29-Jul-2003 -- Although our time in Wuhan was limited, and the weather extremely hot, we decided to try and visit the closest confluence that appeared most accessible. We were glad we did-- there are significant changes in the confluence area, making it a very interesting contrast to Hans’ trip in Aug 2002, almost exactly one year ago (he and his friends were the first to visit this confluence). This was our second of three confluence visits (see 36N 120E and 35N 109E).
We began at the Hankou train station in Wuhan, where we were amused by the large “Furniture Confluence” advertisement (see Picture 3, left) in front of the station--it seems confluences are catching on in China! Catching the 2pm electric double-decker train (Picture 3, right) headed for Xi’an, we got off about an hour later at the first stop of Xiaogan after a pleasant ride for 9 yuan. This area of Hubei province is basically flat, covered with verdant farmland as far as the eye can see (Picture 4, left). It seemed that it was especially green at this time of year, a pretty sight.
Once we disembarked at the small station of Xiaogan, we attempted to buy return train tickets to Wuhan for late afternoon, assuming the confluence wouldn’t take too long to visit. However there were only evening trains, and the helpful people at the station advised us to take a long-distance bus back, saying the buses leave every half hour or so. Assuming we could do that, we stopped trying to find a train back. When we stepped outside the train ticket office, a friendly taxi driver who had spotted us early on was still patiently waiting for us, and when we mentioned the general direction we wanted to go, she was game enough to give it a try--we didn’t mention about the confluence attempt, as most folks aren’t well versed in longitude and latitude in some of these areas. We were the first foreigners that she had taken in her taxi, so there were plenty of questions about situations and customs abroad. We were very happy that the airconditioner in her taxi worked well, helping to offset the strong sun and humid air. Picture 4, right, shows our taxi and my friend Richard, after we’d driven as close to the confluence as our driver wanted to go.
Heading northeast out of Xiaogan the road is a nice two lane road, passing through the occasional village, and by numerous farms. Picture 5 shows some of the scenery we passed—freshly-planted rice fields, and farmers patiently plowing their fields with water buffalo. After about fifteen or twenty minutes of driving, the GPS signaled it was time to turn, and a well-used dirt road headed directly towards the confluence. Our driver didn’t mind the sometimes-rough dirt road, but when we came to a section with very fine and deep dust, she drew the line and stopped: she’d just washed her car, and didn’t want to get it covered in dust again. Since we were within a few hundred meters of the confluence, we were plenty happy to hike the last little distance to our goal.
What we found after arriving in the area near the confluence was very surprising! Although Hans’ visit to the confluence was almost exactly one year ago, there have been huge changes to the area since then. There is now a new freeway being built through the area, passing within 50 meters of the confluence point. In fact, there is an overpass being constructed over the freeway at that point, and the overpass road will pass directly, centered, through the confluence point… so, before long the area will be hugely changed from the rice-cleaning flat piece of ground that Hans took pictures of in 2002! In Picture 6, left, if you look carefully you can see me standing at the confluence point, and nearby is the edge of the bridge abutment of the overpass road that crosses the freeway. As you can see in the picture, the bridge road will pass directly through the confluence point when finished, and the next visitors will have to stand in the middle of the new overpass road to take their pictures, not so convenient(!). Picture 6, right, is a picture of the overpass bridge being constructed, the confluence point is out of the picture on the left.
There is still a nice view of green countryside from the confluence though--Picture 1 is the view looking North from the confluence, some of the trees that were in the area near the confluence when Hans visited are now gone. However panorama Picture 2 shows the vast changes in the area, when looking south from the confluence. Clearly visible in the picture is the roadbed being prepared for the freeway, and what also appears to be the preparation for an exit road from the freeway, leading to the overpass road that crosses the freeway at the confluence. Center-left in Picture 2 you can see the brick factory that Hans also took pictures of--judging by the general appearance of things, it now appears that the brick factory folks would do well to scrap the brick factory and open a very-handy-location gasoline and service station!! What used to be back-water property is suddenly prime property, but we’re not sure they’ve caught on to the fact yet…! Seeing the vast changes that have happened in the last year helped make this confluence visit a rewarding one. We’ll refrain from judging the changes--some would call it progress and others would call it environmentally disturbing. So it goes in this land of 1+ billion people.
Picture 7, left, shows the GPS numbers after averaging the location for a while. As best as we could figure it from the pictures, it seems we were some meters away from the spot marked on the first visit, but still at the same level piece of ground where the farmer had been cleaning his rice in Hans’ pictures. In Picture 7, right, Richard is holding the GPS while I watch one of the local people use my camera to take our picture—once again the locals were disinclined to have their picture taken, unfortunately. There was a group of about 12 that came over from the bridge-building effort and were curious about our activities (we said it was a “school project”), but very friendly. It would have been nice to be able to include their picture in this little report of our enjoyable time, but they refused.
We decided to submit Picture 8, left, where I am standing on the confluence point, the camera pointing northward. If you compare this photo with Hans’ (first visit to the site) photo #1, you can see the pile of rice stalks is much smaller and abandoned, trees to the north of the nearby access road are gone, and the fill dirt for the approach road to the overpass bridge is already near the confluence point.
After scouting around and taking pictures we made our way back to our kind taxi driver and started back to Xiaogan again. On the way back she stopped a few times for some scenery pictures, including a picture of a water buffalo… as it turned out, the farmer that owned the water buffalo was a secret capitalist, asking for a pack of cigarettes for permission to photograph his prize buffalo. Our driver drove a hard bargain, negotiating the price down to 5 yuan in the end, making the farmer's day a little happier for the added profit, and bringing smiles all around. The water bufallo even appeared to get a good laugh out of the affair, see Picture 8, right….
Our driver took us directly to the long distance bus station, and we caught a relatively nice airconditioned bus just leaving for Wuhan, quite convenient (it took an hour and a half approximately). Although we’d managed to pack a confluence visit into our afternoon, we arrived back on schedule for our 6:30pm supper appointment. We found this visit to be unique in the fact that there were so many changes during the one year since the last visit, confirming the fact that repeat visits can be valuable and worthwhile too!