Maybe Kabul is nice this time of year?

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 17 November, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 17 November, 2001, 12:00am

It's a beautiful bright sunny afternoon as you walk down the street taking in the sights and sounds of your adopted home.

Suddenly, a large piece of concrete bounces off the top of your head.

You look up and see a workman waving at you from the scaffolding. He seems to want you to hand it back up to him. You frown, turn away, and promptly fall down a manhole.

Welcome to Guangzhou.

If you thought China was just across the border then you haven't read the latest Guangzhou Specifics report from Singapore-based Asian Relocation Management (ARM).

If you had read it, you wouldn't be blamed for thinking the mainland was a million miles away.

It's not that the relocation consultant has got anything wrong, it's just that its safety guide to a city less than a two-hour train ride from Hong Kong might have you thinking you were in Kabul.

In its 41-page tome on living in Guangzhou, ARM devotes a whole page to safety.

It contains the sort of advice that might leave expatriates asking their company for a transfer to Iraq instead.

According to the report, the onus on safety is the responsibility of the pedestrian.

So if a building falls on your foot, whoops, you should have looked where you were going.

Crossing the road - a function many of us could perform with our eyes closed - is comparable to traversing the Atlantic in a colander.

Not recommended.

'Personal concern while crossing the road is not something the Chinese here worry about,' says ARM.

'Whatever you learned at school about road safety . . . forget it.'

The company advises against looking left and right and suggests that, as an alternative, you watch the crowd.

'Cross with the crowd. The more people crossing means that cars and buses have to stop for you! Safety in numbers!'

Very helpful.

Unfortunately, it appears to be the case that dutifully treading the pavement and avoiding the roads carries its own set of risks.

'Be prepared to negotiate uneven walkways with loose pavements, half-protruding bolts buried in concrete and building metal sticking through cracks,' says ARM.

It says paths generally are cluttered with parked bikes, hawker stands, street vendors or just about anything you can imagine.

Skateboarding elephants?

War-zone urban planning aside, ARM insists that Guangzhou is quite a safe city for expatriates.

The company reassuringly informs that: 'Major civil disturbances are rare in Guangzhou.'

However, a small traffic accident can draw a large crowd and expatriate bystanders are warned not to draw attention to themselves by taking photographs or videos, says ARM.

Expatriates also should be warned that there is nothing more boring for friends and family than having to sit through hours of pictures and film of minor road accidents from large industrial Chinese cities.

Why anyone would even contemplate riding a bicycle given the dire warnings regarding road use is beyond us, but if you do, don't be too flash about it.

Bikes get nicked all the time so it's not worth spending too much money on one. Lai See suggests fitting stabilisers as a theft prevention device.

To thwart pick-pockets, carry a separate wallet without credit cards and put all your money in your pocket. Then just hope that the pick-pocket picks the fake wallet.

Finally, try not to wear big or valuable jewellery on the streets, especially gold chains and bracelets.

This has the advantage of not making you stand out as a member of the 14K triad gang and therefore you can avoid being bundled into the back of a police van every five minutes.