07-Feb-2005 -- Continued from 30°N 120°E.
It was a kind of vibrating noise which increased in volume and ended in a thump. At first I thought it might be music from one of the neighbouring discos, or perhaps some mid-night foundation work at a local construction site. After becoming more fully awake, I realised the sound was originating from within the room, and more specifically from one of my travelling companions. Tony was snoring!
Later, I was awoken by a different sound. I could hear a hard plastic ball bouncing down the corridor followed by the scrambling sound that a dog’s toe nails make on a hard surface when it runs. This was repeated a two or three times. My watch read 4am but it was too cold to climb down from my bunk to mount any protest, so I fell back to sleep thinking dark thoughts about the dog and ball thrower. The urban pet is another relatively new development in China, and the Hangzhou Youth Hostel was up with the times with its resident “Lassie” dog, which, as it turned out, kept strange hours.
At 5:30am Targ’s alarm clock went off and we all climbed out of bed, rugged up and got ready to depart. Xu Jing and Ah Feng were heading to Shanghai so that our confluence party was reduced to three; Targ Parsons, Tony “Bang Bang” Basoglu, and myself. We raised the nightwatchman, who opened the gate for us. Outside it was dark, cold and raining. We piled into a taxi and headed to the Hangzhou West Bus Station for our bus to Qiandaohu in Chun’an County. On the way to the bus station the taxi driver decided to take a short cut and went up a highway the wrong way, tooting his horn at on-coming traffic – this manoeuvre cut the journey by approximately 50m or probably 2 minutes!
The bus station was crowded with the people departing the city to return to their home towns for the Lunar New Year. Tony’s attention was drawn to a board with several mobile phone recharging cords protruding from it. You needed to put a few yuan in the slot to re-charge your mobile. This is another sign of how the country is changing. After confirming our departure time, we still had time to cross the road for a bowl of steaming noodles before our bus departed at 6:45am. We were approximately 105kms from the confluence point.
The bus to Qiandaohu [Thousand Island Lake] travelled down a new toll road complete with advertising and small trees planted in the divider. Efforts to get some extra shut-eye were frustrated by the driver’s habit of honking his horn whenever coming close to another vehicle. This standard precaution is employed by most drivers in China. On arrival in Qiandaohu, Tony wrenched his firecracker laden bag down from the overhead shelf and damaged it in the process, but fortunately did not trigger any premature detonations. So, we exited the bus station and walked around looking for a new bag or a fix-it-man. Two girls kindly took us to where we might find a fix-it-man. Unfortunately, the fix-it man had vacated his usual side alley spot and departed for the Lunar New Year. The girls themselves were from the countryside and were also in the process of departing for the New Year.
After some more wandering, we managed to locate a fix-it-woman, who fixed Tony’s bag for the sum of two yuan. Upon returning to the bus station, Targ had managed to buy some confluence bound bus tickets (to Wenchang some 30kms from the confluence), and to make himself sick watching a particularly gory traffic safety video. Gory safety campaigns are somewhat of a China specialty. At least that much hadn’t changed since I was a student in Shanghai some 15 years ago and I still vividly remember a train station poster advising against taking firecrackers, or flammable materials on the train – it was accompanied by a photo of a train carriage splattered with body parts and blood!
Our bus to Wenchang was due to leave in 3 hours, so we decided to look at other options and soon had reached agreement with the owner of a small mini-van to take us all the way to the village of Yinjiang (3.6km from the confluence) for 260 yuan. We tried to get a bus ticket refund, which is usually allowed in China, but there was a special Lunar New Year rule prohibiting this and so we wrote them off. The owner of the van was Xiao Hong. She’d bought the van to make some extra money when she wasn’t working as a cleaner. Xiao Hong had never been to Yinjiang, and repeatedly commented about how far it was and how bad the road would be, but she was, nevertheless, a likeable sort.
After backtracking along the toll road some way, we took the turn-off to Linqi and were soon following a river valley up into the hills. The hilltops were misted in rain clouds, tea plants covered the hillsides, and vegetable terraces stepped up from the river banks. Xiao Hong honked her horn vigorously at each bend in the road.
