Spend an afternoon in the idyllic enclave of Houhai and you're bound to catch some of the die-hard fitness fanatics making waves in the lake with their daily swimming ritual. This brave (and remarkably trim) bunch take the plunge regardless of season or temperature, and are as much a part of Houhai's unique charm as its mallards or serene willow trees.
We caught up with one of the swimmers, sexagenarian retiree Mr. Wang, to get the details on what being a Houhai swimmer really means.
What do you do when you come here?
I come from 10am to 1pm every day, cycling in from Wudaokou which takes me 40 minutes each way.
I swim for a few minutes in the lake and afterwards go for a jog and kick jianzi [Chinese hacky sack] with other swimmers, often competing in groups.
What are the benefits of swimming in the freezing lake water?
I had lots of illnesses when I started five years ago, including high blood pressure and coronary heart disease; I was also very heavy – weighing around 100kg.
Now all these problems have disappeared and my waist has shrunk. I used to struggle with even running 100 metres, and now I can easily handle a 5k.
How hard is it to jump in?
It’s cold, but it feels absolutely amazing coming out of the water. And the atmosphere with other swimmers is great and worth it all. It’s especially exciting when it snows and we all plunge in the water and tourists come to have taken their pictures with us.
How does someone get into swimming here?
You can't just start swimming in winter – you start in the summer and come every day so you acclimatise to the change in temperature.
We welcome new people and all come here for our health, but it's not a formal organisation.