02-Feb-2003 -- Prologue:
This is the last of a series of six Confluence Points (beginning with 31°N 111°E) visited by Targ Parsons,
Richard Jones and Peter Snow Cao (scribe) between January 26 and February 2 during Spring
Festival 2003. We wished to make this journey to document the confluences before the
filling of the Three Gorges Dam Project, due to begin in mid-2003.
Impetus: Targ had read the book, River
Town: Two Years on the Yangtze by Peter Hessler,
several months before and decided he would see the Yangtze River area before the Three Gorges Dam fills while
attempting to visit several confluences. This book describes the life of an English
teacher living in Fuling, Sichuan in the late 90’s.
Dedication: In honor of my charming wife, Xiaorong, for her patience and
understanding, support and unending love, I have dedicated these stories to her.
On February 1, 2003, Chinese New Year’s Day, Targ Parsons, Richard Jones and
myself, Peter Snow Cao arrived in Chongqing. With our mission of five confluence points
(CP) completed along the Yangtze River, we were feeling pretty good. Targ and Richard had
some time before their flight back to Hong Kong and decided they would add a sixth
"bonus" confluence point. The trick would be to get as close as possible today,
with a relatively short time. I had thought returning to Chengdu today, but the thought of
another experience in finding another confluence with Targ and Richard was too good to
resist. I would return to Chengdu 12 hours later on February 2, instead.
Arriving in Chongqing at 4 PM we knew we had to move fast to get closer to our
destination before our transportation options dried up. Targ thought we should head to
Jiangjin, a town on the Yangtze about 80 km from Chongqing. Chongqing is a big city, with
the entire municipality having 30 million people. At the bus station we asked for buses to
Jiangjin but had to go to a different bus station. We jumped in a taxi again and speed
across town. Arriving we rushed to the ticket counters and got a bus to Jiangjin leaving
in 15 minutes.
It was big luxury bus that has the benefit of having no smoking allowed inside. There
was a VCD machine and the driver had his own small screen to watch, which was a bit
disconcerting. Everything was going great as we cruised along the highway. Suddenly, there
was strong fuel smell, and the driver stopped to take a look. He returned with a very
worried look on his face and began driving as quickly as he could. The smell continued to
get stronger and stronger. Several people were getting sick on the fumes and I got a huge
headache. The passengers were complaining, but the driver just said we would stop in a few
minutes when we got off the expressway.
Immediately after the tollgate he stopped and everyone bailed out. At the back of the
bus from the engine compartment was a gushing of fuel spraying out all over. The men came
over to take a look while lighting cigarettes. Targ motioned for them to stay back. The
driver turned off the engine and then went to work to fix the problem, a broken fuel line.
In 20 minutes, the repairs were done and we continued on our way to Jiangjin, but the
strong fuel smell persisted. Once in Jiangjin, we felt released from the fuel fumes able
to breathe again.
We had arrived after the last bus to our next destination left, so we found a hotel in
the same building as the bus station so we could get an early start the next day to find
29°N 106°E. Then we went to eat
at a nice restaurant near the river. Afterwards, Targ went to get his hair washed and
dried, while Richard and I went for a walk around town. All the action appeared to be down
on the riverbank with a fireworks display. We went to get a closer look and found that it
wasn’t anything organized, but rather only individuals purchasing fireworks and
setting them off in a controlled area near the water. I had an idea to celebrate our last
confluence point of this trip with some fireworks, but this entailed getting them out of
the bank area. There were about 10 uniformed police manning the exit point from the
fireworks area, apparently watching for people taking out fireworks. So I put the rather
large roll under my jacket and hoped no one would notice.
Stays in Chinese hotels are rarely without incident, and tonight was no exception.
While I was working on the CP report for 30°N 107°E, Richard and Targ were doing there best to sleep. About 12:45 AM
there was a commotion in the hallway with a lot of people. Suddenly, our room door burst
open and a hotel attendant ran into the our room and screamed, "There are people in
here!" She then ran out and slammed the door.
That night I stayed up late as usual preparing the CP report for the previous day,
while Targ and Richard sawed some logs. Targ had good reason to hit the hay early. He
wanted to be up at 5:30 so he could be at the ticket window when it opened at 6 AM and buy
tickets to Baisha on the 7 AM bus. He was concerned that there would be a crowd of people
wanting to get on the bus because the next one didn’t leave until 2 PM.
February 2, 2003
At 5:50 AM he was out the door, but returned about 20 minutes later with a disgusted
look on his face. The ticket sellers wouldn’t sell a ticket until the bus showed up.
