There’s a picture of me holding my daughter just above the water in Canada. We’re in bathing suits and smiling. She was six months old and we were visiting my parents in 2012 whose house is flanked by a fresh water river. The photo’s back-story went like this:
“The water is too cold for the baby!”
“It’s perfect. A bit chilly at first but fine once you’re in.”
“No way. She’ll get sick.”
My husband and I went around and around like this before we reached a compromise. As the swimming advocate, I could hold her, immersed to my waist, and dip her legs in to see how she reacted, but this was his limit. On that day, TCM temperature rationales cancelled my introductory swimming lessons.
China vs. Canada: 1 point China.
Compared to Toronto, Beijing is even farther north longitudinally, so it’s interesting that May temperatures here are the same as July temperatures back home. The in-laws wince at my short sleeves on “spring” days when it’s +24 C, but not yet wearing shorts is already a compromise, I say!
Nevertheless, when the sweltering weight of August humidity starts to descend upon us here, I am very grateful that my annual trip back to Canada is scheduled to depart. Soon, I’ll be sitting on a dock, my feet dangling in the non-chlorinated perfection that flows behind my parents’ home, north of Toronto. Even though they are equipped with canoes and a paddleboat, it’s swimming in the divine river water that beckons me. That first plunge, slipping my limbs into shimmering silver, reminds me of the greatest blessing I possess: being alive.
In August, it’s starting to cool off in Canada. Nights require a sweater and no one is sleeping without covers. By the time I’ve arrived, I’ve been sweltering in Beijing for too many weeks, so it’s a shame that my beloved water is often too chilly for that sacred dip. Sure, the outdoor temperatures are perfect, but sometimes I have to dive in and out all within five minutes, scrambling for a towel, covered in goose bumps and a stubborn shiver.
Now that we have two kids (3 and 1), I’ve learned that not all family feuds are worth winning. I’ve been influenced by Chinese culture, so I now vacillate between savoring childhood experiences and implementing newfound Eastern knowledge. On the question of whether to let the kids swim or not, our solution is this: I test the waters first. On shivery days, the kids stay out. On warmer days, I insist that a little chilly water is good for the Canadian half of their constitutions. “Besides, learning how to swim in nature is so much better than in a pool!” I say.
Point for Canada.
When I was growing up, every kid my age knew how to swim. My husband also had swimming lessons as a child, and at first I thought nothing of it. Later I came to realize how rare this is here; most Chinese people never learn to swim. He was a lucky one, not unlike our kids.
On that day the photo was taken, our daughter cried very quickly after the first dip. I handed her back to my husband who bundled her up and took her inside, “away from the wind.”
But, last summer our son was seven months old.
“Don’t let him get too wet,” my husband said, the sceptic on the dock.
When our son’s toes felt the pristine coolness, he giggled. I dipped him in again, this time up to his knees. He loved it.
Two kids, two different reactions. Two countries, two different views.
China vs. Canada: it’s a tie.
About the Illustrator
Kitty He (age 15) is a Grade 8 student at Keystone Academy. She referenced a family photo provided by our columnist Ember Swift, and chose coloring pencils (her favorite media) to shade the illustration.
This article originally appeared on page 47 of the beijingkids July 2015 issue. Click here to read the issue for free on Issuu.com. To find out how you can get your own copy, email email@example.com.