25-Oct-2001 -- So many confluences, so little time. For two reasons, China makes the ideal grounds for confluence hunting:
1) due to the population density, most confluences are near people/roads/villages
2) due to its remoteness from most confluence hunters, most points have not yet been visited
WEDNESDAY 24 OCTOBER 2001
With the following day (Thursday) being a public holiday in Hong Kong, we decided to take the Friday off work, and thus give ourselves a four-day break to go confluence hunting in mainland China. We left our office on Hong Kong Island early on Wednesday afternoon, took a tram to Central, and then the Star Ferry across the harbour to Tsim Sha Tsui on the Kowloon side. At the Hong Kong China Ferry Terminal in Tsim Sha Tsui, we cleared customs and boarded a 3:45 p.m. ferry to the Fuyong Ferry Pier near Shenzhen Airport, just inside mainland China. The ferry journey took exactly one hour. After emerging from mainland Chinese customs, we boarded the free shuttle bus, which took us to the airport terminal building.
Targ had told a friend, Liu Zifeng, who lives in Shenzhen, of our travel plans, and she and another girlfriend, Xu Jing, were waiting for us in the terminal building. It was only a bit after 5 p.m., and our domestic flight to Zhanjiang was not due to leave until 8:20 p.m., so the four of us went to the restaurant adjoining the terminal building and enjoyed a leisurely dinner together.
After dinner, we said our goodbyes to Liu Zifeng and Xu Jing, then checked in for our flight. When they X-rayed Tony's backpack, they noticed something suspicious, and a half-hearted search was made, but turned up nothing, and he was given the all clear to proceed. Afterwards, as we were sitting waiting in the departure lounge, Tony extracted from the depths of his backpack a cylindrical object about ten inches long and three inches in diameter. Unscrewing the lid, he said, "Do you think this is what they were looking for?" He then proceeded to pull what looked liked sticks of gelignite from the cylinder. Upon closer inspection, these turned out to be cigars however! Well, we waited and we waited. We took photos of what we thought was to be our Shenzhen Airways aircraft, but then were sent off to another departure gate at the other end of the airport. In fact, the gate number changed four times! Then came the announcement that our flight would be delayed. Another hopeful passenger remarked, "Have they placed an order for an aircraft?"
Apparently they had, because by 8:45 p.m. we were finally on our way aboard Shenzhen Airlines flight 4G 905 from Shenzhen to Zhanjiang in the south of Guangdong Province. In-flight service consisted of a packet of "Palatable Kernel" [sic], a bottle of "Cocotier Purified Water," and a packet labelled "Juliet Aviation Sterilized Wet Tissues." Unlike the Palatable Kernel packet, which contained many kernels (mainly peanuts, one or two almonds, and a few crispy dried peas), the Sterilized Wet Tissues pack contained only one sterilized wet tissue. The kernels proved to be just barely palatable, providing they were consumed in conjunction with the purified water. The flight took approximately three quarters of an hour.
At the Zhanjiang Airport, we negotiated with a taxi driver to take us to the Courageous Overseas Chinese Farm, which we'd worked out from the map was the closest thing to our ultimate destination. Bargaining started at 250 yuan (US$30), but the driver finally agreed to 150 yuan (US$18), when we threatened to board a bus bound for Zhanjiang City instead. Finding the Courageous Overseas Chinese Farm in the dark was not all that easy, made more difficult by the fact that it was now officially called something else. We drove past the turn-off, but the GPS alerted us to the fact that we had overshot it, so we doubled back and eventually turned down the correct side road. This tree-lined street into the farm looked quite impressive.
It was now 11 p.m., and there wasn't much of anything happening at that hour, but our taxi driver was very helpful in finding us a place to stay. In the end, we gave him a 50 yuan (US$6) tip for all his troubles. We had to wake up the custodian of the local guesthouse. He wondered what on earth we were doing there, and explanations of confluence hunting, lines of longitude and latitude, and so forth, were all totally lost on him. (In fact, during the next four days of our travels through China, we never did meet a single person who could comprehend what we were there for!) After the custodian claimed that there were no vacant rooms, and unsuccessfully urged us to travel the 60 kilometres back to Zhanjiang to spend the night (fortunately our taxi had long since departed by this stage), a vacant room with three beds suddenly materialized for 120 yuan (US$14), and we were set for the night. We were quite pleased with our evening's work, having got to within 1.1 kilometres of the confluence. The rest would have to wait until the light of day.