From Qiuyuan (7 kms from the confluence) onwards the road was unsealed and bumpy, but Xiao Hong took it in her stride and we arrived in Yinjiang by lunchtime. In approaching the confluence from Yinjiang, we were following the lead of Wang Jianshuo who had previously attempted this point. From Yinjiang onwards, our approaches differed. Our appearance in this village generated a small but curious gathering. We inquired after accommodation and were directed down the road to a house. The lady of the house informed us that it wasn’t a guesthouse and that there weren’t any guesthouses to be found in Yinjiang. Nevertheless, she said a guest house definitely existed in the next village and lent us her children to show us the way. We dutifully followed the kids up a goat track. With the path levelling out and the next village in sight, the kids asked if they could go back. I gave them a bag of potato crisps. They were nervous and reluctant to accept this small token of gratitude, but eventually did and headed back down. We continued along the path, which offered beautiful views down the valley, and soon arrived at the next village called Shijing (or Stone Well). This village was 3.3kms from the confluence.
The first house we came across was a fairly new looking, tile clad cement construction. Its owner promptly informed us that no guest houses existed in Shijing either. Looking around, I could see that Shijing was much smaller than Yinjiang, could only be reached on foot and was less likely to have a guest house. I felt a bit foolish and regretted losing my bag of crisps which I’d brought all the way from Hong Kong. Anyway, the owner of the house, Mr. Zhong, asked us what we were doing and where we were from. We explained that we were from Australia & Canada and that we were doing some hiking. He then asked us in for a cup of tea. After chatting for a while, he asked us if we’d like to stay for dinner. Accommodation prospects were beginning to brighten. We left our bags at Mr. Zhong’s house, promised to return for dinner and headed off to look for possible approaches to the confluence.
The village of Shijing is at 513m altitude compared to Yinjiang, which is located on the valley floor at 343m. Shijing is built around a cascading stream with lots of stone slab steps and a few stone slab bridges. Except for the litter in the stream it was quite picturesque. There were a few large old pine trees with preservation and registration labels on them. Apparently, the trees were about 400 years old. Most other houses in the village were double storey rammed earth constructions, and two other households also asked us in for a cup of tea. One of the invitations came from a guy who was cheerfully carrying two buckets of human excrement, we politely declined.
We followed a path leading up into the hills which followed the stream bed. At the last house of the village, a couple of men and a young boy were emerging from a handsome double storey rammed earth house. One of the men was carrying a dog whilst the other carried a piece of wicker or twine. Targ half jokingly asked them if they were having dog for dinner, to which they replied “Yes” and without further ado put the dog down and set about strangling it. I was shocked and had to turn away. When I looked again, the poor creature was still alive, being suspended by the twine from the bridge whilst one of the men slowly walked over to the woodpile to grab a thick stick. I could hear the boy alternately exclaiming “It's dead!……no, it's alive!” We turned and kept walking. What struck me was how contented the dog looked when the man was carrying it down the path. Later, I asked Mr. Zhong about it and he said that the locals kept dogs for 1 or 2 years then ate them. Dog meat is favoured as a warming winter meal in many parts of China.
We continued up the small valley which narrowed to a gully and was misty and wet. Tony wisely decided to head back to the village. Targ and I continued upwards but the wetness made the going slippery especially as the gully narrowed and became steeper. Eventually, we decided that this approach was unlikely to be successful and we were still 2.6 kms from the confluence point. We headed back down to the village to an early dinner.
At 5:30pm we sat down to a lovely meal of smoked eel, fish, pigs kidneys, pork belly, Tou-fu and a few other dishes. Mr. Zhong plied us with strong Chinese rice wine and inquired why Targ only drank the ‘woman’s drink’, orange cordial. Tony said that Mr. Zhong had a fairly large stockpile of rice wine behind his house, whilst near the front of his house I could see a large number of empties under a tree. I decided to drink very slowly, especially as I wondered whether we might have to walk back down the hill if no accommodation was offered. Ever the perfect host, Mr. Zhong soon stated that he didn’t want to force us to drink, and we should only drink as much as we liked. When Mr. Zhong finally asked what we liked to eat for breakfast, we all were relieved that the accommodation question had been answered.
