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'Foreign devil' on a Chinese pool deck

Her wet suit earned her a nickname at the pool.

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DIVE: A winter swimmer jumps into a lake in Houhai in Beijing, China, in January.

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For centuries, the term (foreign devil) plagued Westerners in China. It took decades of international friendships and open door policies to remove this derogatory remark from the Chinese mind-set.

In today's China, no one uses to address a foreign visitor. It's rude and disrespectful.

But there is the saying, "If the shoe fits," and in my case, fits like a glove.

When I came to teach English in Luzhou, a Yangtze river town in Sichuan Province, my first order of business was to find a pool. As an avid swimmer, I wasn't about to abandon my chosen sport just because I was in China.

My Chinese friends immediately sent me to the Number 6 Middle School's newest acquisition, a 50-meter indoor pool. It was quite the showpiece and the perfect match for me. Every day found me speeding up and down the lanes while those less skilled looked on in wonder.

It wasn't until late September that I noticed the pool water wasn't being heated. According to the staff, many pools in the southern areas of the country had no heating capabilities but still remained open. Those who used them during the chillier months were the die-hard winter swimmers.

I, too, hastily decided to stick out the rest of the year by joining the city's winter swimming club.

On a warm Oct. 1, I paid my fees, received my monthly tickets, and off I splashed.

But by late November, when the water temperature hit 55 degrees F., I was suffering. I watched enviously as my club colleagues dived in. They easily swam for more than 30 minutes, exited onto the deck, and made a refreshing victory jog around the pool.

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