Mid-Tuesday afternoon, a young Chinese friend invited me to go to one of the beaches, Dai Mei Sha in Shenzhen, China. I knew the beach was at least two hours away and not like the beautiful beaches of my home country, Australia. I said no, then discovered it was a family outing including some family I had not met before, so I agreed to join them. For some strange reason I did not take my swimsuit though I took a small towel.
Everyone insists I must go swimming so “we’ll buy a swimsuit for you”. I laugh as I’m much bigger than the average Chinese and I find it difficult to even buy an ordinary t-shirt. I felt very sure I would not have to endure a swim. I was astonished when my friend’s mum finds one in my size as soon as we arrived at a small shop in their housing complex. I even had a choice of two colours. It was incredibly cheap so I was even more astonished to hear them bargain the price lower. The style of the swim suit is definitely not what I would wear on an Australian beach, but I was barely given a second look. It had a chic little skirt which was wonderful for covering the not so glamorous upper thighs. I was still not too sure it would really fit properly as we headed for the changing rooms at the beach. Outside there was a long queue of female bodies squeezing themselves either in or out of the building. There were four of us girls so at the first bend, next to a rubbish bin we all helped each other change into our swimsuits by holding up our towels, as others squeezed by. My new swimsuit fit perfectly.
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I never did get to see the inside of the changing rooms as when it came time to go home I refused to change. I pulled my t-shirt and shorts on over my nearly dry swimsuit much to the horror of the others.
“I will change and shower in comfort when I get home,” I told them.
“It’s not good for your health,” they told me.
“Too bad,” I laughed. Where do they get these strange ideas?
The ocean was devoid of waves, just a small one lapping at the edge. There were 10,000 people at the beach according to the big electronic display board. The count is made by people having to push a button to go in or out through the turnstile. However, not a lot of people were actually in the water. (Mental note to self: I must never visit the beach on the weekend.) A large percentage of Chinese cannot swim so the small designated swimming area was filled with very colorful blow-up rings with black heads bobbing around in them. There was a lifeguard lounging up in the viewing tower and another on a jet ski to stop people swimming in the undesignated area from venturing out too far. Amazing how courageous they are when attached to a blow-up ring. My friend was curious about who paid for the lifeguards and the cleaners as we had not been charged to enter the beach area. However, on public holidays they charge an entry fee. With upwards of 60,000 visitors on these days, they surely must make enough money to make it free during other times.
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For those not fully equipped, swimsuits are available for sale and blow-up rings and beach mats can be hired. For all those present, there are frequent public safety notices over a loud speaker in both Mandarin and English.
People arrived armed with bags of snack foods and drinks as, surprisingly, there were not a lot of food items available for sale. At dinner time, my friend’s sister went to the local McDonald’s for food and drinks for all of us much to my horror. I had to endure eating a cheeseburger.
As the sun went down the beach lights were turned on. As we were leaving at about 7:30pm, many people were still arriving armed with food and drink. Not a lot seemed to be equipped with swimming gear. As there were eight of us plus a six-month old baby, cars were hired to go to and from the beach. I was so pleased to return by car as there were huge crowds waiting at the bus stop.
When we arrived back at my friend’s family housing community I expected to get on a bus to go on home, but no, we were ushered straight into a restaurant! Most of us did not want to eat, but that fell on deaf ears as several dishes were ordered including a large plate of delicious fresh prawns.
I finally got on a very crowded bus to go home at 10pm. I shook my head with amazement. It was Tuesday; why were there so many people at the beach and why were there so many people on the bus at 10pm?
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