28-Oct-2001 -- (This story continues on from our account of confluence
24º north, 112º east).
SATURDAY 27 OCTOBER 2001
As we were walking the short distance back to the main highway to look for some transport back to Huaijixian, an unmarked, late-model sedan drove by. Targ half-heartedly waved it down, not really expecting it to stop. But to our surprise, it did! There were two well-dressed gentlemen in the car, and they urged us to get in the back seat. It turned out that they were also heading back to Huaijixian, and so they kindly drove us the whole distance.
Conversation was well nigh impossible though, because, for the entire journey, we were subjected to truly ear-splitting disco music, belting out of the back speakers, just inches from our ears. During one of the merciful lulls between tracks, the driver, who was obviously the dominant one and called all the shots, indicated he'd already planned our evening's entertainment, which included checking into the same hotel where they were staying, and us all going to the disco together. Apparently, to be seen in these parts with two foreigners, no matter how bedraggled looking, was quite a feather in one's cap. But we were having none of their plans, and politely declined their generous offer, asking instead if they wouldn't mind dropping us off at the main bus station in Huaijixian, which thankfully they did without too much further protest. Safely out of their clutches, we found that the bus station offered an abundance of luxury buses heading to the provincial capital, Guangzhou. We jumped on the first available one, which was due to depart at 5:20 p.m. Having already completed two confluences that day, and five altogether since Thursday morning, Targ was starting to feel rather "confluenced out," and thoughts of getting back home seemed quite appealing.
After all, we had started this trip with what we believed to be a fairly ambitious plan to visit four confluences in four days, and we'd already visited five confluences in three days. However, at Tony's urging, Targ studied the map, and discovered that there was another confluence "on the way," which looked quite easily accessible, situated next to a main road in a relatively built up area just outside Foshan. So, after a three-hour journey, we disembarked from our luxury bus just on the outskirts of Guangzhou, about 17 kilometres from the confluence. It was now around 8:30 p.m., and we had not eaten anything all day, save the wonton soup we'd had for breakfast, and what little fruit Tony had had time to grab at the bus station in Huaijixian before our bus departed. Needless to say, we were famished, so the first order of priority upon alighting was to find food. This proved to be no problem, because there were plenty of eating establishments near where the bus had deposited us. We settled on a large restaurant where we could sit outside, and be served by an army of pretty young girls. Among other dishes, we ordered dog stew, to complement the cat stew we'd had the night before. In contrast to the cat, the dog had a lot more meat on it, although it was not as tasty as the cat. One of the waitresses was very short, even by southern Chinese standards, and when standing next to two-metre-tall Tony, made quite an amusing contrast. She was exceedingly helpful, and when we'd finished dinner, she took us to the hotel just around the corner, where she successfully negotiated on our behalf a discounted rate of 160 yuan (US$20) for a double room. Then she took Tony off to the local department store, so he could look for some last-minute bargains before our return home. While Tony was shopping, Targ went in search of a hairdresser for a hair wash and blow-dry, followed by a full-body massage. There was no shortage of hairdressers in the vicinity, so he patronized one for the hair wash, and another for the massage.
SUNDAY 28 OCTOBER 2001
We got up early the next morning, and checked out at 6:30 a.m. We took a taxi to the confluence, which was located 17 kilometres to the southwest, in a suburb of Foshan known as Nanzhuang. The taxi made good time on the freeway, although the journey set us back 75 yuan (US$9). The confluence was only a stone's throw from the side of the road, in the centre of one of several fish-farming ponds. Fortunately for us, this particular pond had recently been drained, allowing access to the exact point of the confluence. The bottom of the pond consisted of a thick layer of cracking, drying mud, composed no doubt of a large proportion of fish faeces, judging by the smell! With Tony's now famous tendency to fall over and/or sink into things, he wisely elected to wait on the bank of the pond, while Targ traversed the final few dozen metres to ground zero.
Tony's decision was probably a pretty wise one, because the mud proved to be very spongy underfoot. Targ gingerly made his way across, aided in large part by his wide-track thongs, designed for walking on sandy Australian beaches. The GPS guided Targ to the right spot, the routine photos were taken, then we headed back to the road, our sixth confluence conquered. It was just 7 a.m., and we realized that it was exactly 72 hours since we'd been at our first confluence on Thursday morning.
Six confluences in 72 hours! It felt like a lot longer than that though; we'd covered so much territory and had so many adventures along the way. We walked back along the road until a local commuter bus came past. We didn't know where it was going, but we hopped on anyway, and paid our 3 yuan (US$0.37) fares. The bus's final destination turned out to be a fairly major bus station at Xiqiao. Tony suggested returning to Hong Kong via Macau, where we could enjoy a nice Portuguese lunch at Fernando's Restaurant. He even rang his wife to see if she could meet us there for lunch, but unfortunately she had already made other plans. Targ bought tickets for a bus going to Zhuhai, from where we could cross the border to Macau, but then Tony, who had been carefully studying the large bus timetable on the wall, discovered a direct cross-border bus back to Hong Kong. Who would have thought that this last confluence we'd just visited was only two bus rides from home? The lure of an easy and early return home was simply too great, so Targ successfully negotiated an exchange of tickets from the Zhuhai bus to the Hong Kong bus.
According to the timetable on the wall, the Hong Kong bus was supposed to leave at 9:05 a.m., but the ticket seller informed us that the departure time was in fact 8:35 a.m. This left us just half an hour to enjoy a hasty but well-earned breakfast, the last meal of our epic journey.
PERSONAL NOTE FROM TARG
I want to say a big "thank you" to Tony for discovering the www.confluence.org Web site, for coming up with the idea of this expedition, and most of all, for inviting me to accompany him on it. Although Tony and I are colleagues, we are located on different floors of our office building, so this trip was a wonderful way for us to get to know each other better, and to help foster and cement an excellent working relationship. I had a thoroughly enjoyable time, and I am very much looking forward to another round of confluence hunting in the not too distant future. And finally, for anyone reading this account who has not yet tried their hand at tracking down these obscure points on our planet's surface, I wholeheartedly recommend it!
PERSONAL NOTE FROM TONY
I have always enjoyed travelling around to parts unknown. Many of my friends know of "Tony's bus game" and "Tony's boat game." Confluence hunting is one activity that gives my quests a direction.
If you are going to be hunting in China, expect the unexpected, and brush up on your language skills. Although I could have done these confluences without Targ (and his Putonghua skills), it would have been infinitely more difficult, and not as much fun. Thanks Targ for the pointers, interesting cuisine, and the conversation. Looking forward to a few more in the remote parts of China.