01-Jul-2005 -- Story continues from 30°N 114°E.
Having made an early start on the previous confluence, we were already back in Jiayu and checking out of our hotel at 9 a.m. We took a rather slow no. 2 commuter bus across town to the long distance bus station, and at 9:40 a.m. we were seated on a bus bound for the provincial capital Wuhan. The bus was just about to commence its journey, or so we thought.
Seated in the front row of the bus, just near the door, was a gentleman who was holding a curious looking glass tube, about five feet long and two or three inches in diameter. The glass tube was standing vertically, with one end resting on the floor, and the other end in the firm grasp of the seated passenger, who was gripping it about two thirds of the way up.
The bus backed out of its spot, and was just about to drive away, when there appeared the usual latecomer would-be passenger who demanded to board at the very last minute. The driver opened the door to let him on, he got on, and the driver promptly put the bus in gear and started to move off. As he did so, the sudden forward motion of the bus startled the latecomer, who had barely climbed on board and had not yet found a seat. He instinctively reached out for the nearest handhold, which, as you've probably guessed already, was the luckless front row passenger's glass tube.
Crash! The sound of shattering glass was unmistakable.
Now, it is an interesting practice in China that if someone breaks something belonging to someone else, then the breaker must compensate the breakee, no matter what. So in this case, when the inevitable argument broke out, it was not, as you might expect, between the owner of the glass tube and the latecomer passenger, but rather between the latecomer passenger and the bus driver. In fact, the owner of the glass tube remained quite calm about the whole thing, not even moving or saying a word, confident that, in accordance with prevailing norms, he would be compensated regardless of what happened.
The argument between the latecomer passenger and the driver centred around the latecomer passenger's claim that the driver was in fact responsible for the damage, because he had started to drive off without waiting for the latecomer passenger to be seated, and therefore the driver should compensate the glass tube owner, not the latecomer passenger.
The argument raged for some 10 or 15 minutes, with the ticket seller occasionally chiming in on the side of the driver. However no resolution could be reached, and the remaining passengers started getting restless, making disparaging remarks that further fuelled tempers. Eventually a decision was made that the matter should be settled at the police station, whereupon we all piled off the bus and onto another, leaving only the driver, the latecomer passenger and the glass tube owner on board, the latter still forlornly sitting there holding what was left of his broken glass tube.
At long last we were on our way. As we travelled NNE towards Wuhan, we wondered how the protagonists were getting on at the police station. We figured it would probably end up being a 50-50 settlement, where the latecomer passenger and driver would each foot half the bill. I couldn't help thinking that, had the same thing happened somewhere else in the world, the poor glass tube owner would have been sued for bringing a dangerous object onto the bus!
At the halfway point, we did the now familiar three-wheeler shuttle across the makeshift bridge to our third bus in this protracted journey. We arrived in Wuchang shortly before noon, and bought "anytime" tickets for the unscheduled bus service to Xiaogan. However, before we headed to Xiaogan, we needed to find a camera shop so Carmen could buy a new Compact Flash card. This entailed taking a taxi a long way across the bridge from Wuchang to Hankou, but we were ultimately successful. While in Hankou, we stopped for lunch, which included a large plate of delicious frogs' legs.
After lunch, we took a taxi back to the Hongji Bus Station in Wuchang, then, after waiting for half an hour on the air-conditioned bus as it sat in the station, we eventually departed at 2:50 p.m., heading northwest to the large city of Xiaogan, capital of Xiaogan Prefecture. We arrived in Xiaogan at 4:30 p.m. The confluence was 12 km northeast.
Stopping in Xiaogan only long enough to stock up on bottled water, we engaged a woman taxi driver to take us to the confluence point near the township of Xihe. Getting to the point could not have been easier. The new bridge over the freeway was clearly visible just a few hundred metres off to the left of the main road. Our driver turned off and proceeded along the dirt road towards the overpass, until the car bottomed out on the uneven surface, whereupon she declared she wasn't prepared to go any further, leaving us the final 180 metres to cover on foot.
We had to cross the bridge to reach the confluence point, which was just a few metres on the other side. As well as the regulation north-south-east-west shots, we also took shots facing southwest, looking back towards the bridge, and southeast, giving a perfect view of the brickworks and its prime position next to the freeway, illustrating how, as suggested by the previous visitors, it would make an ideal petrol station. Although the freeway was not yet open, its opening appeared to be imminent.
This visit marked the end of our four-confluence trip to southeastern Hubei Province, which had begun several days earlier with 30°N 116°E. It had been a tremendously successful trip all round, blessed with perfect weather (albeit perhaps just a little too hot at times), and serving as a wonderful initiation for Carmen, our first-time confluencer.