In an earlier post concerning my winter swim in the ocean, I mentioned that the water was somewhat chilly but that the swim was glorious. Of course, I used some poetic license to emphasise the water’s temperature. My mother decided to write me an email to point out that the water in these parts was 18.1 degrees and that such a temperature is not so cold. I am not sure where my mother found such a statistic, for today I went for another swim. This time I was in the water, swimming laps in the ocean baths, for about 20 minutes. And the temperature: 15 degrees. This was obtained by simply putting a thermometer in the water (as the lifeguard does each day).
I have always marvelled at the old fogeys, who manage to swim throughout winter in these parts, even in water that would make a normal person blue with cold and suffering the effects of the cold on motor control. I speculated that perhaps such people had begun to lose the function of some nerves, so that they lost feeling to some extent. I wondered whether the many experiences of life made what once seemed like extremes into rather normal events.
Today, 9 August 2015, I decided to go for a swim in the ocean. This is the last month of winter in these parts, with chilly nights and fresh days. The water still has its winter feel. Down on the beach, I was the only person headed for the water. The few others present were rugged up, seeking to find some quiet on a winter’s afternoon by the water – albeit only for a look and the touch of the biting wind.
As I strode towards the water, I expected a brass-monkey and breath-taking dip, for perhaps a few seconds. Instead, it was glorious! I dove under waves, caught a few, sensed once again the salt water on my skin. Eventually, I came out of the water and went to change. I felt as though I was glowing.
Mao the monk? It may well have been the path he chose in life. Zhang Kundi, a young friend of Mao, tells of a 1917 hike in the mountains in Hunan, with regular swims in the Xiang River due to the heat. On the top of Zhaoshan (Zhao Mountain) was a monastery with two or three monks. The young friends were offered a bed for the night – one bed for all of them. But they stayed up and talked long into the night. At one point, Zhang Kundi relates:
Moved by the clear night, Mr. Peng told us about his long-cherished desire to be a monk and also said that, some years later, he would invite all of us to come and study on some famous mountain. Mr. Mao and I also have such a desire, but Mao’s desire is much stronger than mine. I, too, was moved at that time, and the lines came to me:
Wind blowing in the trees, music of the heavens
Desires and rewards cannot be perceived, and shed their forms
But I did not reveal them to my friends. It was deep night before we slept.
(Revolutionary Writings 1912-1949, vol 1. pp. 138-39)
Whoever uses an air conditioner is a wimp. As the real heat-waves of summer are upon us, many people in these parts flee indoors and turn on the air conditioner. At home, at work, in a car – wherever you happen to be, an air conditioner is available.
But then you miss the glorious feel of summer. The sting of the sun at noon, the smell of air that has been baked, the sweat that cleans out your pores, the indescribable feel of lying in bed naked at night, floating on the heat and drifting off to sleep. Nothing beats the sensation of going for a run or a ride on a 40 degree day. And if you spend all day blasted by an air conditioner, how can you appreciate the sea on a hot evening?
What happens if the air conditioner breaks down, or if the button gets stuck on hot? Having lost the ability to enjoy the heat, let alone tolerate it, you’re stuffed.
‘Don’t swim after eating or you’ll get stomach cramps and drown.’
‘Wait an hour after eating before swimming’.
These and more are part of the common folklore, repeated ad nauseam to children in summer as they holiday by the beach. So the kids fidget and annoy each other before finally being allowed to swim again after what seems like an eternity. We have it from parents, teachers, and pretty much everyone.
It’s complete rubbish. You may as well say, don’t ride your bicycle after eating, or don’t run after eating, or don’t do anything energetic after eating. You might get a stomach cramp and crash your bike, trip over, or some other dire outcome. Actually, it is much like the myth of the common cold – that if you get a chill you might catch a cold. Like that myth, this one too is usually impervious to facts.
As for me, I have swum plenty of times on a full stomach. Not even a twitch in my gut when I do so.
The Norwegian University of Science and Technology has come up with an easy way to measure what they call your fitness age – without having to exhaust yourself on a treadmill (with the same result). They have put the calculator here.
For me, the vital statistics are:
How often do you exercise? Almost every day.
How long is your workout each time? 30 minutes or more.
How hard do your train? I go all out
What does your waistline measure in cm? 80
What is your resting pulse (per minute)? 46
Estimated fitness age: under 20!
Mao was in the habit of swimming across the Changjiang (or Yangtze River), especially in spring and summer. He also liked to swim across the Xiang River in his home province of Hunan. Every now and then his conversations were recorded, such as this one:
People say that the Changjiang is very big. In fact, something that is big is not formidable. You didn’t allow me to swim across, but now I have done it, haven’t I? Isn’t United States imperialism very big? But we stood up to it and so what? Therefore, some big things in the world are in fact not that formidable. (The Writings of Mao Zedong, vol 2, p. 676)
Not bad for a heavy smoker in his 60s.