30-Jan-2003 -- Prologue
This is the third 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.
Confluence Hunting - January 29, 2003
After nabbing the confluence at 31°N 110°E the three of us returned to Wushan via the small
slow ferry boat. The two-hour ride was uneventful and the number of passengers was
markedly less than the day before on our way to Qingshi. Apparently, the movement of
Chinese runs from city to countryside before the New Year, as city dwellers return to the
home of their birth.
The swath of destruction in Wushan was clearly visible long before we arrived. This
line is the below the second phase water mark for the Three Gorges Dam Project at about
145 meters above sea level. Closer up the destruction area is brutal - looking more like a
war zone than a city. Targ said it looked like scenes from Bosnia during the war. Nothing
more than roads and rubble remain. The footprints of buildings are visible amidst the dust
and scattered bricks. This scene was seen repeatedly on the trip as we moved up the
Yangtze. Dusty streets turned into clouds of choking dust as vehicles came and went with
pedestrians covering their mouth and noses.
In Wushan, our next objective was to move onto 31°N 109°E, 95.5 km from the last confluence point (CP). Being the two days
before Chinese New Year, ticket sales were brisk. We were trying to get a fast boat to
Yinyang. All available tickets were sold for the 1:30 PM and 3:30 PM boats, but the ticket
seller said there might be some news arriving soon that would permit some additional
passengers. Targ and I alternated standing in line with several other hopefuls, money in
hand thrust through the ticket window, clogging up access for other ticket purchasers.
Outside the ticket area was a 50ish man, with a small purse that Chinese men are fond
of carrying around under their arm. Targ quickly branded him "Satchel Man." He
wielded the power at the ticket window as Targ witnessed the purchase of 13 tickets for a
"sold out" boat. Targ asked me to go "get friendly with Satchel Man."
But I deferred to him as that is not my cup of tea, and took his place in the pushing and
shoving ticket line. Not long afterward, Targ returned with the news that Satchel Man can
get us the tickets at 3 PM for the 3:30 PM fast boat. We were elated at having been freed
from the task of waiting for an hour and a half in line and have assurance of getting on
We retired to the teahouse on the barge where the boats dock and relaxed to another
Hong Kong gangster movie shot in Vietnam. Satchel Man came through as promised, delivering
three 92 RMB tickets for the fast boat to Yunyang. Targ gave him 300 RMB and told him to
keep the change.
Promptly at 3:30 PM the Russian-built Flying Dragon hydrofoil arrived. A cigar-shaped
boat looking like something from Darth Vadar’s evil empire made a rapid stop and
people while rushed off and on. The silver-tinted windows effectively blocked any view out
the clouded windows of the gorges and also cutoff GPS signals. Also, several men were
smoking in defiance of the No Smoking signs and another Hong Kong gangster movie was
playing. We got seats in the back of the boat, not an ideal place as we discovered as soon
as the ship started. The twin 16-cylinder engines created such a deafening roar that we
had to read the English subtitles for the movie even though the language was in English.
Amazingly, I spotted an engine worker positioned between the engines sitting there staring
at the gauges without protective hearing gear. Maybe he was already deaf.
When the cabin became filled with smoke, I sought out fresh air in the front of the
boat and discovered the sound levels were dramatically lower. Also, the access point to
the ship was open to the outside so I hung out there where I could watch the scenery go by
and take some GPS readings. There was a woman returning to her home in Yunyang from
Shanghai where she worked. She told me her house used to be in the old town before the
government moved them to the new town as a result of the Three Gorges Dam Project. She
said her family’s old house was a lot better than the new one. She also mentioned
that there were several good hotels in town and she would show us where to go. This was
encouraging as we didn’t have a clue where to stay. The fast boat moved at about 50
km/hour and we were at our destination just before dark. The four of us jumped in a taxi
already occupied with another woman headed for the same destination. What we thought would
be a short ride up the bank to the town ended up being a 45-minute ride from the old town
to the new town further away from our objective.
