23-Jul-2003 -- Continued from 31°N 108°E.
Tuesday 22 July 2003 – After waking to my alarm at 8 a.m., I went downstairs to the hotel travel agent and bought a plane ticket for that afternoon from Chongqing to Nanchang, capital of Jiangxi Province. I then enjoyed the complimentary breakfast in the hotel dining room, before venturing out to find an Internet bar, where I informed friends and relatives of my progress, posted a "visited but not submitted" plan to the DCP Web site for yesterday's confluence, and caught up on the latest news. It was raining lightly.
I checked out of the hotel around noon and took a taxi to the departure point of the airport shuttle bus. The next bus left at 1 p.m., which got me to Chongqing Airport in plenty of time for my 3:10 p.m. Air China flight 4841 to Nanchang.
As I sat in the waiting lounge, I noticed that there was one other foreigner also waiting for the same flight. Later, when it came time to board the plane, I smiled when I discovered that we'd been allocated seats in the same row. Presumably the check-in staff felt that that's the way it ought to be.
On the final part of the journey, as the plane flew over northwestern Jiangxi, I had a wonderful view from my window seat of just how flat much of the countryside was. Although there had been light rain in Chongqing when I left, it was bone dry when we touched down in Nanchang, and the temperature was a searing 38°C. I took the airport shuttle into the city, and by 6 p.m. had checked into good cheap accommodation at the Nanchang Hotel, conveniently situated midway between the train station and the central bus station, both within easy walking distance.
The bathroom in my two-star hotel room was nothing less than palatial, with a large window running the entire length of the east-facing wall, holding out the promise of plenty of morning sunlight, and an equally large mirror running the entire length of the adjacent southern wall. For the price, I was extremely satisfied. I decided to make this my base of operations for the coming days and weeks, while I embarked on my goal of knocking off the remaining 15 of the 16 Jiangxi confluences.
I submitted my first load of sweat-encrusted clothing to the hotel laundry service, then walked down to the central bus station to check out the state of play. The station was very well organised, with big, clear, informative, up-to-date timetables on the wall. What the timetables couldn't tell me, the helpful staff could. In fact, I began to realise something that I would continue to notice throughout my entire stay in Jiangxi, that of all the places I'd been in China, the people of Jiangxi were far and away the most kind and helpful I'd ever had the pleasure to meet.
I decided to make six separate forays out of Nanchang to visit the 15 confluences. The first two would be day trips to the nearest two confluences, immediately to the north and south, then after that would be multi-day, multi-confluence trips to the northwest, east, southwest, and finally to the south. I gathered what information I needed from the central bus station to put this plan into effect. Later, I would complement this knowledge with additional information gleaned from the train station, a short walk in the other direction from the hotel.
But for tonight, I contented myself with another quick session in an Internet bar, a shampoo and blow-dry, and a dim sum dinner in a nice restaurant, all within the vicinity of my hotel. In contrast to Chongqing, the prices in Jiangxi proved to be considerably cheaper. During my excursion, I also picked up a Nanchang city map featuring all the commuter bus routes, which was to subsequently prove indispensable.
Wednesday 23 July 2003 – I awoke to a cloudless sky. It promised to be yet another scorcher. Sunlight was streaming into my hotel room and its palatial bathroom.
For my first Jiangxi confluence of this trip, I'd selected the closest, just 38.2 kilometres to the north. At 7:15 a.m. I set off on a no. 2 trolley bus from the hotel across town to Bayi Bridge, then at 7:45 a.m. was on a no. 131 commuter bus north to Xiangshan. There was an old lady (she proudly told me she was over 70) sitting next to me on the bus, peeling and eating boiled quail eggs. She kept offering them to me. Once she finished the quail eggs, she delved into her collection of well-used plastic bags and pulled out a supply of sweet buns. These too she insisted on offering me, and in the end I was "forced" to eat first one, then another. I had to physically restrain her as she attempted to jam a third down my throat. It wasn't that the buns were no good--they were quite tasty in fact--it was all just part of the customary ritual when involved in one of these "Chinese politeness contests". She even tried to pay my bus fare, a not insubstantial three yuan (US$0.40), but I firmly drew the line at this show of generosity and insisted on paying my own fare.
