Once, hanging out down on Shamian Island, and wanting to be, I dunno, somewhere less touristy, I saw Chairman Mao swimming across the Chang Jiang, or his old, slightly chubby and balding dog-paddling brother doing laps beside the embankment in the yellow soup of the Pearl River and cargo tugs leaving slippery rainbows of oil in the main channel. Either way, it was one of those supremely weird moments that I have to steadfastly convince myself actually happened.
And last year, there was lots of 100 year old black goo being dredged by rubber-wader clad midnight shift workers along the canals around town, and cleanness and river grasses and reeds sprouting along the bends. I would think that if it was all cleaned up and the air was not a viscous miasma, Guangzhou, the Banyan trees draping over the waterways, would be one beautiful city.
In Zürich hanging out in the Limmat in the evenings was almost unavoidable, though it was only a couple of decades ago that river was a toxic sludge dump too, I’m kinda tempted to throw on my bikini and do a couple of laps, but let’s just remember we’re planning on swimming in a river downstream from Shaoguan.
“We are going to initiate about 10,000 residents to join in the activity.”
Since the number of swimmers is so large, people will swim for only 20 minutes, and the whole activity will last 2 hours, according to Chen Zhongming, the director of Guangzhou’s Water Sports Centre.
From the late 1990s, reducing and controlling the environment pollution to Pearl River has become a key task of governments of provincial and municipal levels.
Guangzhou has 231 channels connecting with Pearl River, with a total length of 913 kilometres.
Local governments spent 9.5 billion yuan (US$1.17 billion) into reducing and controlling sewage discharge into the channels last year. Another 18 billion yuan (US$2.2 billion) will be added to the cost this year.
According to environmental guidelines, more than 90 per cent of the channels should be sewage-free by 2010.
“The last time I swam in the river was three decades ago,” Huang Zhenqiu, a retired government official in Guangzhou, said.