05-Oct-2003 -- Story continues from 26°N 118°E.
Saturday 4 October 2003, 2:10 p.m. - I arrive back in Meishan, secure a seat in the waiting bus to Datian, then wander off and buy a large bag of green seedless mandarins for the equivalent of US$0.10. Although the peel is green, they're the normal orange colour on the inside--ripe and ready to eat. I reboard the bus and share them with the driver, ticket seller and several other friendly passengers.
2:30 p.m. - Our bus departs for Datian. The driver assures me we will reach Datian in plenty of time for me to catch the last bus to the county capital of Sanming. As it transpires, we arrive in Datian just on 5:30 p.m., and as we approach the bus station, we see that the last Sanming bus has just pulled out. The driver lets me off immediately so that I can dash over to catch it, which I succeed in doing.
8:30 p.m. - After two back-to-back three-hour bus journeys, I arrive in the relatively large metropolis of Sanming. I enquire about buses to Jianning, and learn that there are no more today, but the first one tomorrow will leave at 7:30 a.m. from the East Bus Station across town, which just happens to be five minutes' walk from the fairly respectable Sanming Hotel. I take a minivan-taxi to the hotel and check in, then enjoy a decent hair wash at a nearby hairdresser, followed by a session in an Internet bar across the street.
11:00 p.m. - I'm back in my comfortable hotel room, relaxing after this morning's strenuous confluence hunt and this afternoon's long bus journeys. This is the first decent accommodation I've had in five nights, and I revel in it.
Sunday 5 October 2003, 6:00 a.m. - I wake to my new PDA-phone alarm clock, shower, dress, check out, and then make the five-minute walk to the East Bus Station. My intelligence gleaned the evening before proves pretty reliable, with the first Jianning bus scheduled to depart at 7:40 a.m. I purchase my ticket and secure the seat next to the driver, then set off to find some breakfast. Not far from the entrance to the bus station, I find a shop selling steamed buns, and buy a bagful. I also stock up on bottled water and a tin of milk peanuts. I return to the bus to sit and eat my steamed buns while patiently awaiting departure, at the same time enjoying my front seat vantage point, perfect for observing the bustling activity of the station: passengers and buses coming and going.
12:20 p.m. - I arrive in Jianning after a long but uneventful journey. At the bus station, I ask about buses to Xiyuan, and am told I need to wait out on the road for a passing bus. The sky starts to cloud over while I'm waiting, and I hope it's not going to rain. I consume my tin of milk peanuts for lunch.
Another waiting passenger's innocent looking travel bag, sitting on the ground not far from my feet, suddenly starts to writhe frantically. I wonder what sort of animal could be imprisoned inside: a chicken, a fish, a piglet, a puppy...I've seen all of these and more carried this way in China. (I never do find out.)
12:53 p.m. - At last the Xiyuan bus arrives. For the first half of the journey we travel east along a sealed highway, and then turn left onto a gravel road and head north for the remainder.
1:48 p.m. - I hop out of the bus with several other passengers at the village of Niankeng, a short distance before Xiyuan, and just 1.3 kilometres west of the confluence. I walk through the village, which lies between the road and the confluence, passing several people sitting on a woven bamboo mat, sorting and bagging chips of dried bamboo shoots.
Emerging from the other side of the village, I cross a stream and follow a small trail. There are many people about. At one point, I have to make way for a peasant coming from the other direction, carrying two large logs on his shoulder. Several people stop and ask me who I'm looking for, and are understandably bewildered when I try to explain that I'm looking for a place, not a person.
2:15 p.m. - I reach the confluence point, which is in a small plantation of trees (I neglected to enquire what sort) just beyond some recently harvested rice paddies. As I endeavour to take the north-south-east-west photos, I'm joined by half a dozen curious locals, including two young boys. It's a battle to get the photos without any people in them.
Later on, on my way back, the two boys follow me, and are soon joined by their friends from the village. I take a group shot of some of the children standing on a small bridge over the stream, with the confluence point somewhere off in the distance behind them.
As I make my way back through the village towards the road, I stop and ask a photogenic 81-year-old lady if I may take her photograph. She says it's okay as long as I don't expect her to pay for it!
2:50 p.m. - I'm back at the roadside, feeling like the Pied Piper, with a mob of children from the village in tow. A couple of the older children seem to think that there are no more buses today--not what I want to hear. I decide to flag down the next motorcyclist to come by, who turns out to be a Jiangxi businesswoman in her mid thirties, clad in a large black leather jacket. She willingly offers me a lift back to the main road. As we whiz down the gravel road, her long black hair blowing in the wind, I soon discover that she can handle a motorbike much better than most of her male compatriots.
Story continues with 27°N 118°E.