food / travel

Swimming Pools, Supersized: Wave Of Chlorinated Caribbeans Sweeps The World

Thanks to new technology from a Chilean-based company, massive water playgrounds are popping up from Singapore to Santiago. Could it put an end to the eternal poolside v. seaside debate?

Pierre Bratschi

SANTIAGO – "Live next to a Caribbean beach all year round, anywhere in the world...." The Chilean company Crystal Lagoons has succeeded in making this long overused dream cliché into reality by finding a way to treat the water in swimming pools hundreds of meters in size.

The meteoric success of the holiday home complex built in 2007 around the "biggest swimming pool in the world" has prompted unparalleled excitement from property developers across the globe. The success of the complex is due in large part to Crystal Lagoons' place in the Guinness Book of World Records after opening the largest swimming pool in the world in San Alfonso del Mar, a small town along the Pacific coast rather lacking in charm about 100 kilometers from Santiago.

This record provoked an unimaginable media storm: Matias Goldsmith, commercial director at Crystal Lagoons, shows off some of the articles dedicated to the now famous swimming pool which measures 1000 meters by 100 meters. In the last five years, 180 projects have been surveyed or are currently underway in over 45 countries, including Spain, France and Romania, for a total investment of $110 billion.

The pools have a particular appeal back in the company's home country. Few coastlines in the world as frustrating as Chile's: the beaches are magnificent and the sun incredible, but the water is cold – really cold. The Humboldt Current stops the temperature from rising above 17 degrees Celsius (62 F), even at the height of summer.

"When I started about 10 years ago, everything was going badly," remembers Fernando Fischmann, creator of Crystal Lagoons. "The water in the pool would turn green and give off a nauseating smell. Complaints from owners accumulated and one by one, employees, colleagues and friends abandoned me."

A billion-dollar chemical conundrum

The Chilean entrepreneur was on his own and trying to solve a problem that experts all over the world believed was impossible: how to maintain a swimming pool three meters deep and with 10 hectares of surface area without having to use several lorries-worth of chlorine every day and without having to build a huge filtering system that uses a tremendous amount of energy. It took the Chilean biochemist five years to solve the conundrum, but finally the biggest pool in the world now had crystal-clear water.

Two years after that, in 2009, Chile named Fischmann ‘Entrepreneur of the Year'as his company experienced exponential growth with new offices in Dubai, the United States and Singapore, and the European branch to follow shortly. The success was such that he quickly patented his technology in 160 countries, and "rightly so" according to Bloomberg; the finance agency believes that by 2030 over 14,000 giant swimming pools could be built.

But what is so special about these swimming pools – so special that it has prompted this worldwide desire for beaches and coconut trees at home? "Our lagoons differ from normal swimming pools because of the water treatment system," explains Goldsmith. Sensors which measure the bacteria levels and the pH of the water are placed every 10 square meters throughout the swimming pool. In San Alfonso del Mar, for example, there are no less than 12,000 sensors placed around the circumference and on the base of the lagoon. These sensors control small nozzles that spray micro-injections of chlorine which disinfect the water, while the green, smelly algae is destroyed by an ultrasound system.

Result: The San Alfonso lagoon uses the same amount of chemical products and energy as a typical Olympic-sized swimming pool. In 2010, Crystal Lagoons was also awarded the UNESCO prize for Green Technology on the basis of the ecologically friendly and sustainable nature of the process.

"The water quality doesn't matter much," says Goldsmith happily, "it can be sea water, freshwater or brackish groundwater from the desert as is the case in Egypt, for example." Egypt is the location for the company's craziest project yet: 30,000 apartments and one 100-hectare swimming pool in the middle of the desert.

Back here in San Alfonso del Mar in the height of the high summer season, the lagoon is filled with happy bathers. The water is clear and calm, and 26 degrees Celsius. The beaches are shaded by real palm trees. The sand is white and doesn't stick to your skin. Nearby is another beach, where the water is rough and freezing, the sand yellow and sticky, and the people are more scarce than ever.

Read more from Le Temps in French

Photo - Crystal Lagoons

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

Debt Trap: Why South Korean Economics Explains Squid Game

Crunching the numbers of South Korea's personal and household debt offers a glimpse into what drives the win-or-die plot of the Netflix hit produced in the Asian country.

In the Netflix series, losers of the game face death

Yip Wing Sum


SEOUL — The South Korean series Squid Game has become the most viewed series on Netflix, watched by over 111 million viewers and counting. It has also generated a wave of debate online and off about its provocative message about contemporary life.

The plot follows the story of a desperate man in debt, who receives a mysterious invitation to play a game in which the contestants gamble their lives on six childhood games, with the winner awarded a prize of 45.6 billion won ($38 million)... while the losers face death.

It's a plot that many have noted is not quite as surreal as it sounds, a reflection of the reality of Korean society today mired in personal debt.

Seoul housing prices top London and New York

In the polished streets of downtown Seoul, one sees endless cards and coupons advertising loans scattered on the ground. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, as the demand for loans in South Korea has exploded, lax lending policies have led to a rapid increase in personal debt.

According to the South Korean Central Bank's "Monetary Credit Policy Report," household debt reached 105% of GDP in the first quarter of this year, equivalent to approximately $1.5 trillion at the end of March, with a major share tied up in home mortgages.

Average home loans are equivalent to 270% of annual income.

One reason behind the debts is the soaring housing prices. In Seoul, home to nearly half of the country's population, housing prices are now among the highest in the world. The price to income ratio (PIR), which weighs the average price of a home to the average annual household income, is 12.04 in Seoul, compared to 8.4 in San Francisco, 8.2 in London and 5.4 in New York.

According to the Korea Real Estate Commission, 42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s. For those in their 30s, the average amount borrowed is equivalent to 270% of their annual income.

Playing the stock market

At the same time, the South Korean stock market is booming. The increased demand to buy stocks has led to an increase in other loans such as credit. The ratio for Korean shareholders conducting credit financing, i.e. borrowing from securities companies to secure stock holdings, had reached 21.4 trillion won ($17.7 billion), further increasing the indebtedness of households.

A 30-year-old Seoul office worker who bought stocks through various forms of borrowing was interviewed by Reuters this year, and said he was "very foolish not to take advantage of the rebound."

In addition to his 100 million won ($84,000) overdraft account, he also took out a 100 million won loan against his house in Seoul, and a 50 million won stock pledge. All of these demands on the stock market have further exacerbated the problem of household debt.

42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s

Simon Shin/SOPA Images/ZUMA

Game of survival

In response to the accumulating financial risks, the Bank of Korea has restricted the release of loans and has announced its first interest rate hike in three years at the end of August.

But experts believe that even if banks cut loans or raise interest rates, those who need money will look for other ways to borrow, often turning to more costly institutions and mechanisms.

This all risks leading to what one can call a "debt trap," one loan piling on top of another. That brings us back to the plot of Squid Game, "Either you live or I do." South Korean society has turned into a game of survival.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!