20-Jan-2003 -- This trip was to mark a number of firsts: it was the inaugural confluence hunt for all three of us, plus the first documented visited confluence point in Sichuan Province, China.
I learned about the Confluence Project not long ago from a good German cycling buddy, Rainer Mautz. When I first heard about it, it sounded like a bunch of surveying nuts with nothing better to do than make work. However, after spending a considerable amount of time exploring the Confluence Project website, I began to see the beauty of it and became interested in participating in the project.
While China is approximately the same size as the U.S. with 973 confluences, only 42 had been visited and 9 attempted. This is virgin territory was waiting to be chronicled. Sichuan Province is a bit smaller than California, but with twice as many people (86 million). If Sichuan was a country, it would rank the world’s 11th most populous, just after Mexico, but ahead of Germany.
I am an American expat living in China where I run a bicycle tour
business, Bike China Adventures ( http://www.bikechina.com ). So my
first thought was of course to cycle to the confluence point. I talked a
couple of friends into joining me, Chen Naxin and "Xiaoerlang" (Small
Boy) Larry. Chen is a local guide here and in Tibet ( http://tibetgateway.com ) who was
interested in making a confluence point visit after I introduced him to
the Project. Larry was more interested in companionship and a good bike
ride than anything else.
I picked the confluence point nearest my home in Chengdu. It is located about 40 km north of Chengdu (the capital of Sichuan with a population of 10 million), not far from Pengzhou City. We decided to do the visit entirely by bike, so we needed to get an early start. Larry suggested 7 AM to avoid the morning crush hour of bikes in Chengdu. Sunrise was at 8:00 AM so it was pitch dark when we met.
Winter in the Sichuan basin in not very cold (about 6 degrees C), but it is almost always foggy. And this morning it was as thick a pea soup. Visibility was about 30 meters at times. Buses and trucks would be heard before seen, often blasting ear splitting horns to clear the way as they rumbled down the road.
Along the way, we stopped for breakfast at a simple roadside restaurant and filled up on steamed buns, rice porridge, and soybean milk. Later, Larry was having problems with his Flying Pigeon bicycle (a farmer-special bike he has modified with an enormous front basket) so we stopped at a place with bunch of bicycle tires out front, the universal bike repair sign in China. After some pounding and banging with a hammer, we were on our way again.
As we got closer, we stopped to check the map in front of a mattress factory. The workers were surprised to see us, but welcomed us into their work area to watch them make mattresses. Larry is creating a backpacker haven in Chengdu, so he was interested in getting some sleeping materials from them.
As we got within 10 km, the arrow on the GPS started swinging right, and we took a side road in the direction of the confluence point. This was a welcome relief from the busy, noisy highway. However, the fog remained relentless and I was wondering if we might end up with a photograph like the postcards in San Francisco: completely black with the note "San Francisco Fog."
There is a railroad track nearby and we needed to get to the other side, but
couldn’t find the crossing, so we ended up going into Pengzhou City. Once there we were within 6 kilometers. Our map said there was a village by the name of Tangbaqiao near the confluence point. However, it was so small we had difficulty finding anyone who knew where it was. Finally two older men said they knew, but disagreed on the way to get there.
As we got closer, we relied more on the GPS heading, taking likely looking roads. Within 1.6 km, we turned off the road onto a small concrete path leading into the surrounding fields. Farm houses dotted the area which was completely used for crops. After several turns onto smaller and smaller paths, we ended up walking on a 25 cm wide path through a rice field. The GPS pointer was swinging around the clock as we moved in for the kill. We walked our bikes to a wall enclosed farmhouse, and then around it. The confluence point was within the locked compound five meters away. A few local villagers came out to see what we were up to. Strangers in this area are extremely rare, and the presence of a
foreigner added to their curiosity. Within a few minutes we had 37 people of all ages coming to see what we were up to.
They asked a logical question: why are you here? How does one explain the concept of confluence point to someone who has never even seen a map, never mind learned about latitude and longitude. So I told them that we came to visit this site because the feng shui here is very good. (Feng Shui, the Chinese words for wind and water, is a time-honored system of rules, concepts and principles as part of the ancient Chinese art of geomancy for creating balance, harmony, and prosperity in their personal environment.) That satisfied them.
And we were very satisfied to have experienced our first confluence hunt. There will definitely be more to come.