At 9:25 a.m. I disembarked from the no. 131 commuter bus just after it crossed a bridge, not far before its final destination, and with the confluence lying 4.47 kilometres to the north. I headed north along a dirt road, with the waterway we'd just crossed to my left. Along the way, I saw several varieties of birds, including a magnificent kingfisher. The only two varieties that I could positively identify though were the Chinese bulbul and the black drongo, both of which are prevalent on Lamma Island in Hong Kong, where I live.
Also along the way I passed a number of farmhouses. In the yard of one, two women were busy threshing rice using a power-driven threshing-machine.
At 10:20 a.m. I left the dirt road and the waterway, and headed inland. The confluence was now 1.25 kilometres to the northeast. I found the NASA satellite image that I'd printed and brought with me to be quite helpful in tracking down the precise location of the confluence, which I achieved at 11 a.m. By now the sun was blisteringly hot, and the dead flat terrain offered no respite at all.
The confluence was near the western edge of a rice paddy, surrounded by yet more rice paddies on all sides as far as one could see. There were a few bushes growing between this rice paddy and the one immediately to the west, owing to the presence of a small irrigation ditch. I took photos to the north, south, east and west. The elevation was a mere 15 metres, and my GPS was achieving excellent 6-metre accuracy.
After recording the necessary data, I began making my way back to the dirt road. There were a number of peasants out in the rice paddies, some pulling up the plants from fields that had become too congested, and others replanting them with greater separation in freshly prepared paddies.
I also saw several small piles of odd-looking tubes made from woven bamboo. Curious to know what these were, I stopped to ask a local. I had a lot of difficulty understanding his thick accent though, so he took to writing in my notebook, which was also somewhat less than clear, because he had only one arm and this seemed to affect the legibility of his writing. In the end though, I understood that the bamboo tubes were somehow involved in the rearing and/or capture of freshwater eels, known to the Chinese as huangshan, literally "yellow eel".
Eventually I got back to the dirt road running alongside the waterway, and started heading back south towards the main road. After a short while a motorbike came by, and I was able to beg a ride, thus minimising slightly the length of my exposure to the sweltering sun. At the main road, while I sat consuming vast quantities of chilled bottled water and waiting for the next no. 131 commuter bus to come along, a truck driver stopped and offered me a lift back to Nanchang, because he said that was where he was going anyway.
The truck driver dropped me off in an unfamiliar part of Nanchang, but thanks to the city map I'd bought the night before, it was easy to work out that I needed to catch a no. 18 commuter bus back to the hotel. Once back in the comfort of my hotel room, I realised that the day's activities had left me a wee bit sunburnt. I also reflected upon how everyone I'd met during the day had been so kind and nice to me, and how I really liked Jiangxi.
I collected my laundry, ate a late lunch, including two mouth-wateringly delicious peaches I'd picked up at a nearby fruit stall, then had an afternoon nap. Late in the afternoon, when the sun was not quite so fierce, I ventured out again to buy a few necessities, and to do some more intelligence gathering, this time at the train station. On the way back I stopped off at an Internet bar, and then at a small restaurant for a bowl of wonton soup.
On the corner opposite to my hotel was another, slightly more up-market three-star hotel. Even though I made it clear I was not a guest of their hotel, the staff there were most eager to help me to download some photos from my camera. I wanted to send them to Peter, so that he could include whatever he wished in his submissions for 29°N 107°E and 30°N 106°E. (The ability to download photos from a camera is not available in Internet bars anywhere in China, presumably as part of a nationwide initiative to help prevent the spread of pornographic material.)
Downloading the photos onto the hotel computer proved the easy part. The difficult part came when trying to upload them to somewhere where Peter could access them. There were a number of compounding technical issues to overcome, made even worse by the fact that the hotel PC was connected to the Internet by only a very slow 56K dial-up modem. Because it was getting late, I eventually gave up after uploading only half the photos. I ate a very late dinner before returning to my own hotel after midnight.
Story continues at 28°N 116°E.