31-Jan-2003 -- Prologue
This is the fourth 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.
January 30, 2003
As we left our heroes (sic), they were boarding the slow boat up the Yangtze to
Zhongxian. This boat was, by contrast, a much nicer vessel than the last. We had two beds
per room, so Targ and I let Richard saw some logs on his own. At the front of the boat was
a huge stateroom with wrap-around windows, a TV, a table suitable for laying out the full
spread of Targ’s extensive map collection, several outlets for charging batteries of
various sorts and for writing up this report.
Richard and I celebrated with a couple of beers and a pound of peanuts while Targ
pondered the best approach to our next objective. However, like our last time on the slow
boat, our arrival was to be at the early morning hours. Targ was up and about at midnight
checking on position on his GPS and reconnoitering our next move.
January 31, 2003
At 3:30 AM the boat staff came banging on our door like the boat was sinking saying we
had to get off right away. In reality, it was a good 30 minutes before we could put our
feet to land. When we did, it was a completely different setting from Wushan. This time it
was dark with no teahouses, only buses and taxis. We looked for buses with our
destination, but they only had unknown places on their signboards.
We had decided to walk into town, whose lights were visible from the dock. However, on
the way past the taxis and buses a woman said we could get a ride to town for five mao (about
six cents) per person. Targ asked her to confirm the price and both she and the
driver said it was five mao each. We thought, well we can’t go wrong with
this, and hopped in. Then we thought better of it and hopped out to walk up the hill, but
as soon as we got out of range of the lights and were stumbling along in the dark, we
decided to return to the mianbao van. Targ again verified the price, and we waited
for some others to join us, but no one else did, so we were off up the hill.
I commented on the price as being less than a public bus in Chengdu. On the way, we
passed a couple of people walking up the hill in the dark who refused to get in. This
seemed odd, but we continued anyway. When we arrived at the bus station, Richard handed
the woman 1.5 yuan for the three of us. She was clearly not happy and told us we
had to pay five RMB per person, not five mao. Targ took the lead on this and argued
that both the driver and the woman told us the price was five mao and if we had
known it was five yuan we would had not taken their van.
At this point we had walked into the bus station to get some information on our next
destination, Shizhu. The taxi woman followed us in and continued to verbally assault us on
not paying her what she said was due. Targ repeated what he said before. By now, tempers
were raging on both sides. The woman was starting to insult us and began playing to the
crowd of onlookers. At one point the woman grabbed my umbrella and wondered out loud about
the value. I took it back and told her to leave my stuff alone. Richard later wrote:
"The BEST moment with that umbrella was then the taxi chick grabbed it outta your
pack, you SNACHED the f…er back and made to smack her with it. That was cool!"
This continued on for some twenty or thirty minutes until Targ discovered that the bus
we wanted started from another bus station down the road. We went over there and were
followed by both the mianbao woman and driver. Here we had another round of you
said, I said. The driver started to be aggressive and kicked both Richard’s and
Targ’s feet. They both ignored the provocation. He then challenged them to a fight.
Then he threatened to get his friends to come and help him and began making several cell
phone calls. The bus station attendants were attempting to diffuse the situation by
pulling him away from Targ and Richard. The mianbao woman got so fed up that she
ripped up the 1.5 RMB and threw it on Targ. Richard said it had been a long time since he
had seen someone rip up money in China. About ten minutes later we discussed the matter
and decided to pay their price, but not before Targ told them that what they were doing
was not right and they shouldn’t lie to their customers. He gave them the money and
the finally left us in peace after more than an hour of drama. I never imagined going
confluence hunting would entail such excitement.
This little early morning melodrama had a way of waking us up, so by that time (5:30
AM) we were trying to find out if there was another earlier bus to Shizhu. Targ asked me
to accompany him on a trip to the other bus station, just in case. Fortunately, there was
no trouble, but there was also no earlier bus.
At 5:45 AM our bus arrived with our destination in the windshield and we rushed to
secure good seats. It was a good thing we did as the bus quickly filled to overflowing
conditions. I felt a bit guilty occupying a seat while others who were trying to return to
their families for Chinese New Year had to stand. But it was a three-hour bus ride for us,
so I put the thought out of my mind.
The trip was along the Yangtze River for a while on very bad one-lane dirt and mud
roads. We had several switchback climbs of more than 1,000 meters over mountain ridges,
and the weather was decidedly cold. Richard commented that he saw frost on the trees. Our
bus climbed into the clouds and for a while, it looked like it might be a repeat of the
experience we had with the first confluence on this trip 31°N 111°E.
At the junction to the confluence point, we jumped off the bus in a tiny village with
no restaurant. It was 9:30 AM, and we hadn’t eaten anything since the beer and
peanuts we had for an afternoon snack on the boat the day before. I was famished. There
was a shop run by a skittish old couple who had some instant noodles and not much else.
