The gym we belong to is truly a “community” gym. It is family-oriented and caters to the many different cultures represented in our diverse city. At any given time you can hear multiple languages being spoken, and I especially love how the old Chinese men sit in the lobby reading their newspapers and chit-chatting.
Swimming lessons, however, are dominated by Koreans. More precisely, Korean moms and their children. Their kids somehow manage to look immaculate even while in the water. The little girls wear frilly swim caps and goggles that match their swim suits, and the boys’ brush cuts glisten with little drops of water whenever they surface. Two minutes before classes end, a line of Korean moms stand at the edge of the pool with towels-in-hand ready to wrap up their children so they don’t get cold. They are then whisked off to the showers where the mothers scrub them from head-to-toe. Even if by Western standards, those kids could scrub themselves.
The moms, sporting pastel-colored cashmere cardigans and cropped chinos, congregate together, chatting in Korean. They fawn over each other’s babies and answer newcomers’ questions about what to do in our city. They look so put-together in their jaunty-yet-sporty outfits while I sit on my bench with a book and Tae’s towel in my lap.
But, I want to talk with them! I want to say, I know I may not look it, but I’m Korean, too! I want to know which Korean market they go to. I want to know if I can get the frilly swim caps here or if they brought them with them from Korea. I want to ask if I can fawn all over the sweet little baby in the stripey sweater that sits contentedly in her stroller looking at me for the entire swim lesson.
They are so…elusive. They remind me of jellyfish. They are so elegant. So pretty. So lithe. I am so…the opposite. I fear that if I approach them wearing my normal uniform of jeans, a fleece jacket, and Crocs (it’s a pool), that I will cause them to flutter away.
So I sit there watching and admiring this group of women who, despite all the reasons why they have left Korea to be here, have found each other. Admiring that they are finding their way here despite being so far from home and, perhaps, not speaking English so well.
I imagine that if they were in Korea, they would be doing the exact same thing, spending the afternoon at the pool watching their kids swim, chatting with friends, swapping packets of candy and kim and other treats. It would be exactly the same. Except they are here.
Maybe next week I’ll “dive in” and ask them about the swim caps.