01-Jul-2010 -- Having not done a confluence visit for almost two years, I was starting to suffer DCP withdrawal symptoms. There was also a nagging "hole" in my confluence map, consisting of Jiāngsū's (江苏省) nine confluence points, which cried out to be filled in. So it was that Ah Feng and I set out on another Chinese confluence hunt.
I left work early on the afternoon of Wednesday 30 June 2010, the day before the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Establishment Day holiday, and took the bus to Sheùng Wán (上环), where I met Ah Feng at the in-town check-in for our flight to Nánjīng (南京市), capital of Jiāngsū Province. This was a new experience for us, and I must thank my friend and co-confluencer Peter Cao for discovering this very convenient arrangement. Although we were in downtown Hong Kong, we were actually checking in for a flight departing from the Shēnzhèn (深圳市) airport, across the border in Guǎngdōng Province (广东省).
We got our boarding passes: seats 8A and 8B. Chinese consider the number eight to be lucky, so this seemed like a good omen with which to start our trip.
As we sat waiting for the cross-border coach to the airport, I engrossed myself in Peter Hessler's new book, Country Driving: Three journeys across a changing China, which was a birthday present from my father. I was only 14 pages in, but it was already proving to be a very entertaining read.
The bus left at 4:30 p.m. sharp. It was a glorious sunny day, and we hoped for more of the same in Jiangsu over the coming days. By 5:30 p.m., we had cleared Hong Kong and mainland Chinese customs, and were back on the bus, albeit a different one. We arrived at the Shenzhen airport at 6:15 p.m., the whole journey taking just 1¾ hours.
After dropping off our bags (which couldn't be checked in in Hong Kong), we made our way to our "usual" restaurant, the Jade Garden, located midway between terminals A and B, for some dinner.
At 8:30 p.m., we went off in search of our departure gate. Our flight was scheduled to depart at 9 p.m., however there was a problem with the departure information screens, which were showing details for all flights up to 8 p.m., most of which had already departed, and nothing later! It was impossible to know at which departure gate we should be.
Eventually we found the Shēnzhèn Airlines VIP lounge, and asked the girl on the desk there. She informed us our flight would board through gate 46. I don't think there was a departure gate that could have been further from our current position! We had to make our way back the entire length of terminal B, then the entire length of terminal A, to tiny obscure terminal C, which I hadn't even known existed before.
However, it made no difference, because when we finally arrived at gate 46, we were greeted with a sign informing passengers that the flight was delayed.
At 9:35 p.m., we boarded the plane, which was full, including a good complement of screaming kids, who just happened to be seated all around us. Sometimes the number eight is not so lucky.
We sat on the plane for ages, going nowhere. My guess was that they were scouring the terminal building for other wayward passengers, still wondering at what gate number they should be.
At 10 p.m., the in-flight movie started, and five minutes later, they started serving the in-flight meal. However, we were still sitting on the tarmac—not a good sign.
Dinner came in a cardboard box secured with a rubber band, and bearing the company's current English slogan: "Feel easy and considerate at anytime Shēnzhèn Airlines." Inside was a packet of salted crackers, a packet of salted cracker nuts, a cup cake, and four small fruits that tasted like lychees, but weren't. There was also a wet towel, labelled "wet turban," for wiping hands.
By 10:30 p.m., with the meals consumed, passengers started getting restless, and the stewardesses had to put on brave faces while deflecting a lot of flack. Ah Feng was falling asleep. Fortunately I had Peter Hessler to keep me occupied.
By 11:30 p.m., the stairs had been reconnected, and the crew was making periodic announcements offering anyone who wanted to disembark the chance to do so. Each time, a few more disgruntled passengers filed off. It reminded me of our visit to 26°N 108°E, when we found ourselves sitting on a bus going nowhere in Guìlín (桂林市). We abandoned that abortive journey early on, but this time we were in for the long haul.
At 11:45 p.m., the plane finally started moving! Our patience had been rewarded. The captain told us we'd been given a 12 o'clock slot for takeoff. Nice of them to fit us in, I thought.
At precisely 11:59 p.m., one of the nearby screaming kids decided that she had to go to the toilet RIGHT NOW! The stewardess carried her off to the first-class toilet as we taxied into position, occupying our coveted midnight slot in the takeoff queue.
We arrived in Nánjīng shortly before 2 a.m. following an otherwise uneventful flight, and after collecting our luggage, took the airport bus into town, getting off at the central railway station.
It took a great deal of searching to find a hotel with any vacant rooms, but eventually we paid 100 yuan (US$ 15) for a miniature room on the 6½th floor of a "hotel" about 10 minutes' walk from the railway station. It reminded me of the movie Being John Malcovich. The low-ceilinged room was just high enough for me to stand up without knocking my head. The window, which overlooked the half dozen or so railway tracks below, started below floor level, and came up to little more than waist height. There were no private bathroom facilities - all ablutions had to be done in the communal area on the third floor.
The tiny room amplified the sounds of the trains that constantly rattled past just metres below, but we had no option but to leave the window open, because it was so hot and stuffy—there was of course no air-conditioning. As a consequence, we got next to no sleep. Ah Feng was not impressed, and contemplated bailing out of our confluence trip before it had even begun. I assured her things could only get better from here.
We checked out at 9:20 a.m., and had a bowl of wontons each for breakfast at a nearby air-conditioned restaurant. We then walked to the eastern side of the railway station, where we caught an air-conditioned Nánjīn (南金) bus to the Dōngshān Bus Station (东山总站). Outside, it was hot, windy and dusty.
At the Dōngshān Bus Station, we changed to a Jīntāng (金汤) bus. The bus passed through some tea growing areas before we got off at the entrance to Mèngmù Village (孟幕村), a couple of kilometres from the confluence.
We engaged a three-wheeler to take us through the village and out the other side to the confluence. From the back, the houses of the village all looked much the same: pretty nondescript grey structures of two stories each. On the dirt road behind the village, our three-wheeler had to dodge big trucks carrying large rocks one way, and gravel the other. There was obviously a quarry and gravel works operating nearby.
We parked a few dozen metres east of the confluence, which was located on a small slope to our left, in a field planted with pumpkin and corn. I took a shot of the GPS, and then photos facing north, south, east and west. While I was doing this, another big truck carrying rocks rumbled past our waiting three-wheeler.
With the point documented, our three-wheeler driver took us back through the village to a nice clean restaurant near the bus stop, where we enjoyed a very good lunch consisting of a local delicacy called "saliva chicken" (kǒu shuǐ jī 口水鸡), mushrooms, bok choy and rice, plus complimentary tea and watermelon.
Story continues at 32°N 120°E.