03-Jul-2010 -- Story continues from 32°N 120°E.
We crossed the Yangtze River again on the vehicular ferry, then caught the no. 48 commuter bus back to Chángzhōu. It was after 3 p.m. when we finally arrived back in Chángzhōu, and Ah Feng reminded me that we hadn't eaten lunch yet. I tend to forget such incidental matters in the heat of the hunt!
We bought tickets on the 5 p.m. bus to Nántōng (南通市), then went for a very late lunch at a Japanese Ajisen Ramen noodles restaurant near the hotel where we'd left our bags.
As our time in Chángzhōu drew to a close, we felt sad to leave. Chángzhōu is one of those very rare Chinese cities that make a good impression on you when you arrive, continue to do so throughout your stay, and the favourable impression remains with you long after you've gone.
The bus journey to Nántōng involved another vehicular ferry crossing of the Yangtze River, similar to the one we'd done twice already earlier in the day, but further downstream to the east, where the river was much wider, and the crossing took considerably longer.
In Nántōng, we checked into Motel168, conveniently located opposite the bus station, then went out for a hair-wash and dinner. The rooms in Motel168 were very small, but very clean and comfortable. The only let-down was the pudgy girl on reception, who simply couldn't accept the fact that, as the holder of an APEC Business Travel Card, I did not require a visa for China.
At 5 a.m. the next morning—my birthday—we were awoken by a huge clap of thunder. Lightning and thunder continued for some time, accompanied by torrential rain. By 7:30 a.m. however, it had all stopped. We checked out at 8:30 a.m., then had breakfast at a jiǎozi (dumpling) restaurant nearby.
I made enquiries at the bus station about getting to Xiānfēng (先锋镇). I was directed to a tiny bus station down a side street right next to the main bus station, where the ticket seller informed me that no buses went to Xiānfēng, but that we could catch a Jiāngzào (姜灶镇) bus, due to depart at 9:35 a.m., and get off at the Xiānfēng Driving School stop.
We did this, disembarking at the driving school, then walked approximately one kilometre south, until we got to Máojiādài Street (茅家埭路). We subsequently realised that we could have stayed on the bus, because it continued on and went right past this point.
Máojiādài Street led east towards the village containing the confluence. We followed it all the way to the end, where it turned right. About 200 metres further along we crossed a bridge on our left, leaving us less than 400 metres to go to the confluence.
The first thing we noticed were the elaborate houses along the way. It seemed everyone had either built, or were in the process of building, a quite substantial dwelling for themselves. The place was apparently flush with money.
It didn't take long to figure out what was going on. Peeking through the doorways of these houses, we could see people busy doing piecework for nearby factories. This was confirmed to Ah Feng by one of the locals. The factories farm out the work to the residents rather than putting them on the payroll, which saves a lot of money because the factories don't have to provide any benefits, and in turn, the residents make good money simply by working from home.
It seemed apparent that some owners had more money than they knew what to do with. One house we went by had invested in a replica of the Oriental Pearl Tower (东方明珠塔), the famous TV tower in Shànghǎi (上海市), which extended proudly from the roof.
Despite all this wealth sloshing about, it was interesting to note that the area still retained several of the open, outdoor toilets commented upon by previous visitors.
We stuck to the paved roads as long as we could, which meant we ended up almost circling the confluence before we finally reached it. It was located one metre into a small, freshly planted patch of some vegetable that even Ah Feng couldn't identify. There were fields of corn nearby.
We took a photo of the GPS, then the views to the north, south, east and west. A large pylon dominated the view to the east.
As usual, we were able to find a much more direct route on our way out, along a path that leaves the main road next to an extraordinarily large house, due south of the confluence. All of the money had evidently gone into the house itself, because, unlike others nearby, this one had no cement path to the front door, and the front fence was a dilapidated old wooden affair.
Story continues at 33°N 120°E.