06-May-2002 -- Steve Kuo and I had been making our way across China's Yunnan province with little idea of where to meet. We jumped from internet bar to internet bar trying to figure out where our paths would cross. Since Steve was still a confluence virgin, the best place to meet turned out to be a village called Shangyun, 18 km away from but on the approach to confluence 23N 100E. I had been making my way across back roads from Ruili to Jinghong as part of my work for Imaginative Traveller (see confluences 24N 99E and 25N 99E). I found myself deeper and deeper into minority regions as I neared Jinghong. Since I had been traveling for more than 2 weeks without seeing a single non-Chinese or non-minority person, it was welcome news that my good friend Steve Kuo from California was coming to meet me. So we planned to meet at the junky little Shangyun bus station at 11:00AM, May 5th.
Neither of us knew what to expect in Shangyun. It turned out to be just another "charmless" (if I may quote Steve), dusty pit like so many other places I described in my visits to confluences in Yunnan. However, it was slightly different in that there were minority people in colorful costumes of sea shells and stripes of bright pink, blue and green. Similar textiles were being sold on the lone, main street comprising the bulk of the 'modern' town. There was also a hidden old town which was a lot more relaxed and settling to the senses.
By the time Steve arrived, which was only a few hours late - not bad for a meeting in a small town arranged through the internet - I had already found out that we missed the only one bus per day going down the road to the confluence. So we walked out to the road hoping to hitchhike. Yeah, right! We soon found out why there were so few buses - it seemed nobody needed to go out there! The road, which disappeared off into the distant mountains, was completely quiet and deserted. We turned back, explored some of the old town, and slept a night in Shangyun.
This confluence was strange in that like 24N 99E it would have been right in the middle of a big white area. However, in this case there was the one lone road (the quiet one) which seemed remarkably close to the point. The point was also right near the village of Xiao Tang, which was also coincidental since the region was a relatively large natural area void of houses or towns.
The bus took us down the seemingly long distance of 18 km along a narrow, mountainous dirt road. Despite the huge deviations caused by road meanders, we honed in closer and closer to the point until we were only 1 km away from it. How easy could this be?! We turned a corner and there was a village. Instead of riding a little longer, we opted to get off the bus while it was stopped. We later found out that the village was indeed Xiao Tang.
We got right to work on our quest. We found a small high road to the north of Xiao Tang which gave us a good view of where the point might be. It seemed as if it were all downhill from here. We followed a small trail which descended us upon terraced rice paddies. We crossed the paddies and some farmers asked us where we were trying to go. We just pointed and smiled and they left us alone.
Next came a blur of strange vegetated terrain. We climbed up a shrubby hill and came down its other side of turned-up, unused soil. The sunny day had surrendered to threatening clouds which began to spit large raindrops. As hesitant as we were, the rain coaxed us through a few small animal trails which, in places, had pestering overgrown vegetation proving difficult to negotiate through. The sticker bushes were particularly annoying. After traversing through vegetation the slope became steeper and the trees disappeared into small shrubs and ferns. The big raindrops increased in frequency. The walking became less impeded as the slope steepened and turned into old terraces overgrown with shrubs. As we ran downhill we closed in fast on the confluence point.
There it was on the slope of old unused terraces overgrown with dry shrub vegetation with some pink flowers. While being pelted by raindrops we marked the spot.
Returning from the point had an interesting story in itself. First of all, the confluence point was nearly at the bottom of the old terraces, next to a row of tall full-canopied trees. After descending into the trees out of curiosity, hearing sound of rushing water and voices, to our astonishment we found that the dirt road which we had driven in on was right there. Thus the road was only 70 meters from the confluence point - imagine what a push-over it would have been if we had stayed on the bus. If anyone wants an easy point, come down and do this one!
The sounds we had heard came from even further below the road. Farmers were working knee-deep in flooded paddies connected by what seemed to be a fantasy-land of cascading waterfalls.
We followed the disturbingly quiet road back to Xiao Tang, wondering if there might be any buses returning to Shangyun on the relatively untrodden path. Upon arrival at about 3 or 4 PM, the answer was a resounding 'no'! Surprise, surprise.
I was hoping I could repeat my last confluence experience of staying in a remote farming village, and show Steve, now a newly initiated confluence hunter, what it was all about.
Unfortunately, the first people we met didn't give us a very warm reception and we concluded we would have to hire our own local car back. As we were about to leave some farmers invited us in for food and we felt we were getting along very well. They might have let us stay with them but they knew they had a lot more to gain from the 120 Yuan they had negotiated with us to get back to Shangyun. The ride back was on a bone-joltingly bumpy two-stroke tractor which ended up being one of those fun trips that builds character. One bit of advice if you ever find yourself taking a ride in the back of a Chinese two-stroke tractor: stand up and hold on to the cabin for life!
For more pictures see Steve's site: http://www.stevekuo.com/china/.