Saturday, 28 June 2014

On The Beach...

I cannot sleep. Beneath the usual protest noises about the recent visit of a PRC official, I found this ridiculous little story in Saturday's edition of the Taipei Times...
"In view of repeated incidents involving swimmers who ignored warning signs erected in the Kenting National Park of adverse sea conditions, park authorities said they have decided to slap fines of NT$3,000 on violators, effective yesterday."
The first thing is that people's lives do not belong to the "authorities"; it follows from that starting point that the assumption of risk in swimming at sea is up to the person involved, even when they may have miscalculated.

The second thing is the logic. If someone is prepared to put their life in immanent danger, then why do the "authorities" supposedly think that they will be deterred by a small fine? Of course it may be that what is happening here is mere arse-covering, in the event of swimmers drowning. The only appropriate response to that is the first point above: the government has no responsibility to these people - they carry such risks under their own powers.
"It said that if the waves are 1m high, it will set warning red flags to ban swimming, adding that if the waves are 1.5m high, it will ban diving."
I have myself swam in the seas around Taiwan's beaches countless times, and I know from experience that the thing to be concerned with is not so much the height of the waves but their frequency (although the two often co-occur). Waves of a meter or two never bothered me one bit since I merely swam under them, but it was only on the one or two occasions when the waves followed each other in such a rapid succession as to nearly prevent surfacing for air that I ever got into difficulties. Fortunately I'm a strong swimmer and on both occasions I was able to fight my way back to shore. However, there have been many times when I have enjoyed swimming beneath waves of a meter or two, in order to get out to the calmer waters around the oyster floats. The height of the waves per se never gave me a problem.

Curiously, the story ends with this little remark...
"On the first day of the new rule yesterday, it was a beautiful, sunny day in Kenting and there were many swimmers, but no warning signs on the beach."
Notice that it does not say how high the waves were, which is the criterion for the red flags. Were the waves over the stipulated height or were they not? The article doesn't say. It is as if the staff writer, and perhaps the editor of the Taipei Times, are admitting that their real motive is not safety, but merely the exercise of control over other people's lives.

Swimming in the sea, and the assumption of risk this activity entails, can be a great and memorable experience of irreplaceable aesthetic value. I don't go swimming in the sea much these days, largely due to other interests and time constraints (although I did take Wanwan to the beach earlier this week), but if and when I go again in the future I will do as I always did and judge the conditions for myself before deciding whether or not to swim. That judgement is something I will not submit to the discretion of control-freaks, whether they be dressed in the presumption of "authority" or otherwise.

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