09-Mar-2002 -- I arranged to rendezvous with Jiang Cuiwen (English name: "Man") at the front entrance of her university in Guangzhou at 7 a.m. She arrived five minutes early, together with a steaming hot breakfast, which we consumed in the taxi on the way to the bus station.
The main Guangzhou provincial bus station was a seething mass of humanity as usual, however we didn't have to wait there long. We queued up and bought our tickets, and by 7:30 a.m. were on a bus to Taishan, approximately 100 kilometres to the south. The journey took two hours, and when we arrived, we were lucky enough to be able to jump straight onto another bus that was just departing for our next objective, Duhu, about 25 kilometres southeast. This trip took another hour, and had us in Duhu at 10:30 a.m. Then, after a wait of about 15 minutes, we caught a bus to our final destination of Chixi, arriving there at 11:30 a.m.
We disembarked exactly two kilometres from the confluence, on a straight road that headed directly towards it. We walked along this road, however it came to an abrupt end only a couple of hundred metres further on, at which point we had to take to the fields. As we made our way across one field, a gaggle of geese gave us a noisy admonishment for trespassing on their territory (picture #2).
We continued towards the confluence until we were one kilometre away. This point marked a transition in the terrain: from a network of land surrounding bodies of water, to a network of water surrounding islands of land. No further forward progress was possible without some way of crossing the water. Fortunately, a nearby peasant saw our plight, and very kindly came to our rescue in his boat (picture #3).
As our saviour punted us along, Man engaged him in conversation, and learned that the area we were in was devoted to shrimp and crab farming. She also found out that he had two children, so after he dropped us off 200 metres closer to the confluence, she gave him some sweets to take home for the children. A typical Chinese "politeness contest" ensued. He steadfastly refused to accept anything in return for helping us out, but Man insisted, and eventually she prevailed.
From where he dropped us, we were able to walk along a long, straight strip of land all the way to the general vicinity of the confluence. We passed by quite a few lantana bushes that were growing wild, with their pretty, multi-coloured flowers in full bloom (picture #4).
Up ahead, we saw a group of three small farmhouses near to where the confluence should be. As we approached, we aroused the attention of several dogs. They barked loudly at us, but when we arrived, they moved aside to let us through, thank goodness! Neither Man nor I felt entirely at ease in this situation, but some workmen at one of the farmhouses helped mitigate our apprehension.
I noticed a motorbike parked near the workmen, and knew immediately that there must be a much easier route to this spot than the one we had just traversed. Nevertheless, we had made it. The time was 12:30 p.m. However, the confluence turned out to be in the water (picture #5).
Determined to record a perfect reading on the GPS, we enlisted the help of one of the workmen, who was only too happy to put aside his manual labour for a spell, in favour of taking us out in one of the unattended boats (picture #1 and picture #6).
Moving back and forth, trying to get the zeroes to come up, is an awful lot harder in a boat than it is on dry land, but eventually we succeeded. Unfortunately, in the picture I snapped to record this feat, the all so crucial digits at the bottom of the display are obscured by a reflection (picture #7)! Also, interestingly enough, the compass at the top of the display was in mid-change just as the picture was taken, indicating that boat was turning.
By the time we returned to dry land, the owner of the shrimp farm had returned (picture #8). He didn't seem at all perturbed that the workman from next door had borrowed one of his boats to take Man and me out in search of some mystical spot in the water. He chatted happily with us, telling us that not only were we the first people ever to have arrived from the west, but also that Man was the first woman ever to have visited his farmhouse.
We eventually bade our farewells, and headed off in the sensible direction, along a track heading south. On our way back into town, we passed by a factory making rough concrete bars, each about a foot long and an inch square. These were laid out on the ground to set, then stacked up in their thousands, ready for shipping (picture #9). We were very curious as to what possible use these coarse rods of concrete might have, so Man asked one of the workers. It turned out that they're used for oyster farming. The rods are placed in the water, and serve as fulcrums onto which the oyster shells attach themselves.
Continuing on our way into Chixi, we noticed many womenfolk sitting outside their homes weaving nets (picture #10). We stopped in Chixi long enough to eat a late lunch, then did the morning's series of bus journeys again in the reverse order, which got us back to Guangzhou before sunset.