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Swimming and 'cooking dumplings'

MATTHEW Chen came to Shanghai from New York two months ago, and he has been looking for a nice, clean, not-too-crowded swimming pool - to no avail.

"There are almost no so-called public swimming pools downtown or within an hour of where I live," says Chen who is just in the city for a few months on a short trip.

"Either you have to join a gym, or endure the crowded 'dumpling pools'," he complains.

Xia jiaozi, or cooking the dumplings, is how Chinese describe crowded swimming pools, and these "jiaozi" are far from appetizing.

Chen visited a community swimming pool near his apartment on Huaihai Road M. and called it "a disaster." Dirty, noisy, crowded with people who don't follow the rules.

The 25-meter-long lanes are filled with residents who mostly just gather and stand around in the water to chat, or sit on the side and chat.

"The color of the water was so dark that I didn't dare jump in," Chen says.

He now uses his friend's membership card to swim in the pool attached to the friend's service apartment.

"I'm quite shocked at how difficult it is to find an appropriate public swimming pool," says Chen.

He is not the only one who has found it difficult, especially if people are not staying long enough to buy an annual membership, thus making individual visits rather costly.

Thirty-four-year-old Lisa Lou, who moved to Shanghai from San Francisco four years ago, has tried dozens of swimming pools near her apartment around People's Square.

She suggests that Chen go to Pudong "where facilities are more in line with what we are used to in the States."

"It is a surprise that many services, such as swimming, yoga, or a gym, are often more expensive in Shanghai if you go to the expatriate places," says Lou. She shouldn't be surprised that expats pay more, however.

"The city is just too crowded - you can only get into a neat and proper place if you are willing to pay for the exclusiveness," she says.

This Shanghai Daily reporter searched for swimming pools in Jing'an, Huangpu and Luwan districts, within an hour's transport from People's Square - and found Lou's comments partially true.

There are five kinds of pools - independent swimming pools, those attached to residential areas, those attached to schools, those belonging to gyms and those in hotels.

The independent swimming pools, such as the Shen Jianqiang Swimming Pool on Weihai Road, are often smaller and crowded with nearby residents almost all the time - it's summer vacation for students. No English service is provided and the showering facilities are often quite old.

The pools in residential areas and those in schools are usually further away, with similar old facilities and crowds.

The pools at gyms are cleaner, have better facilities, and many also provide English services. But they often require annual membership costing from 2,500 yuan (US$368) to more than 10,000 yuan, which include swimming and other gym services.

Few gyms provide swimming cards alone, and even fewer offer single swims.

Moreover, these four kinds of pools are usually not open to the general public during the daytime, as they are for members-only or rented by training schools.

For example, the one in the Jing'an Sports Center is only open after 3:30pm on weekdays. On weekends, it's open to everyone but it's like xia jiaozi.

The last type of pool, the ones in hotels, are simply too expensive since they are designed for hotel guests, not the public. The average price of using a five-star swimming pool is around 300 yuan per visit.

Some expats are annoyed by lack of swimming pool manners in the city's public pools. Although many pools have posted guidelines - such as don't block swimming lanes - few visitors follow them.

Others include requiring swimming caps, showers first and always swimming on the right side of the pool to avoid those swimming in the opposite direction.

"It has already got better and many people know they must wear swimming caps now, but it's simply too difficult to force everyone to follow the rules, there are just so many people," says an employee at the Jing'an Sports Center's swimming pool.

A few good pools

Shanghai Daily has found a few swimming pools at reasonable prices with a clean, tidy environment downtown, and one in Pudong.

Shanghai International Gymnastic Center

Address: 777 Wuyi Rd

Tel: 5108-3183, 5155-3770

Hours: 6:30am-9:30pm (not open for individuals at 8:30am-1pm, Monday-Friday and 6:30am-8:30am, Thursday-Saturday)

Cost: 30-40 yuan per session

Pudong Swimming Pool

Address: 1458 Zhangyang Rd

Tel: 5852-5881, 5885-7797

Hours: 7am-9:30pm

Cost: 30-35 yuan per session

Everbright International Hotel

Address: 4/F, Bldg A, 66 Caobao Rd

Tel: 6484-2500 ext 70192

Hours: 7am-11pm

Cost: 120 yuan (no time limit)

Donghu Hotel

Address: Bldg 7, 7 Donghu Rd

Tel: 6415-8158

Hours: 8am-10pm

Cost: 150 yuan (no time limit)

Jing'an Sports Center

Address: 151 Kangding Rd

Tel: 6272-7277, 6272-2791

Hours: 7am-9pm (not open for individuals before 3:30pm)

Cost: 30-40 yuan per session


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