Richard and Targ got a bowl each while I got two. Targ had talked to some of the
motorcycle tricycle drivers for a price to take us up the hill about 15 km. They wanted
100 RMB (about US$12.50), which was ridiculous.
As we ate our instant noodles, I spotted a bus heading up the road and took off running
after it. It stopped and we asked them about a lift to the town near where we wanted to
go. The driver said it would cost us 100 RMB. I asked why and they said because they were
not going there and it would be a special trip. Then two well-dressed men from a red VW
Santana got in on the discussion and wanted to know all the details. It finally ended up
that they said we could ride with them as far in the direction they were headed, but that
they were going to a special event and wouldn’t deviate for us. That was fine with us
and we hopped on board. About 10 km up the hill, they stopped and said we would have to
find our own way from there. I asked them how much they wanted for the trip, and they told
me it was up to me. So I gave them what we would have normally paid for such a trip.
At that point, we were a bit more than three km from the CP and decided the walk would
do us good. We put on our packs and started walking up the road, trying to guess at the
distances of landmarks along the way. Targ usually came closest.
Everywhere we went, evidence of Chinese New Year could be seen. The freshly applied red
door banners were up on most houses. Traffic was almost non-existent, majhong was being
played, and people were gathering to celebrate with family and friends. I was feeling
guilty about being away from my wife at this time of year. But we were on a mission to
track down another confluence point.
The heading of the CP was surprisingly in agreement with the small mountain road. As we
approached the 300-meter mark from the CP, the GPS arrow started to swing around as the
road did. Once the arrow reached 90 degrees off the road we were
walking on, a driveway up into a logging area appeared heading the right way. Once again,
as we closed in on the confluence, our excitement began to build. The road since we
started walking had been almost entirely uphill, and with carrying our packs we were a bit
winded. Richard suggested leaving our packs behind for the last 100 meters. Targ wisely
thought to mark them with a waypoint so we could find them on the way back. Richard had a
sudden urge to relieve himself, but decided to try and wait until after we found the CP.
Walking in the bush amongst the trees and stumps of recently cut trees we quickly
approached the CP. However, the last 30 meters was buried in thick scrub that cut and
We all made a dash to find "our" confluence point, since the GPSs had been
usually a few meters out of sync with each other. Targ found his point first, while
Richard couldn’t wait any longer for Mother Nature’s call. I found my point two
meters away from Targ’s, as did Richard. This time the confluence point was in the
bush amidst the pine trees at 1191 meters at 11:45 AM on January 31, 2003. We documented
the historic event with photos and quickly returned to the road to try and find transport
back to civilization.
I christened this our Desolate Confluence Point.
We walked down the hill past a house with a motor-tricycle truck out front. Just as we
walk passed, the driver appeared. We negotiated a rate of 70 yuan to take us to the next
big town where we needed to try and get bus to Fuling, Changshou or anywhere on the
Yangtze, in that order. Targ warned us that as Chinese New Year arrives, transportation
will become very scarce and we may have to resort to using taxis to get where we are
At the Shizhu bus station, there was an eerie quiet in a place that normally is a
beehive of activity. Getting a bus anywhere at this time on Chinese New Year’s eve
was going to be difficult. One driver said he would take us to Xituo, a town we passed on
the riverboat last night, and from there we could catch a slow boat upstream. I was not
too happy about that prospect as it meant it might take an extra day to finish our
mission. We were all set to go, when I spotted a newly arrived bus with the destination of
Fuling is the place where Peter Hessler was a student and English teacher for two
years. Hessler subsequently wrote a book called River
Town: Two Years on the Yangtze that was the impetus for
Targ to organize this trip. Richard has been reading it as we have been confluencing and
commenting on the changes that have taken place.
We arrived in Fuling about 5 PM, but we really wanted to go to Changshou, about 35 km
further east and directly south of our fifth and final confluence of the trip, 30°N 107°E. At the bus station things were deadly silent and
there appeared to be no buses to anywhere. As we exited the bus station, a smartly dressed
man approached us and said in pretty good English, "Where do you want to go?" We
told him. Then he said, "I have a car." He would take us there for 200 RMB. I
suggested that we check the availability of other transport, like passing buses or taxis.
However, after a while it appeared there was not many options. The man asked us why we
didn’t want to take his car. Targ checked it out and said it was a pretty nice
vehicle. I am generally very leery of people like this, but our desire to get to Changshou
was pretty great. I told him the price was too high and he asked how much would we be
willing to pay. I said 150 RMB, to which he agreed.
Once again, we were off. The ride was smooth and uneventful. The man chatted in half
English and half Chinese. Once in town, he took us to a three-star hotel and we checked in
at a rate significantly less than the published rates. The man, Hu Bing, left us after we
were settled in. We showered and had a great meal it the hotel teahouse before retiring in
our deluxe room. Tomorrow, February 1, we tackle our fifth confluence point of this trip, 30°N 107°E.
Every confluence hunt is different.