Chinese swimmers brave the ice for good health

HARBIN, China (Reuters Life!) - It may be several degrees below zero and there may be a thick layer of ice on the water, but for some hardy souls in the frigid northern Chinese city of Harbin, it’s all in a day’s swim.

With temperatures plunging to minus 35 degree Celsius ( minus 31 Fahrenheit) on some days, even thinking about winter is enough to make the average citizen shiver.

But the weather is not enough to put off people like 47-year-old Sun Jianping.

“Winter swimming is a very tough sport. You have to have super strong will to finish the course,” he told Reuters Television.

Harbin, the capital of Heilongjiang province, sits on the edge of Siberia, and is perhaps best known for its annual ice festival.

For some tourists, part of the fun in coming to see the magnificent ice carvings is going to watch the ice swimmers too.

Almost every day, a group of swimmers, many of them senior citizens, gather to take brisk swim in the icy waters of the Songhua River and are cheered on by tourists.

Wang Haibo from the much warmer eastern province of Jiangsu said he was amazed at the sight.

“They swim in such chilly weather, I really admire them. Look at us, wearing so many clothes, we still feel cold. They are very brave to jump into the river. I really admire that,” said Wang.

But winter swimmers say the sport is more than just winning cheers and applause.

“It is a great test for my willpower, and I feel very happy after winter swimming, and my health improves after it. I have not caught a cold for a long time,” said 54-year-old Yang Fugui.

Harbin is not the only city in China where ice swimming is popular. Beijing also has a dedicated band of ice swimmers.

Reporting by Vivi Lin; Writing by Ben Blanchard, editing by Miral Fahmy