Sunday, October 16, 2011

Autumn Floods

I walked home from the bus-stop barefoot on Thursday night. Many people did. It is not something I ever expected to do in suburban China, with its reputation for filthy streets, but there you go.
It'd started raining in the afternoon. It wasn't heavy but rarely let up. Rain of course isn't a rarity here. Even though the summer steam has eased, autumn is still rather tropical. Rain is a big problem for public transportation too, as the taxis become difficult to catch and people clog the dry subways. Rain snarls up the traffic so buses also come less and less often.I take buses in general these days, which is cheap and generally comfortable. My bus eventually came and pleasantly I got a seat in which to observe the outside happenings. The bus goes through and underpass, which was a foot deep with water at the time. The bus, like a charging elephant, ran through the river with a groan.
Guangzhou is a river city. The beautiful, yet stinky, Pearl river halves it. There are also numerous branches and canals through the suburbs (my apartment looks over one such branch). Though river cities flood when the water level rises, I've never seen this happen in Guangzhou. Guangzhou floods because Guangzhou can't drain. Guangzhou's extensive network of canals and streams should facilitate its draining but through civic mismanagement it doesn't. The humour from last year was that the city government put a lot of money into modernising its underground drains in one area only to flood worse than the old system ever did.
Anyway, so I was on the bus overlooking the aquatic mayhem. To be honest it didn't look that bad. I got off my bus and put up my umbrella and walked to the edge of a block, which was cut off by a decent bank of water. The sight of a passer-by, or should that be a wader-through, gave me enough to gauge it was close to knee height in places. I went to the other end of the block. Again: water, water everywhere. I was on an island! Looking closely at the people who had resigned themselves to standing under eaves and in shops and banks you could tell that they too had sensed no other option. There were no taxis to catch. Buses on this side of the road would take you farther away and possibly to even deeper, less familiar waters, and not many people have friends with cars to call over to pick them up. So suddenly one has to think how much damage a walk in the drink will damage one's shoes and tailored pants. Or how long it will take for the flooding to ease. (If the did wait they'd be disappointed: it rained well through the night and even heavier than you could ever imagine.)
Then came the answer to me: a gentleman came onto our island, plastic bag with his shoes and pants rolled up, walking calmly by with his umbrella. If the notoriously dirtophobic locals aren't scared of walking through floodwater barefoot, I'm certainly not. So off came the shoes, up-rolled by pants (although the material of my pants always made them slowly unroll, requiring re- and re-rolls) and I set off home. It was a good feeling. Guangzhou rain is fairly warm so it was a comfortable splash; the road surface nicely massaged the bottoms of my feet; and unlike New Zealand, and let this be known as one of the advantages of Chinese streets in general, there was no glass (which is fortunate because I'd hate to think what was in the water).

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