However, once we arrived, our reservations vanished as we were able to check into a
three-star hotel with 24-hour hot water, central heating and elevators. The listed price
was 268 RMB for a three-bed room that Targ was willing to accept without comment, but I
asked if there was a discount. The desk clerk said yes and then quoted a very reasonable
118 RMB, including breakfast.
After a quick run up to the room to drop off bags, we headed out to find the local
bookstore so Targ could purchase some more maps and atlases. Then we tracked down a decent
restaurant and had a square meal. At that point, Targ and Richard went off to find out
about transportation for tomorrow while I located an internet bar. I had been unable to
log onto my internet account for the past five days. When I finally did, there were 363
messages waiting for me. I spent the next three hours dealing with the urgent stuff and
forgoing the rest until I returned to Chengdu.
January 30, 2003
The next day we rose early to get going on to our objective for the day: 31°N 109°E. After a hearty breakfast
where I consumed, among other things, six glasses of milk and one glass of soy bean milk.
By 8:30 AM we were on the road heading back to the old town. Our mianbao van
dropped us off at the junction to Hongshi (Red Lion), the township where the confluence
lay. The bus was packed to the gills, but everyone was in a good mood as most were
returning home to be with family for the holidays. We had to push the bus to get it
started, and then it wound its way up the one-lane dirt road climbing higher and higher
out of the Yangtze River valley.
Targ was in the back of the bus and positioned his GPS out the rear window, taking
readings from time to time. At one point we were less than two kilometers away with the
GPS arrow pointing up an inviting valley, but as we hadn’t yet arrived in Hongshi we
didn’t get off. Once in town, it was a frantic search for a toilet as my milk had
been processed and was ready to be discharged. Then a quick reconnaissance showed we were
2.5 km away from the confluence and a large hill stood in the way. Targ pointed out that
the tracks on his GPS showed we were closer before we arrived in town and the path looked
much more accessible. The decision was made to return to the point in the valley. We
looked into bus transportation but the next one wasn’t leaving for 90 minutes. About
ten guys on motorcycles were hanging around so I inquired as to the price to take us five
km down the road. The first guy said ten RMB so I asked another. After some negotiating we
got the price down to a reasonable five RMB each.
We told our drivers to take it easy, but Richard’s felt like he had to be first
and raced ahead. Upon arriving at the point in the road where the valley lead up to the CP
we meet some locals and talked the owner of the small shop into storing our bags for a
while. As usual, no one could figure out why we wanted to go up this way. In fact,
virtually every person we met asked us where we were going and what we were doing there.
Our standard answer became to go for a walk and see the scenery. This seemed to placate
Unlike the first CP of this trip (31°N 111°E) where we had only a 30-meter visibility, we
could clearly see where we were going. The paths etched into the hills showed us our
options for arriving at our destination. The CP was dead ahead, but a steep ravine cut
across out path. Folks from a nearby house asked where were going and then told us to
cross the bridge up the valley and then come back down the other side.
The main paths on these mountain trails usually run from house to house, and generally
run directly in front of the front door which is never closed in these areas.
Consequently, we get a peek inside the simple living quarters and often end up surprising
the residents. Today was no different when as I passed in front of one house and old man
was pulling up his pants.
As we closed in on the CP, Targ and I were trying to guess where the exact point was
based on our GPS headings. Mine pointed at a brick farmhouse while his pointed further
down the hill where some people where working the fields. As we got closer, the excitement
of reaching another confluence was building up and our pace quickened. The GPSs were
pointing to a point somewhere between the house and the workers. Our presence was
observed, and the entire family came to watch as three foreigners wandered around their
land looking at cell phone-like gadgets and mumbling to themselves. This time the CP was
on the side of a rather steep partially cultivated hillside.
Once again all three of us had slightly different points, but which were within two
meters of each other. We found the point at 12:40 PM on January 30, 2003, Elevation 543
meters. The family was eager to watch us document the process, even though they had no
idea what the heck we were doing. They poised with us for some photos and invited us to
have lunch with them. We declined saying we had other things to do (like find more
confluences!) but thanked them for their hospitality.
On the way back we passed many people headed up into the hills decked out in fancy
clothes and carrying large bags of presents for the Chinese New Year. We arrived back at
the small shop that was storing our bags just in time to catch a mianbao van back
to the ferry dock. This time getting a ferry upstream appeared to be no problem and no
option. There was only a slow boat leaving in about 30 minutes.
I christened this the Friendly Confluence Point.
Onto our fourth confluence on this trip: 30°N 108°E, 147 km away.