01-Aug-2005 -- Story continues from 34°N 117°E.
Mon 1 Aug 2005 (Day 4, cont'd) - When I get back to the road, there is a group of young men hanging about, one with a motorbike. I ask them where would be the best place to get a bus south to the prefecture capital of Suzhou: can I get one in Zhuangli, or do I need to return to Huaibei? They tell me there are buses to Suzhou from Zhuangli, and the guy with the motorbike gives me a free lift the short distance.
11 a.m. - Arriving in Zhuangli, I ask again about buses to Suzhou, and the locals say there should be one leaving at 12 noon. So I sit down to eat some dabings, a type of baked flatbread, and to write in my diary, which draws a huge crowd of curious onlookers.
The dabing lady charged me one yuan (US$0.12) for two dabings, which I knew was double the normal price. Although I didn't bother to complain at the time, she must have subsequently come under some peer pressure, because just as I'm finishing the second one, she brings me another two hot ones The local restaurateur also insists I eat a free bowl of babaozhou (eight-treasure congee).
11:30 a.m. - The Suzhou bus arrives, and I go and sit on it to escape the rather oppressive audience that is continuing to grow in number. I learn that the official departure time is not until 12:20 p.m. The bus finally leaves at 12:25 p.m.
Approaching the outskirts of Suzhou, the bus driver spots a police checkpoint, and immediately orders all the passengers sitting on stools, benches, boxes and other unofficial seats to hit the deck and lay low, which they obediently do, getting their clothes very dirty in the process--the floor of the bus is not the cleanest of environments.
Before we've had time to recover from all this excitement, there is yet more, when the ticket seller, who is a little on the chubby side, loses his balance and falls heavily, breaking an old lady's umbrella. The old lady vociferously demands compensation. The ticket seller asks how much she paid for the umbrella, to which she replies 9 yuan. He gives her 10, and calm is restored.
2 p.m. - The bus arrives in Suzhou. I take a taxi to the Suzhou New Bus Station, where I get a ticket on the 2:30 p.m. bus south to the neighbouring county capital of Huaiyuan.
3:45 p.m. - I get off in Huaiyuan, and immediately board a passing bus heading west. Twenty minutes later, shortly before reaching Heliu Township, I get off at an intersection with a dirt road, the confluence 2.63 kilometres SW. I choose to get off here because this dirt road is clearly visible on the NASA satellite image that I've brought with me, and looks to be the best bet for reaching the confluence.
I walk SSW along the straight, wide, dirt road, surrounded by rice paddies on either side. I'm fortunate enough to scrounge a lift on the back of a three-wheeler truck part of the way. When the confluence is 1.16 kilometres WNW, I turn right onto another straight dirt road, which takes me all the way to within a few dozen metres of the confluence. Along the way I pass lots of people relaxing in the late afternoon, enjoying a game of mah-jong, or dragging on a pipe.
The confluence is located five metres into a very wet rice paddy. I do not fancy wading in for the perfect reading, so I take the customary north-south-east-west shots from the edge of the paddy. There is a row of houses nearby, to the south, which are part of Beihu Village. The only occupant of the house nearest the confluence is a boy named Fang Cheng. I attempt to explain to him the significance of the confluence point, and leave him a copy of Ray's previous visit report.
I begin walking back to the main road, but soon manage to get a ride on a small tar truck, the crew of which specialises in fixing leaky roofs. It's a novel experience sitting in the back of the truck on the hot bags of soft, smelly tar.
Story continues at 33°N 118°E.