09-Feb-2005 -- At 6:45 a.m. on a cold, wet and miserable Chinese New Year's Eve, 8 February 2005, Tony and I bid farewell to Tim at the Qiandaohu bus station. Tim had been our companion on the previous two confluence hunts, 30°N 120°E and 30°N 119°E, but was now heading back to Hangzhou on an express bus in order to catch a flight home to Hong Kong and celebrate the advent of the year of the rooster with his Chinese wife Tammy and their three lovely daughters. Tony and I were envious that he would soon be back in comfortable, warmer climes, whereas we were continuing our journey into the unknown in decidedly less than pleasant weather conditions.
It wasn't long before things got even worse. Our bus to Quzhou broke down as it approached the Chun'an County border. The driver and ticket seller made gallant efforts to effect repairs, scrambling under and around the bus in the pouring rain, but all to no avail. At the same time, they were placing desperate calls on their mobile phones, not just for our sakes but for theirs also, because they too wanted to get home for Chinese New Year. But it seemed no assistance was likely to be forthcoming, with everyone already away on holidays. We could do nothing but sit and wait in the cold dead bus, gradually freezing to death.
Eventually, after a couple of hours, just as we were on the verge of succumbing to severe hypothermia, another bus driver was finally coerced into taking us to Quzhou, despite the fact that he normally went only as far as Changlin and was unfamiliar with the remainder of the route. We all grabbed our belongings, clambered out of the cryogenic chamber, and dashed through the icy rain into the relative warmth of the other bus. At long last we were on our way once more.
When we arrived in Quzhou at around noon, the normally bustling city was already beginning to look like a ghost town. A taxi driver led us on a wild goose chase to four different bus stations before we eventually found a bus to Quanwang. Just before the bus left, we patronised one of the few shops that still remained open, stocking up on presents for Xu Jing's family. We had been invited to her home for Chinese New Year, and it would have been unthinkable to arrive empty-handed.
Liu Zifeng, Xu Jing and Xu Jing's brother Xu Hui were all waiting for us in the rain at the Quanwang bus stop. The hour-long bus ride to Quanwang had been a very cold affair, and Tony and I were very much looking forward to thawing out in the warmth of Xu Jing's home. Such was not to be the case however.
Xu Jing's home was over a hundred years old, constructed of wood and plaster-covered mud brick, and was so cold inside that no one even bothered closing the outside doors! Although it was absolutely wonderful having this unique opportunity to stay in such a beautiful old place, a building that must have witnessed so much rich history over the past century, it was all unfortunately lost on us as we could think of nothing but our frozen bodies.
It didn't take long to realise that sitting around at home was not going to keep us warm, so we decided to go off for a walk around the small town. Quanwang was filled with many more marvellous old houses, and all manner of other interesting things: old-fashioned beehives for instance. I took a photo of them, but had no idea what they were until I asked. The locals have probably been using exactly the same design for hundreds of years.
When Xu Jing's father arrived, having been let off for a brief couple of hours from his job as resident watchman at a local warehouse--one of the few Chinese who was compelled to work over the holiday break--it was time for the major New Year's Eve feast. Dish upon dish emerged from the kitchen and was placed on the dining table, until there was a total of 15. Apparently this was not a good omen, having an odd number of dishes, so there was more frantic activity in the kitchen until a sixteenth dish emerged, and then we could all finally sit down to eat. Unfortunately, by this time, the first 15 dishes had gone stone cold, but no one seemed to mind.
After dinner we accompanied Xu Jing's father back to work in the same hired van that had brought him, then stopped off for a brief, rather cold walk through the centre of Quzhou city before finally returning to Quanwang.
Next on the agenda was the traditional Chinese New Year's Eve activity of whiling away the hours to midnight by watching a special live New Year's Eve television broadcast from Beijing. By good fortune the TV set was in the same room where Tony and I were to sleep, so we were able to get under our quilts to keep warm while the rest of the family sat around enjoying the show.
Earlier in the day, we'd passed by several shops selling firecrackers of all shapes and sizes, and each time Tony had stopped to buy some, thus amassing quite an impressive array of incendiaries. At the stroke of midnight, ignoring the cold and rain, he went out onto the roof armed with matches and munitions, intent on making as much noise as possible, competing with all the Chinese neighbours who were doing exactly the same. It was the first time Tony had celebrated Chinese New Year in mainland China, and he was certainly making the most of it. I think he must be a closet pyromaniac.
The next morning saw no respite in the weather: another dismal, cold, rainy day. But we had come here for a specific purpose, to visit the confluence 10 kilometres north of Quanwang, so we bit the bullet, donned our warmest clothes, grabbed an umbrella each, and set off in a rented three-wheeler.
To get to the confluence we had to first cross the wide Qu River, then travel west along its northern bank for roughly three kilometres. The confluence gods must have been shining on us (even if the sun wasn't) because when our three-wheeler stopped just 250 metres southwest of the confluence, the rain had miraculously stopped, and we were able to make our way comfortably on foot the remaining distance. We walked through the small village of Songwang, and located the confluence just on the other side, in the middle of a harvested rice paddy that was flooded as a result of all the recent rain.
Liu Zifeng led the way, boldly stepping out into the flooded rice paddy, balancing precariously on tufts poking up just above the waterline, in order to photograph the zeroes on the GPS. I followed suit and took the requisite north-south-east-west shots. Tony, who has a propensity for falling down in the most inappropriate places, wisely stayed on the sidelines with Xu Jing.
And so another confluence was done. That afternoon Tony decided he'd had enough of the miserable conditions, and caught the next available train out of Quzhou on his way back to Hong Kong. I can't say I blame him. Liu Zifeng and I lasted one more day, but with no prospect of a let-up in the appalling weather, we decided it was also time to thank Xu Jing and her family for their kind hospitality, then head off to the large coastal city of Wenzhou, where we were able to fit in one final confluence visit at 28°N 121°E.