04-Oct-2003 -- Story continues from 26°N 117°E.
Friday 3 October 2003, 10:45 a.m. - I say goodbye to Tony and hop straight onto a bus for Datian just as it's about to pull out of the Yong'an bus station. There is only one unoccupied seat remaining, and it's right at the back of the bus. It's a journey of just under 100 kilometres, and the road is anything but smooth. I'm getting bounced around a lot in the back.
12:15 p.m. - The passenger in my favourite seat next to the driver disembarks. I grab my backpack and make a mad dash to the front of the bus to secure the position before anyone else can. Just as well, too, because the road very soon deteriorates substantially.
1:35 p.m. - I arrive in Datian. The next bus to Meishan is due to depart at 2 p.m. I secure my seat, and then have time to go to the toilet and buy some more bottled water as well as a sweet bun filled with a sugar-honey mixture.
While waiting to depart, I chat with the ticket seller, and tell him where I'm headed next after Meishan: Lunzhou. At first he's a bit confused, but when I point it out to him on the map, he says: "Oh, Cangzhou." Now I'm confused, and double-check my dictionary to make sure I haven't made a mistake about the pronunciation. I haven't. Very puzzling.
The journey to Meishan takes us through some spectacularly beautiful terrain--endless terraced mountainsides, as far as the eye can see. Along the way, we also pass no less than five police vehicles, the first of which pulls us over and imposes a fine for overloading.
4:45 p.m. - I arrive in Meishan, and immediately arrange for a motorbike to take me to Cangzhou. (Calling it "Lunzhou" continues to draw blank looks.) It's a short trip along a dirt road. But it turns out that there's nowhere to stay in Cangzhou--no guesthouses, nothing. A few locals debate what to do with the foreigner who has arrived unannounced late in the evening. After a while, Mr Chen Changge, the village chief, is located and brought onto the scene. He's a young chap in his mid thirties, and has only recently been elected to his post by a popular vote of Cangzhou's 2,000-plus population. He solves the dilemma by inviting me to stay at his place.
Before dinner, we go for a walk around the village. I see the characters for "Cangzhou" painted on a wall; it is indeed Cangzhou and not Lunzhou. I ask the village chief about the anomaly on the map, and he says it's a mistake of the mapmakers. The characters for "cang" and "lun" are very similar, and apparently someone transcribed it incorrectly at some stage.
Our walk takes us past a kaolin (china clay) mine. The white rocks extracted from the mine are crushed into a powder that is used to make porcelain. We also walk across a suspension bridge built in 1984 to connect the two sections of the village on opposite sides of the river. Prior to 1984, the only way across was by means of a small boat. On our way back to the village chief's house, he stops to buy some honggu, red mushrooms, a local delicacy grown in the nearby hills.
Everyone we pass along the way stops to say hello. Of course they all know the village chief, and accord him due respect. As a common form of greeting, they offer me cigarettes, which I always turn down because I don't smoke. I notice that they don't offer them to the village chief though. He is one of the very few Chinese men who do not smoke.
Back home, the village chief's mother is already starting to cook. Soon it's time for everyone to wash their hands and get stuck into dinner. The red mushrooms have been served up with noodles, turning the whole dish blood red. The mushrooms, as well as all the other dishes, taste great.
The village chief wants me to join him in drinking beer. I have one bowl (there are no glasses; it's simply drunk out of rice bowls), and then stick to Chinese tea. Once I finish my beer, I'm allowed to eat rice. It's a curious but universal Chinese phenomenon that drinking beer and eating rice are mutually exclusive activities.
Saturday 4 October 2003, 3:00 a.m. - The roosters start crowing way too early.
7:45 a.m. - We've had breakfast, and now we're set to go. The village chief wants to join in the confluence hunt, and is going to take me there on the back of his motorbike. I suggest he might want to wear something more substantial than a pair of open sandals.
The confluence is four kilometres northeast of Cangzhou. We follow a dirt road east-southeast along the south bank of the Wenjiang River, cross over to the north bank on a small, rather dilapidated suspension bridge, and then continue along the dirt road until we reach the confluence of the Wenjiang and Puxi rivers. At 4.4 kilometres to the north-northwest, the degree confluence is now actually further away than when we started. We turn left and follow the Puxi River towards it. Along the way we encounter a magnificent shanji (mountain chicken), a large, black, pheasant-like bird with long flowing white tail feathers. It scrambles up the slope to our left and disappears before I can get the camera out.
8:35 a.m. - After covering more than 10 kilometres on the motorbike since setting out from Cangzhou, we at last arrive in the small village of Puxi, just 2.5 kilometres southeast of the confluence. Everyone in Puxi appears to be quite familiar with the Cangzhou village chief.
8:50 a.m. - Continuing on from Puxi, the dirt road rapidly deteriorates into nothing more than a walking track, and 800 metres south-southeast of the confluence we are forced to park the motorbike and continue on foot. Soon we lose the path altogether, and start walking up the streambed. We get as close as 400 metres from the confluence, but rather than take to the hillside as I want to do, the village chief suggests we continue along the streambed, confident that we will shortly encounter a bend to the left, bringing us even closer.
So we carry on along the streambed, whereupon I promptly lose the satellites, and no longer have any idea how far away we are. I briefly get the signal back and find we're now 460 metres from the confluence. I again want to leave the streambed and take to the bush, but am again persuaded by the village chief to stick with the streambed.
The next time I can get a reading on the GPS, I find we're now over 500 metres away, and going in the wrong direction. I finally manage to convince him that we should head back. When we get back to the point 460 metres from the confluence, we do now head up the hillside to our right.
9:50 a.m. - Scrambling up the hillside, we eventually come upon a dirt road. This is quite a surprise to the village chief, who had no idea this road existed. We've advanced 100 metres on the confluence, which is now 360 metres away. After walking along the road for a short distance, we are another 60 metres closer; but now we need to recommence scrambling up the hillside. The slope is steep, with unforgiving thorn bushes and grass that cuts our hands when we mistakenly grab onto it for support.
10:50 a.m. - Another hour of punishment, our arms and faces covered in scratches, we at long last reach the confluence. It is on a steep hillside covered in trees and other vegetation, as can be seen in the photos taken looking north, south, east and west.
12 noon - Now we are back in the village of Puxi, having availed ourselves of the road we discovered for the return journey. To keep the wolf from the door, the village chief suggests we have a tin each of "milk peanuts". I've never tried this before, but it turns out to be jolly good, and I add it to my list of nutritious convenience foods to look out for whenever I'm in China.
We hop back on the bike, and head home towards Cangzhou.
12:40 p.m. - Not far from Cangzhou, a motorcyclist approaching with great haste from the opposite direction comes around a blind corner and clips our motorbike, breaking off the left indicator light. I go and sit patiently under a tree while the two riders discuss the accident.
12:55 p.m. - We are back at the village chief's home in Cangzhou. His wife cooks up a hearty lunch, after which I suggest it's time for me to move on. They refuse to accept any money for the food, accommodation and motorcycle rides, but I insist on leaving them at least a modest amount, which they eventually accept after the obligatory protracted Chinese politeness contest. I thank them all very much for their hospitality. The village chief says he will give me a lift back to Meishan.
Story continues with 27°N 117°E.