Chinese swimming pools: the most crowded (and dirty) in the world

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In China, swimming pools are overcrowded and the water is almost toxic

Swimming has long been a symbol of physical strength in China, but outside of top-level sports schools, competitive swimming is not the preference of ordinary Chinese, who prefer to pursue it as a hobby. For most Chinese, swimming pools are simply a place to cool off, not to compete. During the fine days of summer, when the heat becomes unbearable, pools explode into a debauchery of color as thousands of bathers jump into the water to escape the scorching heat. The popular slang expression for going swimming is « boiling dumplings » (type dumplings into Google), because the public pools are so crowded that all you can do is tread water.

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The lack of infrastructure for swimming is the main reason why swimming pools are crowded in China, and because of this people can’t go swimming all year round, as we do at home as a hobby. According to the deputy head of Hongkou’s public swimming pool, « many local governments can’t generate enough money from indoor pools to run them year-round. »

But as incomes rise, the number of facilities increases, and private gyms with pools proliferate. Some of these pools are immense. The « Dead Sea of China » is a saltwater pool in Daying county, Sichuan province, inspired by the real Dead Sea found in the Middle East. The pool covers an area of 30,000 square meters and can accommodate up to 10,000 visitors at a time.

Another pool in the Yao Stink district can accommodate a staggering 230,000 swimmers at a time.

After taking a sample of the water, a toxicologist noted that urine and faeces made up almost 90% of the mixture.

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Disgusted by these images? They should… According to a report by China’s Ministry of Health published in 2011, out of 5639 public swimming pools tested in 24 Chinese provinces, 10% exceeded the safety limit for urea levels. In case you don’t know, urea comes from urine.

The research also established that the total percentage of bacteria in a pool reached 92.3%, while the rate of E. coli bacteria was high at 96.9%. The consequences can be fatal. In 2008, a man died and 3158 swimmers were seriously poisoned when they swallowed pool water contaminated with the urine and faeces of 47,000 swimmers in Beijing’s gigantic Mao Mao municipal pool.

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Swimming pools as popular in Japan

The phenomenon of overcrowded pools is also common in Japan. National Geographic photographer Michael Yamashita, who captured images of a typical summer day at one of the largest water parks, Tokyo’s Summerland, said:

« Most people can be horrified, appalled, nauseated and generally disgusted by the large number of swimmers crammed into these mega-pools. There’s no doubt that, given Tokyo’s heat, humidity and summer population, the pools receive record numbers of visitors and push the limits of water sanitation. Japan, on the other hand, is prepared for this, and manages to keep everyone happy and cool, no matter how crowded the pool, by moving the water rather than the swimmers.

Although not exactly conducive to swimming laps, giant wave pools break with waves of a meter or more, drenching immobile bathers so they don’t need to swim to cool off. Other pools feature circular pools with a current that keeps everyone moving in the same direction. And of course, the Japanese, by tradition and habit, are probably the cleanest people in the world. The water in these pools is safe to drink!

Maybe, but if you’re traveling in China or Japan, avoid swimming pools in summer!

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Photo sources: 1, 2, 3