01-Feb-2003 -- Prologue
This is the fifth 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 area after 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.
February 1, Chinese New Year’s Day. We woke up surprisingly late for this crew,
8:10 AM. Targ mentioned he hadn’t slept straight through a night without having to
get up for a piss in ages. Richard and I went down to have the hotel breakfast, hoping for
something like the feast we enjoyed in Yunyang. It was nothing of the sort. But they did
have some fresh sweet dumplings (tangyuan) that I savor. We were discussing our
transport options over breakfast and thought we might have to hire a taxi at exorbitant
holiday prices to get us to the confluence point 35 km away.
After breakfast we came up stairs and were disheartened to find the ground wet.
However, it turned out to be merely a light mist. Nonetheless, we brought our raingear,
just in case. On the transportation scene, it was altogether different than we expected.
Buses and taxis abounded, so we got checked out in a hurry, stashed our bags at the hotel
luggage room and jumped in a taxi to the bus station. There it was a beehive of activity
and a bus leading to the town near the confluence point was just filling up.
Most bus rides in China are forgettable, one blending into another. This was not one of
those rides. Targ and Richard snagged the front two shotgun seats and were discussing the
best place for us to get off the bus using one of Targ’s brightly colored
topographical maps he copied from the Hong Kong Public Library. The driver was fascinated,
and started asking all about it. Richard then pulled out his GPS and showed the driver how
it worked. This was also a novelty, and once we got going, Richard placed the GPS in front
of the driver so he could see the map of where we were going as he drove.
The driver started playing a tape of standard Chinese music, and Richard mentioned how
he wished he brought his tapes. Then he checked his bag and realized that he did bring one
he labeled "Mix 1." The driver said he could play it over the bus speaker
system. The tape had a variety of music including The Grateful Dead’s
"Trucking", Commander Cody’s "Hot Rod Lincoln" and some clips
from the Simpsons. The incongruity of that music on a stuffed Chinese bus made for a surreal
experience. As we were climbing over a mountain pass, the words of "Trucking"
rang all to true:
Sometimes the light’s shining on me
Other times I can barely see
What a long strange trip it’s been.
This was to be the theme song of our trip.
Today being New Year’s meant everyone was in a festive mood, laughing and joking
with each other. A woman got on the bus with an infant she was breast feeding and I gave
her my seat. The little girl was only four months old and cute as a button all bundled up
like a stuffed doll, so much so that her arms stuck straight out from her body.
After about 45 minutes of Richard’s music at high volume, some of the passengers
began to complain and the driver dropped the volume a tad. The bus was packed to crush
capacity and many people brought gifts to bring to their relatives. Richard was in an
isolated spot and got asked to hold a table top for one of the passengers. Targ maintained
a strict vigilance over his GPS readings, tracking every move of the needle and the
distance to go. As our route passed over the mountain, we entered a bamboo forest and I
said it would be great to have a confluence point (CP) in a bamboo grove.
After an hour or so on the bus, our stop arrived and we left the friendly folks. We
were now about four km away. Outside, the cool air blew over us and Targ suggested that we
jump in a mianbao van to get us closer to the CP. Richard and I said we wanted to
walk, so Targ reluctantly agreed. First order of business was a pit stop to get rid of all
the milk, coffee and soy milk consumed at breakfast. Then we began a brisk walk to the CP
on a very good concrete road. There was very little vehicular traffic, only a few
motorcycles and an occasional mianbao van. However, there were lots of people out
walking the road in groups of five or more with bags of gifts, and eating sunflower seeds
as the walked and talked. Our presence was surprising and several people asked where we
The area is a rural farming area of rice paddies, farm houses and hay stacks. At the
end of the concrete road, we were still almost a km from the CP. The landscape was in a
valley with a few low hills scattered about. From the topo map we knew that the CP was
near the source of a small stream that flowed into the Yangtze River. After passing
through a small village, we were 300 meters away. The dirt road forked and appeared to go
around the hill directly in front of us. There was a small path leading into the hill and
Richard said he wanted to take it. Targ and I opted to stick to the road for a bit longer
as 300 meters was still a long way to be heading off into the bush. As we separated, Targ
said, "We will meet you at the CP." After we left Richard, Targ said that he
should have told Richard that we would wait for him at the CP. We both laughed.
Targ and I continued around the hill on the road with the GPS pointing to the center of
the hill. At one point as the distance to go started to climb about 300 meters again we
decided to take a small path up to a low saddle between the hills. We were now about 250
meters away. Following another path in the direction of the CP, we entered a thick brush
and scrub area filled with low-lying thorns and vines. Interspersed were patches of bamboo
stands that were free of the brush. The hill was rather steep in parts and the narrow
paths would head off into the wrong direction. Targ and I were scrambling up and down
looking for easier paths and getting cut up as the thorn bushes tore into us. As we got
closer to the CP I called out to Richard in between curses and crashes. We thought Richard
must be in even worst shape and congratulated ourselves on being the first to the CP even
though "it is not a competition."
The CP ended up being just as I hoped, in a large grove of bamboo, with a soft bed of
fallen leaves. A few minutes after Targ and I arrived, Richard came strolling up with a
smug look on his face. He had left his GPS at his CP hoping that we would see it there and
realize he beat us to it. However, as we discovered at previous CPs, each of our GPSs
would come up with a slightly different location, though always within two meters or so of
each other. We had a good laugh at that one.
With photos and readings made, we started heading back to the village using
Richard’s direct route. At about 100 meters away from the CP, we entered a clearing
where crops were being grown. I took some additional photos of the area and suggested that
these would be a better representation of supplemental photos than four photos of the
bamboo. Targ was a bit put out by the thought since they were actually taken at the CP
proper. I argued that it was in the vicinity and would give a better impression of the
area than four photos of essentially the same thing. Targ said it would be okay provided I
made it clear in the photo descriptions.
Afterwards as we were heading back, flush with the success of our fifth and we
thought would be our final confluence point on this tour. Then Richard and Targ began
talking about a "bonus confluence" since they still had two days before their
flight back to Hong Kong from Chongqing. I was anxious to return to Chengdu to be with my
wife, Xiaorong. She was not very happy with me missing Chinese New Year with the family.
After checking the maps, Targ and Richard decided on trying for 29°N 106°E to the southwest of Chongqing, 147 km away. The
trick would be to get there as quickly as possible, so there would be enough time to
return to Chongqing for their flight on February 3. As they discussed the details, I got
more and more excited about going for another but reserved my decision until later.
As we left the CP, we walked on a narrow path through a couple of villages. Many doors
were freshly decorated with new red door banners wishing good luck for the coming year.
At the concrete road, we got two motorcycles to take the three of us to the
intersection with the main road where we could catch the bus returning to Changshou. Our
luck was with us, as the bus was just pulling up as we arrived. Another case of
split-second timing. Arriving back in Changshou, we jumped in a taxi to take us back to
the hotel to get our bags, then onto the long-distance bus station for a bus to Chongqing.
This time it was a super-deluxe air-con bus with departures every ten minutes. Within an
hour we were in Chongqing.
I christened this the Serene Confluence Point.
The continuation of the story can be found at 29°N 106°E.