As dinner wore on, Mr. Zhong’s sister and two kids arrived. We had fun taking photos of each other and Tony gave his nephew a large roll of firecrackers – he was one happy kid. I got out the chocolate brownies which I’d brought from Hong Kong. They were all keen to try one but not a second one. We also explained more fully what we were doing, although I doubt if it made much sense. “So what are you going to do when you get there?” asked Mrs. Zhong repeatedly. “Take some photos and come back” we said, leaving her none the wiser.
By eight o’clock we were tucked up in bed. I shared a very comfortable bed with Targ and dozed off to the sound of the stream cascading down the hill and over a waterfall. There was a tremendous thunderstorm during the night, but overall I had a very restful night’s sleep. I suspect the bed we slept in was Mr. and Mrs. Zhong’s, and that they went and slept with some of their relatives in the village. The level of hospitality shown was very humbling.
The next morning was cold, misty and drizzling again. Mrs Zhong made us steaming hot bowls of noodles, then we headed off. Mr. Zhong had told us of a path through the hills from Shijing to Zipiyuan. Targ figured that this would take us past the confluence point. We set off at 8:20am, by 8:30am the weather and incline prompted Tony to turn around. We kept walking upwards through tea plants and reached a maximum altitude of 824m. The weather intermittently cleared offering views down valleys and it was an invigorating walk. Soon we were walking down into another valley with occasional patches of ice on the path. We walked through stands of conifers and small scale logging was evident. At the bottom of the next valley was a small village of about 3 houses located on the banks of a river. This was Tianping, which was at an altitude of 510m and 1.35km from the confluence. The locals told us to follow a dirt road upstream, and to come visit again when we had time. This standard nicety is offered regardless of the likelihood of occurrence. The valley had a small dirt road which we followed upstream towards the confluence. Nearby there were some small mines which mined green and purple coloured quartz. All the mines were deserted as the workers would have gone home to pass the New Year.
We left the small road near its terminus and followed a small path upwards past a sign post. We continued up the small path until we passed within 180m of the confluence. We decided to ‘bush-bash’ up the slope to the confluence point. It was steep, wet and slippery, but the large number of small trees provided ample hand holds. Eventually, we got to the ridge of the hill and were still 84m from the confluence. I decided that was close enough (Tony later said “You did a Tony!”). Targ pushed on to see how close he could get. He headed down the other side of the ridge, which was even steeper, and managed to get to within 67m of the point, from where he took the standard north-south-east-west and GPS photos. Any future visitors might try to get by car to Tianping then look out for the sign post which is near the terminus of the dirt road leading upstream from Tianping. It is unlikely that the small village of Tianping will be on any map but the road approaches Tianping from the East via Yaoshan, whereas we came over the hills from the South. Having said that, the Shijing to Zipiyuan path that we had taken was pleasant walking, and could probably also be reached from Yinjiang as we observed other paths coming up the hills and converging with our own.
From the ridge we scrambled and slid back down to the path and celebrated with the rest of the brownies and water. By the time we retraced our steps to Mr Zhong’s house, we’d been walking for seven hours and were damp and cold. A bowl or two of hot savoury stewed Tou-fu and steamed bread were gratefully received and greedily devoured. Tony looked well rested having spent the day in a warm bed, reading, and dozing.
It was getting late so we thanked Mr. Zhong, persuaded him to accept some money and cigarettes, and then headed down to Yinjiang. Tony marked our departure by letting off some firecrackers. Mr. Zhong had rung someone in Yinjiang to help us organise a mini-van. We jumped in the mini-van which took us to Linqi and got another back to Qiandaohu.
After an interesting experience at the local hairdressers and a less than comfortable night in a local hotel we departed Qiandaohu early the next morning. I returned to Hangzhou for my afternoon flight to Hong Kong. My bus back to Hangzhou was nearly empty with only 5 passengers, due to the one-way Lunar New Year migration. Targ and Tony headed South West to Quzhou to meet up with Xu Jing and Ah Feng.
Story continues at 29°N 119°E.