They told him to come back in 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, Richard and I were getting ready for our breakfast in bed, as was promised
the night before. I took a shower and Richard made his "kick-in-the-butt"
morning coffee and continued reading the book River Town. He has been reading the
book since the start of our trip, and been raving about it the entire time. I am going to
order the book as soon as I get back to my home in Chengdu.
Breakfast never showed up, so at 6:45 I went down to settle up the bill. I asked about
breakfast and they replied with a lame excuse that they didn’t get prepared.
Considering we only paid 98 RMB (about 12 dollars) for the three-bed room, I wasn’t
surprised or angry.
Richard and I went to find Targ and found him in the Number 1 shotgun position on the
bus where he could chat with the driver and not be crowded with other passengers. He could
also place his GPS on the dashboard and read the maps.. His concern that there would be
crowd on people on the bus was unfounded. There was only one other passenger at this early
hour before dawn. Richard took the second shotgun position in tandem with Targ while I
took the seat behind the driver’s seat.
At 7 AM on the nose, the driver and his ticket seller arrived. The driver looked like
Mad Magazine’s Alfred E. Neuman while the woman ticket seller was a live wire Sichuan
cutie Richard nicknamed, Sparkplug.
We took off and were slowly heading out of town picking up a few passengers as we went.
Suddenly the headlights flashed bright and then went out. The bus had blown a fuse, and
Sparkplug was about to as well. She berated Alfred up one side and down the other for not
buying fuses. She said the only cost a few fen. Alfred did his best with what he had, and
made a make shift fuse by wrapping wire in the shape of a fuse. Despite his efforts, the
headlights remained dark and we were only able to light up a single parking light on the
right side of the bus. With this, we continued gingerly on our way. Fortunately it was
getting light as dawn was approaching.
After an hour the bus stopped for breakfast (for Alfred and Sparkplug). They said the
rest of the passengers could eat as well. Richard and I had a great bowl of noodles. When
the driver was halfway through with his noodles, Sparkplug announced we were leaving and
told us to get on the bus. Richard hadn’t finished so I told him that he didn’t
have to finish until the driver did. But then the driver inhaled the rest of his noodles
and the other passengers took their bowls of noodles with them on the bus.
About 10 AM we arrived at the conjunction where we had to transfer buses. We were 3.5
km from the confluence, but Targ said the map showed it was eight km of road to get there.
We were still in the hilly area of rice terraces and bamboo. Targ inquired as to when the
next bus would arrive and they said within an hour. Targ joked he should order some
instant noodles soon - it would come right away. I decided to have some too. Well, it worked
like a charm because and as soon as they were ready to eat the bus arrived. I got two
mouthfuls before having to abandon them on the side of the road.
This was a smaller bus and very crowded. At first the ticket seller didn’t want to
let us on, but we insisted. I told Richard there is no such thing as a full bus. Along the
way, we passed a police car going the other way and the attendant said for Richard to put
down his elbow as if that would make a difference as to whether they would stop the bus on
safety violations. They didn’t.
All three of us were precariously balanced standing on the packed bus with our backpacks
on, holding on to the overhead rail and trying to place our GPSs next to the window so we
could get a reading. Richard had one eye on the GPS and the other on the road. When the
distance to the CP dropped to less than one km, Richard spotted a side road branching off
and said that looks like what we ought to take. We jumped off the bus, and had a short
discussion on whether we should stick to the main road, which was also curving in the
direction of the CP. Richard maintained that his hunch on the side road was right, and
after his success at the last CP (30°N 107°E) we dared not argue with him.
The road was freshly covered in large chucks of crushed rock with a thin coating of
soil. The precipitation had wetted everything to a slick mud, exasperated by the high clay
content in the soil. Consequently, the bottoms our shoes were quickly covered in with gobs
of clods, which later spread to our pants. The weather was light mist and fog, but
visibility was still pretty good at about 500 meters.
Richard’s call on the road was looking better and better. Whenever the needle of
the compass started to turn toward the CP, so did the road. This was a rural farming area,
and many of the fields were flooded. We hoped that the CP wouldn’t be in the middle
of one of those.
There were a few people about, but unlike yesterday, they were not so curious as to
where we were going. As the distance to the CP continued to drop we started to pick the
pace. At 150 meters to ago, a farmhouse appeared to be in the vicinity. The compass needle
swung to the right, and so did the road. Targ rushed ahead and then gushed, "I got
the Confluence Point right in the middle of the road." Richard’s did the same
after his GPS had some time to adjust. As usual, mine zeroed about two meters away, at the
side of the road on the edge of a terrace.
