Reporters on the Job

Pearl River Ride: For the past four years, correspondent Simon Montlake has lived in Bangkok, a city that has been cited as congested and with poor air quality. But in comparison to Guangzhou, China, he says, it's almost clean. "I didn't see blue sky once during my two week visit to Guangzhou.

During his reporting on the attitudes of city residents, he spoke to a couple of guys flying kites on the banks of the polluted Pearl River. Simon spied a ferry boat plying the river. "I asked my interpreter where the boat went, and she told me it stopped just two blocks from my hotel. I had arrived by taxi, and it had been a slow, slog through the city. I suggested that would be a good way to return. But she seemed surprised. I got on the boat - I was the only foreigner on board - and the whole trip cost less than 10 cents.

"I think my interpreter's surprise was over my choice of an 'old form' of transport when the city has spent all this money on new highways, a new subway, etc. The ferry was pretty beat up, and the river is still grimy."

But there is a clean-up plan. The city is two years into an eight-year program. The first phase of the plan calls for the river to achieve a certain standard of sanitation. But when Simon asked to see the exact wording of the first-phase target, he expected to see some scientific sanitation measurements. "It says to make the river 'not black and smelly,' " he noted.

An admirable first goal.

David Clark Scott
World editor

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