22-Jan-2004 -- This is the first of a four-point confluence hunt done over Chinese New Year with Targ
Parsons, the King of China Confluence Hunters.
In the past year since I have taken up the confluence habit, I have met with Targ on
four occasions. First in Yichang, Hunan with Richard Jones, then in Chongqing, thirdly in
Guangzhou, and now in Guangxi. Targ and I started discussing the China's Spring Festival
(aka Chinese New Year) about the first of the year. Targ did all the planning commenting,
"It's very exciting, isn't it?! Sometimes I think I get more of a buzz out of the
planning than the trip itself!"
This trip is foolishly, yet necessarily, being conducted during the Chinese Spring
Festival or Chinese New Year. Foolishly because when 1.3 BILLION people all have a holiday
at the same time, transport is bursting at the seams. The China railway, which we intend
to use at least half the time on this hunt, anticipates that 137,000,000 passengers will
use the iron horse during the holiday. My plane ticket to Guilin was unfortunately booked
too late for cattle class seating, so I had to purchase my first ever First Class air
ticket. I was only mildly surprised to find that regular seats were still available on the
plane. China regularly reserves seats for cadres who wish to fly at a moment's notice.
I told Targ I may have to make use of the unlimited First Class alcohol in order to try
and forget how much this ride is costing me. He wrote back ever mindful of our primary
purpose, "Don't arrive so sloshed that you can't do the confluence though!"
On what is becoming a familiar routine, I woke up early to take care of last minute
email, and then my lovely, patient, and understanding wife dropped me off at the airport
for a typical foggy early morning flight from Chengdu to Guilin. The city was atypically
quiet at this hour. Only a few forlorn taxis were roaming the streets on the first day of
Chinese Spring Festival, the lunar calendar New Year's Day.
I spent the previous night with my wife and her family having a sumptuous, glutinous
evening meal, and amidst the din of mahjong tiles being jumbled, phone calls from friends,
SMS messages arriving willy nilly and the New Year's television extravaganza.
On the plane, the two of us in the eight-seat first class section had two air hostesses
waiting on us. Uncharacteristically and just for fun, I decided to try the red wine.
Chinese wine is generally appalling, but this time it was drinkable, so I indulged in a
few miniature glasses. The few amenities don't come close to making up the difference in
ticket price, but what could I do? Have another glass of wine!
Targ was waiting for me at exit gate, excited as ever to get started. He told me on his
flight he heard the following curious announcement in English, "Ladies and gentleman,
we arrived at the airport." He thanked heaven that the plane hadn't landed somewhere
Targ had written frequently to me about how the planning he was doing on the four
planned confluences for this weekend. I told him I was thinking about doing a
"bonus" confluence on Monday after he returns to Hong Kong for work on Monday.
While Targ prepared the a detailed cue sheet on each of the four confluences we intend to
do together, I, on the other hand, did only a cursory investigation on my
"bonus" confluence. In part because I prefer being surprised; having too much
information takes a bit of the adventure out of it. But mostly because I am too lazy.
So off we went, first to Guilin to drop off my bag at the hotel. But along the way we
had a discussion about how Targ is going to get back to Hong Kong on Sunday since he must
be at work on Monday morning. The options were numerous, train, bus and plane, from
Liuzhou or Guilin. I recommended he take the plane to Shenzhen, thus insuring that he has
a confirmed way back and doesn't have to fret about it the whole trip. So on the way to
the hotel we stopped by a travel agency and he picked up his ticket.
As we left the hotel, there was a New Year's Lion Dance going on out front with a
troupe of a dozen of so sporting two dragons, a dragon tamer and the drum corps. These
were seen in many places traversing from place to wishing good fortune to the businesses
in the New Year.
Our next step was to get to Quanzhou on the 11:20 AM bus for which Targ has already
purchased tickets. In fact, he has already booked the hotel room for another night and
bought the bus tickets to Longsheng for 7 AM the next morning. This guy thought of
We get to the bus station early so Targ can try to get his favorite seat, riding
shotgun. The bus hasn't arrived yet, so we hang out for a while. A bus arrives with a bus
hostess, serving water and a local newspaper. We occupy the shotgun seats, even though our
tickets are for seat further back. Being foreigners, we were not challenged on changing
As we cruised along the 100 km from Guilin to Quanzhou in the non-stop bus, the
roadside was littered with red patches of fireworks remains from the previous night's New
Year's Eve extravaganza. New bright red duan liang, couplet banners of good luck
sayings on the sides and top of doorways, are on most houses and business.
The bus trip video had a clip on women's underwear and thong bikini bottoms leading
Targ to comment on what Shanghai was like in the late 80's when all the women were wearing
see though blouses and one could check out what style bra every woman was wearing.
"Ah, those were the days," he says with a sigh.
