someone instantly losing his hearing.  The hullabaloo and commotion from above vanishes and a slow and gentle murmur begins.  The chaos has been replaced.  A slight taste of chlorine comes onto your lips and those goggles, which squeeze your eyes closer together reveal the bottom that stretches boundlessly into the distance, occasionally pickled it is with a dangling pair of legs.

Swimming has been a sport that can be engaged in whether it is winter or summer, so long as you have a body of water.  In the hotter summer months it can strip away those sticky sweaty days and awaken your mind, and in colder times the warm water can help you workout and stay in shape when others are outside running trying to stay warm or having given up entirely with the idea of exercise.  Before entering a person can feel chilled to the bones  and apprehensive about the impending chilly waters, but after thirty lengths and a nice hot shower that same soul can leave with his spirit high, his blood warm and a few calories burned, all in time to see that jogger trot past gasping for breath with chilblains and chafing thighs still some distance from that warm shower you have just embraced.

The benefits to swimming are numerous, but to name a few it is a ‘low’ impact sport, one doesn’t have to fear a twisted ankle or a knackered elbow.  Your joints are not pulled, shattered and broken to pieces like those who play football or rugby.  A certain footballer was known for having such appalling knees that he was unable to train with his teammates during the week, instead he spent several hours working each necessary muscle, with no weights, just the resistance of the water.  Saturday would come, he would play and after ninety minutes his knobbles would have ballooned in size leaving him almost unable to walk.  Another week in the pool and he would get himself ready for the next week’s match.  He was, up until his retirement, still considered the best central defender England has produced for a number of years.  The only way he could maintain his fitness was through swimming.

A study found those who started swimming after eight weeks had increased their muscle density by roughly 24%.  It doesn’t focus on one body part like those cartoonish men in gyms with arms as large as tree trunks and legs as small as twigs.  In the gym tiredness can envelope you as soon as you pick up a weight, but swimming can relieve depression, anger, aid in circulatory problems and increase self-confidence leave you with more vigour.  Pushing yourself for up to an hour can easily work off around four-hundred calories.  Unlike jogging, which in winter can leave you struggling desperately for breath like you’ve been smoking Belgian tobacco, swimming in a pool can help your respiration with inhaling warm moist air, of course making sure the pool is clean is paramount.

Swimming doesn’t require you to buy any outlandish equipment.  You’re not even required to have goggles, you can breaststroke your way from one end to the other.  In Korea you are required to wear an unflattering hat that’s quite a bugger to get off afterwards.  It is also a universal sport, something that can be enjoyed solo are amongst friends, but it is especially great fun with kids who will splash and lunge around in the water for hours, long after their parents have grown tired.

Swimming’s benefits mentally can be just as astounding as its physical.  One or two hours under the water stimulates brain activity more than if you were running for the same amount of time thus helping with the creating of new brain cells.  The release of endorphins, feel good hormones, also becomes abundant the longer you spend in the pool.  It can help you regulate your breathing into a meditative state, which will lower your heart rate and blood pressure and allow your brain to categorize and deal with those negative thoughts that can seem to be forever laying themselves on your doorstep.

There can be no limit to the number of benefits you can achieve with going for a dip.  In Busan there are a number of swimming pools recommended.  Sajik Pool is a publically run place that has a fifty-metre pool for $3.  A little more upmarket is the Grand Hotel in Haeundae, which also boasts of a fifty-metre pool, but is a little more expensive at around $8.  There are dozens of other smaller twenty-five-metre places, some with large saunas and spas attached to the side.

So, no matter what this winter has install for you, why not workout your mind and body.  It might not turn you into a great Olympian swimmer with twenty gold medals, but it’ll do wonders for your health.

The Problems With South Korean Education

For one day a year the entire peninsula of South Korea comes to a screaming halt.  For one day a year elementary and middle schools open late, airports and train stations change their schedule, post offices and government buildings, the stock exchange remains closed until after 10am, losing the country a bob or two and police are ordered to escort any delayed student to his/her school.  A population of almost fifty-million stays locked up and off the road for up to three hours.  This is the day that nothing is allowed to stop the countries high school students getting to their final exam, an exam that determines whether they make it into university or not. Whether they become a have-not or a never-had, a dreamer, a worrier, a beggar or another victim who takes his own life in some dark dingy basement.  This day is the most important day in life.

With 80% of Korean students expecting to get into a university the competition is intense.  Other countries seem to weather this event much more easily.  The options available are still the same, Korea offers a huge range of courses to cater to almost any candidate, but it is for those positions which will hand its recipient an almost guarantee of a stable and prosperous life that is most at stake.  Those relatively few placements for prestigious universities like Seoul National etc., are the ones that become like the golden ticket to these poor suffering little sots.  So what can the country do to make it feel even terrifying?

The authorities think that by closing down all other businesses and organisations and threatening those who have no need to venture out during these precious hours is helping, but this of course can only add to the stress and fear that these already uptight and exhausted kids are going through.  Knowing that the streets are like a ghost town because nothing is allowed to stop you getting to your exam will only intensify the significance of it all, and that won’t do anyone any favours!  The students are smart enough to know, I hope, that they know that getting into university is important, they know what’s at stake, they’ve been studying since they were two-years old.

