(Reproduced from Lokation 105, January 1996.)
Advertised as the "first multi-day international event hosted by the Chinese Orienteering Committee" this event proved just too convenient to miss for many of those attending APOC in Hong Kong.
It was a short train, bus or plane journey from Hong Kong for most to get to the luxury hotel accommodation in Guangzhou. For Helen Teece and me it was a slightly longer train journey (starting from London and taking in the Channel Tunnel, Moscow, Ulan Bator and Beijing, and taking twelve days).
By whatever route, around 200 competitors, including 11 Brits, finally arrived in Guangzhou (perhaps better known as Canton) to attend the opening banquet on the Friday evening. Ex-Lokkies Miriam and David Rosen and Mike Hampton were amongst the competitors. Several high-ranking Chinese military gentlemen were amongst those attending the banquet. Or rather they attended for the speeches and then left before the food arrived.
This banquet turned out to be the first day, leaving just two days of competition: a short race on the Saturday and a classic race on the Sunday. All competitors were transported to each event in the official convoy of five coaches, complete with police escort and flashing lights. This was necessary to ensure we got through the notorious Guangzhou traffic jams. Both events took place about 30 minutes north east of Guangzhou.
The terrain was mainly gently contoured hills with an extensive path network. The vegetation was predominantly orange orchard, with patches of pineapple and banana: an interesting fruit salad if nothing else. Runnability in the orchards was reasonable, but many of the hills were covered in knee-deep rough vegetation, hiding old terraces. This made for slow going. The two maps themselves stuck fairly closely to IOF standards. They were both at 1:10,000 with 5 metre contours. Several paths were missing, and some of the mapped power lines were in the wrong place. The biggest problem concerned the mapping of boulders. The triangular "boulder cluster" symbol was used to denote areas of boulders. Unfortunately these areas were often tens of metres across, and thus needed the boulder field symbol instead. After a while you got used to crossing boulder fields when the map showed just a single triangle in the middle of the area.
Course planning was reasonable given the limitations of the area. Many people came back feeling that their course couldn't possibly have been as long as stated, and so it turned out. After measuring several courses we discovered that they were all only two thirds of the stated distance. Two suggested reasons were that the given distances were "optimum route", or that the planner had assumed the map was 1:15,000. Some of the controls proved to be a little difficult to locate. "Path, north side" turned out to be around 10 metres north of the path, thus making it invisible if you were on the path. A bigger problem turned out to be the last control for many people on day 2. This was a vegetation boundary shown as 50 metres south of a power line. Many people lost significant time here until they realised that the control was actually under the power line. One local technique for control location was to watch out for the soldier guarding each flag. Apparently this was to deter vandalism, which had been a problem at previous events.
I finished the first day and staggered back to the British camp to announce the achievement of a personal goal: I had now orienteered on five continents. I was somewhat deflated when Mike Hampton realised that he too had now collected a set of five. We compared lists, and I discovered he'd run in more countries than me as well. That afternoon we were treated to a sightseeing tour of Guangzhou, followed by a meal out in a restaurant, and finally a night cruise down the Pearl river. This demonstrated just how much money has been invested in the city, with skyscrapers everywhere, many complete with bright Christmas lights. Unfortunately several people missed the meal, because the organisers failed to tell anyone that it was going to happen.
The final prizegiving and banquet on the Sunday night saw eight of the eleven Brits take away prizes. These consisted of tea sets and ornamental vases, all in presentation cases. The British camp then proceeded to swap prizes to get rid of duplicates and to make carrying off the loot easier.
So was it worth it? Undoubtedly yes, as long as you didn't go for the quality of the orienteering. It's a fascinating country, and there's no better way to see the real countryside than at an event like this. How many other tourists have run through rural villages, with the local populace looking on in amazement? China has been awarded APOC 1998, which they intend to organise near Beijing. Sounds like an ideal excuse to visit China if you've ever thought about going.