Targ quickly got his GPS photo and then the photos of the four directions. Richard and
I were a bit slower, but finally got it done. Richard and I pulled out our pyrotechnic
packages to celebrate the successful visitation of six confluences. Richard brought a
meter-long package of firecrackers while mine was a three-kilogram roll of fireworks often
used at weddings. As I was preparing it for ignition, Richard lit his and threw them at my
feet. It surprised me to the point of almost losing my balance and going over the edge of
the terrace into the rice paddy. After his died down, I got mine hung up in a nearby tree.
It was a string of firecrackers of various sizes that stretched about 1.5 meters and ended
in at a grapefruit-sized "bomb" at the top. There was not fuse to speak of so I
just lit the bottom of the string and jumped back as the fuses ignited the firecrackers in
rapid, machine-gun staccato. I held my ears and jumped back, almost tripping over the
rocks in the road. In less than 30 seconds the explosions were completed and all that
remained were a dusting of red paper and a cloud of smoke. Two children from a nearby
farmhouse walked by and smiled at our fun and games.
We then walked back to the road, pleased with ourselves at the completion of another
successful confluence hunt. We were six out of six, and out of time. As we approached the
main road a bus rounded the bend and we flagged it down. This one was really packed, with
babies everywhere. We were crammed into a tiny area near the door where the ticket seller
was doing her best to get us to pay as much as possible. I told her I was going to the
next intersection and that I had just paid three RMB to get where I was picked up and that
I wasn’t going to pay any more. If they didn’t like it, I would walk.
This was to be our last bus ride together on this trip. I had checked the map and it
appeared to make more sense for me to continue west to Hezhou in Sichuan rather than
return to Chongqing where Richard and Targ were headed to catch there flight to Shenzhen
on February 3rd. At the intersection, we bid a hasty goodbye and I exited the
Looking at the map, getting back to Chengdu from there seemed to be pretty easy.
However, transport in that direction was few and far between. After about 45 minutes a bus
appeared and stopped to let several people off, but the ticket seller wouldn’t let
any of the three people waiting get on. The bus was approaching the border with Sichuan,
and I guessed that there must be a bus checkpoint. After another 15 minutes a sleeper bus
appeared and stopped to let one person off. The three of us stormed the door, but the
ticket seller didn’t want to let us on. The woman and her daughter were clawing at
the door, while I told the driver I was headed for Hejiang, the destination of the bus. I
forced myself onto the bus and the ticket seller slammed the door so the other two
couldn’t get on.
I have taken a few sleeper buses in my time, and the experience has never left feeling
like I wanted to do it again. This particular bus was set up with three columns of double
bunks meaning that everyone slept on their own. Sometimes there are double-bed sleeper
buses, which always seems a bit too cozy for me. I squeezed myself down the narrow aisle
to the back of the bus and had to rearrange the luggage so I could occupy bed number 34 on
the top bunk. I had a window bunk so I was pretty satisfied. Also, the bus started from
some destination ages ago so the overpowering smell from 34 people simultaneously removing
their shoes that usually accompanies the bus had long since dissipated. The road to Hezhou
was a single lane mud track across the hills. The bus got stuck momentarily several times
on the way.
Once in Hezhou, it was a walk across a condemned bridge that was too weak for vehicles,
to another bus heading to Luzhou. This bus had only three people on it, always a bad sign
since the bus operators are independent and only make money from the passengers. The more
passengers, the better. I thought it might be a long time before I got going, so I got up
to leave for another bus, but the driver said we would go soon. He and his ticket seller
were having some major problems. He may have been training her to do the job and he was
very angry about her performance. All during the hour and half trip, he insulted her and
criticized everything she did. She took it all without saying a word. If it had been me I
would have told him to stick that gear shift where the sun doesn’t shine and quit.
Arriving in Luzhou I was able to buy a ticket on a luxury bus to Chengdu that left in
ten minutes. I drew a bit of attention with my very muddy shoes and pants, while the rest
of the passengers where dressed in their best clothes. I was able to call my lovely wife
on my cell phone. It was working now that I was back in Sichuan. During the beginning part
of the trip I couldn’t get a signal, even though it is supposed to be a country-wide
number. Three hours later, I met my sweet wife at the long-distance bus station. She was a
sight for sore eyes dressed in red and looking terrific. We drove home, where I was able
to show her the photos taken on the trip with my new digital camera.
We christened this the Middle of the Meandering Muddy Road Confluence Point.
I would like to thank Targ for organizing this trip and inviting me to join him and
Richard. I also want to thank Richard for his unfailing sense of humor. Both Targ and Richard made excellect traveling companions. It was been a very memorable adventure ("What a long, strange trip its been."). Finding the confluences gave the trip a
purpose to delve into the unknown. We all came away with a deep satisfaction of having
successfully visited six confluence points on this trip. But more importantly, having the opportunity to visit the Yangtze and its people before the Three Gorges Dam fills and share wonderful esperiences with each other.