The education in Korea is like no other in the world.  Students rise early and study late, some working more than eighteen hours a day, not including the hours they put in doing their homework.  The government sees this as progress and what needs to be done to compete on the world stage, it has after all grown from being one of the poorest countries during the 1960s to now being the 13th largest economy in the world.  But that growth was primarily down to an increase in mass production, cheap labour and industry, not in the fields that many potential university students hope to study in, namely Law, Medicine and Diplomacy.  These branches of education are considered the most affluent above all else.  Using your brain so that you don’t have to use your hands; getting someone else to do the manual whilst you sit and watch and reap the rewards of your accountancy firm, law practice or dental clinic etc.  The parents pray that their sprog will succeed, some bowing mindlessly three-thousand times in Buddhist temples or churches in the hope that their God will hear their pleadings and bargainings over all others who are stood by your side, but there can only be one winner and that is the one who employees these young upstarts and forces them to work every hour of every day for a little sparkle of silver and the promise of a day-off when their grandfather kicks the bucket.

All this stress, hope, praying, yearning and begging to get into an average university to study something you have no interest in really, to then get a job where you will bossed around by someone who sees you as just another drone willing to do his bidding and be told that your weekends are in his pocket because he is your supervisor and he wants to go off singing with his little concubine.  So, what’s the hope?

Don’t be told what to do or which field to apply in, this is your life, your future, you’ll regret spending twenty years behind a desk with nothing to show apart from insufferable piles and the constitution of someone twice your age.  Don’t listen to those family members who say what you want is beyond your talents and is impossible in this country.

The New Loving Hut in Haeundae, Busan

 

 

 

 

 

(published in Busan Haps magazine October 2011)

Loving Hut has been a stable and reliable restaurant for vegetarians and vegans in South Korea for almost three years.  Last year, another one of their restaurants opened up in Haeundae.  A meeting with owner Kim Hyong Ryul (Emily) was set up to find out what it’s like to run a restaurant and to be a vegan in a country where meat is available on almost every street corner.

The restaurant, which has been in her possession since July 2010, is spotless; it’s the first thing you notice when you enter; it’s almost like a dental surgery or operation theatre.  The menu has been laid out clearly and concisely with detailed Korean and English explaining what is within.  All dishes, on first inspection are not expensive ranging between 7,000-10,000won, making it nowhere near as expensive as other typical Western eateries such as VIPS or Outback.  And if you venture here during lunchtime, prices are reduced even further.

Emily seems cheerful and welcoming as we begin.  She starts by explaining some of the difficulties she has experienced getting Koreans to try a vegan diet; “People think that it’s yucky, just cooked vegetables, so to taste the food is very important.  Just EAT the food!  That’s very important!”

Her little dream that she jokingly tells me is to become more popular than the local butchers.  It seems a tall order, but she sees the future of vegetarianism in Korea as more of an opportunity than an uphill struggle.

It seems so obvious to her what the benefits are to being vegan.  She started off because of spiritual and health reasons, but she hopes that people don’t give up meat just for health issues alone. “It’s important to appreciate all living things [when] being a vegan.  If a person is a vegan [just] for health reasons they don’t really stay vegan for a long time, but on the other hand, those who think [that] for natural reasons, will fundamentally stay as vegans for the rest of their lives.”

She informs me that too often people stereotype vegan food as being tasteless and dull. “If you use fresh and organic ingredients, it will, of course taste good.”

She also continues on that people say vegan food is repetitive and uninspiring, so to combat this she tries to create a new menu every two to three months.  I asked what dishes she is currently working on, and after a little persuasion she reveals a soy steak with all the trimmings and a risotto.

She also stocks a lot of frozen fake meat and she says that this is very popular amongst the ex-pat community.  Within the refrigerator there is a large stock of soy ham, fake chicken, sausages and allegedly – fake squid.  This is again cheaper than the food on the menu.

One of the many environmental concerns people have today is the distance food travels to your plate, but Emily makes this quite clear as to where her food originates.  “Almost all the food is Korean. Sometimes [there are] things coming from Taiwan too. They have a lot of vegetarian food.”

One thing that concerned her when she started out was the amount of food from the buffet that would be left on the plate at the end.  So to combat this, any remnants left and there is a 2500won ‘fine.’ This may sound a little drastic, but it works. Now she smiles that the regular customers clean their plates from top to bottom and nothing goes back to be re-used in the kitchen.

Her family, including her two sisters, have been in the business since its inception and she gladly boasts about how her niece is on a vegan diet and how she is growing at a much quicker rate than any of her classmates.  She also proudly tells of teaching a kindergarten class once a month and hearing back from surprised parents and teachers about children eating all their greens.

It doesn’t matter what kind of ‘eater’ you are, but if you prefer eating delicious tasty food rather than the bland and stodgy, it’s well worth a visit to the Loving Hut.

For more information on vegan food and a vegan lifestyle in South Korea visit theveganurbanite.wordpress.com

By David Holt