Taking the plunge at Guangzhou’s bungee zonePosted: 05/11/2013 10:10 am
You can’t be brave unless you’re truly afraid, they say. But up on Baiyun Mountain, on the small ledge above a gaping pit of otherwise comforting greenery, they don’t wait for fear to kick in. One push and you’re in mid-air, nothing more than a stick figure kicking and screaming against the far-away city landscape.
“A small step here, a big step in your life,” the crane reads in bold Chinese characters. Five seconds later, you’re a changed person, they say.
“It’s nothing,” laughs a girl just released from the chords’ grips, still shaking.
Her boyfriend, who had followed her in her dive, turns around and explains: “It’s actually just like a horror film, when the monster jumps unexpectedly. That’s only for the first second, before you let go. After that, you just float.”
Bungee jumping is Guangzhou’s most thrilling and popular extreme sport. An endless string of down-to-earth looking clients line up for a taste of this life-changing, earth-shaking experience, just like the 70,000 others before them. Although a baby-drop of only 45 feet, the tower jump will send you down at 50km/h.
The thick blue chord unravels, stretches and bounces again and again under the gasps of the impatient onlookers. It is easy to see why this is the is the most influential and the most frequented bungee jumping site out of a total of 30 in China.
“I jumped hundreds of times,” says Li Gang, the manager of Baiyun Mountain Bungee Jumping Center. “However, this is now my job. My primary concern is the absolute safety of our clients, who have different requirements all the time.”
“Some clients complain the drop isn’t high enough, or that the rope isn’t long enough,” he says.
A versed air-diver, Li has tried them all. He jumped from the Beijing Tower, 60 feet above the ground, which is the average height for bungee jumps throughout China. The other one, a 70 foot drop that can be found in Fujian, is “not so safe”, he says. I’ll take his word for it.
The business on Baiyun Mountain, part of the Santer Extreme Sports Center, started seven years ago. Their project is more attractive than gravity: they manage to draw in about 10,000 thrill-seekers per year, most of them during the afternoon and on weekends.
“We are getting more and more popular, but this is mainly due to our prices,” Lee explains.
“The price stayed the same since we first started seven years ago, when 150RMB used to be a lot of money. Nowadays, 18 and 19-year olds are born into rich families while the economy is looking good. They are searching for thrills as well as a form of release.”
In Guangzhou, the sky-drop at the Canton Tower is the only alternative that comes close to this blood-pumping jump. However, it poses no competition. Unlike in other parts of the world, the tower cannot install a bungee jumping platform due to technical difficulties.
Government opposition is another show-stopper. The establishment’s distrust of extreme sports and the threats they allegedly pose makes it hard for such activities and companies to thrive. Extreme sports receive no government funding and policies are re-issued all the time in an attempt to make the business plunge financially.
At the moment, safety regulations impose a monthly check on their equipment and permit. The Baiyun Mountain Center is out of danger however, since the staff operates within internationally approved standards for double insurance.
Meanwhile, as the platform closes an hour later than expected, due to high demand, hoards of enthralled jumpers collect their symbolic diplomas confirming their courage. Are they any different to who they were before? I don’t know. However, I’m sure the one-minute long suspension has been the highlight of their day.