THURSDAY 25 OCTOBER 2001
Tony didn't sleep well. He fought with the mosquitoes. He fought with the mosquito net. The guests upstairs chatted loudly until after 3 a.m. The rooster started crowing at 5 a.m. (while it was still pitch dark outside). Tony got up feeling hungry, thirsty, and bitten. We managed to avoid death by electrocution while having our morning showers; the wiring for the hot water heater in the bathroom had to be seen to be believed! We then set off at first light for the confluence.
As we made our way across farmers' fields, we were subjected to Chinese Communist Party propaganda extolling the virtues of Marxism, blaring from strategically placed loudspeakers. We had to navigate several streams along the way. At the first stream, there was no way across except through the water. Tony waded through boots and all, but Targ elected to do it barefoot, in a vain attempt to keep his shoes and socks dry. In the end, the dew dripping from the crops through which we were making our way saturated them anyway. When we arrived at the second stream, Tony decided to test the soft muddy bank to see how sturdy it was, and promptly sank his foot in up to his ankles. Once the second stream had been successfully negotiated, we continued on until, all of a sudden, Tony slipped, and all 2 metres and 110 kilograms of him came crashing down hard in a ditch. This turned out to be the first of several such falls Tony was to suffer during the next four days. Nevertheless, we reached our goal at approximately 7 a.m. A farmer we met had shown us where to cross the final stream, which was just a few dozen metres from the confluence. This confluence was on dry level ground, just at the edge of a tree plantation; the trees all lined up in neat rows. We took the obligatory photographs, congratulated ourselves on successfully attaining our first confluence, and then proceeded back in the direction of the Courageous Overseas Chinese Farm (which was really more like a little town than a farm).
We managed to find a way back across the large stream that did not involve getting wet this time. It brought us out on the other side of the town, and we started walking along a dirt track, but eventually worked out that we were heading in the wrong direction when the only people we encountered were all going the other way. We turned around and headed back in the correct direction.
As we hit town, we saw a roadside shop selling soybean milk, and, feeling very thirsty by this stage, stopped to drink a glass each. The lady selling the soybean milk proudly showed us a huge bag of silkworm cocoons, which she was using to make a quilt. She explained that this was substandard silk, not suitable for manufacturing clothing, but eminently suitable as the stuffing for a warm quilt. Also at the roadside shop were a group of university students around 19 years old, who were on their way to study Vietnamese at a nearby college. They all spoke reasonable English, and explained that they had come to this place from all corners of China (Sichuan, Jiangxi, Henan, ...) specifically to learn Vietnamese.
We proceeded on to an outdoor restaurant a stone's throw from the guesthouse where we had stayed the night before, and consumed a very enjoyable and hearty breakfast of rice noodles with egg, washed down with copious amounts of Chinese tea, all for only 2 yuan (US$0.24) each. We were accompanied by several chickens walking around our feet and under the table as we ate. Speaking of feet, while sitting at the breakfast table, Tony had peeled off his sodden muddy boots and socks. The sole of one boot was hanging by a thread at the heel, and Tony decided that it was high time to retire this pair, having enjoyed several years of valiant service from them. They were later unceremoniously tossed into a pile of rubbish at the side of the majestic tree-lined street. After breakfast, we wandered through the nearby market, which by this time was a bustling hive of activity. Targ was particularly intrigued with one fellow who was delicately performing surgery on live chickens, one after another, removing some internal organ from a small incision he made in the side of each bird. Needless to say, the chickens did not have the benefit of any anaesthetic during this procedure, but still seemed to take it all with very little fuss, and miraculously appeared none the worse for wear following their ordeal.
(This story continues with our next confluence attempt at
22 north, 111 east.)