I drove west out of the city of Rizhao, Shandong Province, this late summer afternoon on my first Confluence Point hunt in many years. I had had a few unsuccessful hunts while living in Indonesia 2004-2007 and my only successful one in Canada in 2002 49N 124W visit #4 .
Moving to China to work in 2007 I looked forward to exploring off the beaten track with GPS in hand. However, as evidence of the perplexing difficulties often encountered in the Middle Kingdom, Confluence.org was not accessible on the Internet. Until August 2009 that is, when the site magically re-appeared on my screen.
Coincidentally August was also the month that I finally received my Chinese Driver’s License. Note: for Westerners wanting to study for the driving exam here, an English language practice exam can be found at DLQ-Swotter.
So here I was driving south on the Tongshan Expressway; a dramatic sign of the massive investment that China has made in recent years on infrastructure projects. The four lane divided highway was smooth, flat and fast with very little traffic save for overloaded tractor trailer units, long haul buses and the occasional private car. The eclectic collections of slow moving vehicles that are allowed to plug up all other Chinese roads are forbidden on the toll expressways. So no iron mules, tractors, electric bicycles, scooters, handcarts, low-powered motorcycles, wobbly bicycles or death defying jaywalkers to dodge as I cruised towards the provincial border with Jiangsu.
It took 50 minutes and a toll of 15 RMB to get to the border from Rizhao city centre. Another 20 minutes and another 15 RMB and I left the expressway for a concrete two lane road running west along a canal towards Jinshan. I only refer to Jinshan because that was the name on the directional signs, but I couldn’t find this place on any map - maybe it is not a town, but a mountain (shan). The other name on the expressway turn off is Haitou, but this town is to the east and not the direction to go. At the turnoff from the expressway the Confluence Point was 13.4 km to the NWN.
For the next 25 minutes I drove the steadily narrowing concrete road as it headed first north then turned westerly with a few curves and a couple of obvious turns at minor intersections. So far so good, until I got to what I thought was Lizhaung Middle School as noted on the Google Map I was following. Here I was wanting to get onto provincial road S242 but made a wrong turn and headed due north through North Yangjialing. My error was readily evident as my GPS showed the CP directly to my west not to the north as it should have been.
Being off track didn’t bother me as I was enjoying the drive through the countryside and I assumed rightly that I would eventually hit a crossroad to take me west and then another south to the CP. In theory this was true, but in practice, as is typical when you are driving in unknown territory with a poor map, the correct turning spot was not readily evident. I blithely headed west until the CP was 7.7km to my east.
So I retraced my path until I was due north of the CP at a distance of 3.85km and turned down a narrow concrete road. It thinned even more as I passed through a village dodging the farmer’s produce that had been placed on the warm concrete surface to dry. Just south of the village two large concrete blocks squeezed the road momentarily to just a few centimetres wider than my car, a Chinese Hover.
I pulled off the road 1 hr 40 minutes after leaving the expressway at a spot 450 metres due west of the CP. Walking east along an open trail I passed a large pond on my left, turned south onto a wider track to prevent walking into a graveyard and then east again when I encountered an elderly woman. When she saw the GPS in my hand she immediately pointed to what appeared to be the way. Amazing... the last recorded visit to this CP was by the Yin-Bannicq Group 4 years ago but she seemed to know what I was doing.
Just 10 minutes walking from the car I arrived near a small pond with the CP about 100 metres to the south through a corn field and a peanut field.
Three hours after leaving my Rizhao apartment I was standing on the Confluence Point, my first confluence hunt success in 7 years. The scene was bucolic, the air warm, farmers clearing the fields, ducks on the ponds, cattle amongst the trees ... purely and simply beautiful.
Noel... living apart from you is sapping my life. This search warmed me for an afternoon with thoughts and feelings of good times together circa 49N 124W our first attempts. You are thousands of kilometres away now but on this day your spirit was with me; in the car, on the path, in the field and in my heart. Come to China my love. Confluence points of our lives beckon yet again. xoxox PBGG