16-Jul-2008 -- Story continues from 35°N 118°E.
Back at the main road, I wait for a passing bus. Ah Feng is just around the corner, in the shade of some trees, so I am sitting alone when a black sedan pulls up, and three men and a woman get out and start interrogating me. The woman does all the talking - in English. She is the interpreter, and I don't let on that I can speak Chinese. She tells me that they are from the government, and the usual questions ensue.
During one of the many pauses, while she's consulting with the three men in Chinese, relaying my last answer, and getting the next question, a bus appears. I excuse myself, hop on, and the bus disappears around the corner, where I ask the driver to stop to pick up Ah Feng. Then we're off again, and I figure I'm home free.
However, as I'm relating the story to Ah Feng, I notice that the black sedan is following us. Worse still, the ticket seller gives us the bad news that, contrary to what I expected, there are no buses NE to the municipal capital Línyí City (临沂市) from this bus's final destination, Liújǐng. The only thing to do is to stay on the bus, and return to the county capital Cāngshān, from where we'll be able to get a connecting bus.
So, upon arrival in Liújǐng, we sit patiently on the bus, waiting for it to commence its return journey. Meanwhile, the black sedan arrives and stops a short distance away, watching. An uneasy stand-off ensues, until two of the g-men eventually get out of the black sedan, come across, and get on the bus.
The g-men soon work out that Ah Feng and I are travelling together, so they turn their attention to her, because they can speak Chinese with her. This takes some of the heat off me. Having ascertained that we want to go to Línyí, they deliberate amongst themselves, then propose that they drive us there themselves, in the black sedan.
It's not really an offer we can refuse. The ride in the air-conditioned car is comfortable, although the atmosphere is rather tense the whole way. In Línyí, they try to take us to an expensive, four-star hotel right opposite a huge government compound, and quite some distance from the city centre, but we balk at this, and they finally agree to let us off in the city centre, to find our own hotel.
I'm glad when the black sedan has disappeared into the city traffic, and we are alone once more. I'm particularly relieved that they don't know where we're going to be staying. But this episode prompts me to immediately look for a photo shop, where we get another CD burnt containing all our latest photos, to send to Peter Cao in Chéngdū for safekeeping.
We notice that Línyí seems to have an unusually large number of congee restaurants, so on the assumption that congee must be a Línyí specialty, we go to one of these restaurants for dinner, then retire to the Jīntán Yízhōu Hotel (金檀沂州宾馆) for the night.
The next morning, we get off to a slow start, after waiting for the private courier company's delivery man to come and collect the CD (once again cunningly disguised as a book). We take a taxi to the huge, brand spanking new, long-distance bus station, which is quite some distance from town: a 20 yuan (US$ 2.93) fare. The place looks, feels and operates more like an airport than a bus station.
We board the 12:40 p.m. bus NW to Xīntài City (新泰市). In Xīntài, we transfer to a bus bound NE for Yíyuán County (沂源县). This bus is due to depart at 3 p.m., and together with the rest of the passengers, we sit baking in the hot sun, with the engine - and hence the air-conditioning - remaining switched off until the appointed departure time.
It's our intention to get off this bus mid-journey, at Dàzhāngzhuāng Town (大张庄镇), 3 km NE of the confluence, however we subsequently learn that the bus will not go via Dàzhāngzhuāng, and we find ourselves dropped off at a highway intersection about 7 km NE of Dàzhāngzhuāng. It's now 4:30 p.m. We don't have to wait long for a passing bus to Dàzhāngzhuāng, which we discover is also known simply as Zhāngzhuāng.
Now we are 3 km from the confluence, and we hire a tuk-tuk to take us there and back. We travel down a good, sealed road until we are 280 m due north of the confluence, where we ask our tuk-tuk driver to turn left into a dirt road. We stop and get out just 40 m down this dirt road, then follow a path leading off it, which takes us past Dìyúgōu Village (地于沟村), where the welcoming committee consists of some sleepy goats, and on to the confluence, which we find 4 m inside a vineyard.
We zero out the GPS, then take the photos facing north, south, east and west. The view to the north clearly shows how each bunch of grapes is individually wrapped in protective newspaper whilst still on the vine. Working on the row of vines next to the confluence is Mr Li and his wife, and we have a nice chat with them before heading back towards the small village, stopping on the way to admire a tree bearing some particularly tempting peaches. There are many other things being grown nearby too, including capsicum, peanuts, eggplant, etc.
Story continues at 36°N 119°E.