Pearl River swim a Chinese baptism for expats

Updated: 2012-08-03 07:27

By Xu Jingxi (China Daily)

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Two foreign faces stood out among the group of swimmers who had just crossed the Pearl River on a hot Thursday afternoon in Guangzhou, Guangdong province.

Jorge Sanchez and Brian Timm-Brock from the US Consulate General in Guangzhou were the only two foreigners among the 2,100 participants in the annual swim across the Pearl River this year.

The event, founded in 2006, aims to strengthen local people's awareness about protecting the river, demonstrate the government's determination in improving the pollution and showcase its achievements in this area.

"The water was clear enough for me. I swallowed some water during the swim. It tasted better than salty seawater," said Sanchez, the agricultural trade officer at the consulate.

Pearl River swim a Chinese baptism for expats

Two foreign participants, Jorge Sanchez (left) and Brian Timm-Brock, pose for shutterbugs at Thursday's crossing of the Pearl River in Guangzhou. Zou Zhongpin / China Daily

Sanchez said he found the water quality of the Pearl River better than that of some rivers in Mexico and North China where he has swum. "There are not dirty things such as moss in the Pearl River but I could find it in Mexican rivers," said Sanchez.

"Abating water pollution requires efforts from cities in both upper and lower reaches and cooperation among different governmental departments," Sanchez said.

People from six cities in Guangdong province, Guangzhou, Foshan, Zhaoqing, Dongguan, Zhongshan and Qingyuan, took part in the event in Guangzhou on Thursday. The five cities share with Guangzhou the duty of keeping the tributaries of the Pearl River Delta clean.

Sanchez came to work in Guangzhou three years ago and his dream of participating in the swimming event finally came true this year.

"I'm 'tattooed' as a real Guangzhou resident now," said Sanchez.

"It's like one should climb up the Great Wall if he visits Beijing. Pearl River is an important part of culture here," he said.

The swimming fan could not think of similar swimming events in the US. "Americans just jump in a river individually to enjoy swimming when we want to, while Chinese tend to do things in groups," Sanchez said.

"But it's great that I could share the fun of swimming with so many local people. It makes me feel that I'm part of the city and its people.

"It's also a great honor for me to swim together with the mayor," Sanchez added.

Sanchez's colleague, consul Brian Timm-Brock, also felt closer to the city after the swim.

"I have walked along the Pearl River, and then took boat trips on it and now swam in it. I feel that I'm getting to know Guangzhou better," Timm-Brock said.

He was excited and moved when recalling the cheers from local supporters on the riverbank.

"I heard people shouting 'Come on, foreign friends' in Cantonese when I was swimming in the river. It was encouraging," said Timm-Brock, who said he was a little worried at the start of the race as the distance was longer than he had expected.

"I've got a great sense of accomplishment to have swum across the Pearl River. I'm looking forward to participating in the event again next year," he said.

Zhou Yongqiang, a local resident among the swimmers crossing the Pearl River on Thursday, said he welcomed foreigners to take part in the event.

"Long ago Guangzhou was known the world over as a trading port. Now the swimming event can promote the city's water culture to foreigners and display the improvement in the river's water quality to them," the 49-year-old said.

Zhou recalled his childhood memories of swimming together with fish and shrimps in the clear water of Pearl River's creeks.

"The water today is not as clear as what it was when I was 7 years old. But it's much better than what it was 10 years ago," said Zhou, who has been living in a riverside apartment by the Pearl River for the past decade.

"I often saw a lot of duckweed and rubbish in the river 10 years ago. I even once saw a wrecking crew pull out a sofa from the river," Zhou recalled.

"But now, the water is clear. I am able to see things about three meters below when I am in the water."