Along the way, virtually every shop was closed because it is New Year's Day. This gave
us an opportunity to discuss Mark Peters' comment about how happy the Chinese people seem
to be compared to most people in the U.S. I related the "99 Club" story about
how a king who was under a lot of pressure and feeling unhappy was mystified by his
gardener, who despite not having much was always happy, whistling while he worked. He
asked his advisor one day about this situation. "Ah, Sire, that is because he is not
part of the 99 club." "The 99 club?" asked the king. "You just leave
it to me and I will demonstrate." That night the king's advisor placed a bag of gold
coins outside the gardeners door. When the gardener found the bag, he was ecstatic crying
out to his wife, "We're rich!" The gardener then poured the coins on the table
and counted them. There were 99 gold coins. He thought, that can't be right, nobody would
leave a bag with 99 coins in it. So he recounted again coming up with still 99 coins. So
he thought, I must work hard to earn enough for another gold coin. The next day at work,
the king was astounded with the change in attitude of his gardener.
This lead to another discussion as to who is happier, the optimist or pessimist. Targ
argued that a pessimist is happier because he never expects things to work out and when
they do it is a pleasant surprise while an optimist is not as happy because he always
expects thing to work out but is disappointed when they don't. I disagreed, because I feel
like I am an optimist and feel happy most of the time.
Quanzhou is a small town with the only activity hovering around the bus station and an
impromptu amusement park offering China's ubiquitous ring tosses and dart guns.
As we transferred to another smaller transport we asked about returning to Guilin after
we complete the confluence visit. The bus conductress assured us in all levity that her
bus was the last bus back to Guilin today even though we know there will be plenty of
buses all day.
We thanked her for the informative misinformation and continued to the mianbao
(breadloaf) mini van station for a short hop to Longshui (dragon water) . The van was made
to hold six, so of course we didn't set out until there were 11 aboard plus two huge sacks
of fruit. Targ deftly snatched the shotgun seat as it was vacated assuring himself a
In China, the smaller the transport the more personal it gets, and by the end of a
20-km ride, everyone knows everything about everyone else. Having done his homework on the
layout of the land near the confluence, Targ was able to pinpoint the location where we
were to alight from the van; just after crossing a small bridge.
At that point there was a cluster of buildings, one of which had several pool tables
with a dozen or so young dudes shooting pool. Our arrival deadened heretofore lively group
to a stupor, and my friendly Happy New Year went unanswered. Oh well.
Between the buildings was a dirt track heading in the direction of the confluence. Lady
luck was again on our side. The fields were quiet on this New Years Day save a solitary
farmer burning dried rice stacks. We bid him a Happy New Year and continued on our way
along the north side of the stream. Targ's aerial photo seemed to indicate that the
confluence was located on the north side, yet the closer we got the more the needle veered
to the south.
At an opportune point a crossing appeared and we casually strolled to the confluence
point located in an empty field with a couple of drying rice stacks. Targ lucked out with
his GPS as it zeroed at a point on the berm, while mine meandered around the middle of the
muddy rice paddy. Seeing that is was Chinese New Year I thought it was appropriate to
celebrate the successful hunt with setting off some fireworks on the drying rice stalks.
So after doing the confluence dance for a few minutes and taking the regulatory photos,
Targ recorded the event on digital media for posterity. The lack of curious locals was
surprising, but not greatly missed.
Returning to Quanzhou, we got another mianbao (breadloaf) van at the road. The
pubescent driver tried to charge us 50% more than what we paid to get there, until Targ
threatened to bail out. Back in Quanzhou while in the van we flagged down a passing bus
going to Guilin and quickly transferred.
Back in Guilin our priorities were to eat, find transport to Longsheng and empty our
bladders, in that order. "Wearing all these layers makes it hard to find my
dick." Hong Kong-based temperately acclimatized Targ commenting on his unfamiliarity
of wearing multiple layers in the cold wave that swept through China during the Chinese
There were no buses to Longsheng that evening, so we ate an enormous meal and then
headed out to try and find a teahouse we both had been to independently previously. Guilin
has a distinct lack of hairdressers and teahouses compared to places like Chengdu. We
found that the teahouse had changed slightly, now calling itself a steakhouse, but still
offering tea. The owner claimed to be from Hong Kong, Taiwan, New York, Shanghai and
Chongqing. His English was quite good; Targ said too good to have learned from Hong Kong.
It turns out he spent 11 years in New York City.
After Targ left, I continued to work on my report and after a while was the only
customer. The crew had arranged a hot pot dinner (a bit little a cross between a soup and
fondue) and the boss invited me to join them. We had a fun time of it, and I left wishing
them all a happy New Year.
This confluence is christened the "Dancing Fireworks Confluence."
This story continues at 26N 110E.
The Confluence Visit Details:
Accuracy: 4 m
Elevation: 195 m