27-Apr-2002 -- This point, which is relatively easy to access from Beijing, is 160 road kilometres (132 direct kilometres) from the capital city. Leaving Beijing at 10:30, I did not arrive in Tang-yü until 12:45.
My father received a GPS one Christmas (a Magellan Sport Track). Prior to that, I had heard about GPS technology, but never knew what it truly was. I was intrigued with his GPS and began to play with it when going about my day-to-day business. My avid interest in geography and self-guided travel (about 50,000 highway kilometres with my car each year), I thought this would be the perfect toy to buy myself. Also, having moved to China for a few years for my work has made every dollar spent on my GPS worth it. I do not speak Chinese well (yet), do not read Chinese very well, and it is very difficult to find accurate and updated road maps of China.
Since purchasing my Magellan Sport Track Map, I have adopted GPS and its support technology as a new hobby. A powerful combination of GPS real-time software, map-stitching software (both of which can be found as online freeware), my laptop computer, a scanner, and a very good road atlas of China have afforded me the freedom to make many Chinese road trips, such as 2000 kilometres in April alone. Many of my foreign and Chinese colleagues, of whom most have lived in China for several years, are not as “brave” as I have been for venturing out in my own car in China. I definitely contribute my bravery to this amazing technology. It has allowed me to see long-forgotten treasures in China which are rarely seen by people who visit, or who even live in this wonderous country.
I have probably read every internet page of information about GPS technology during the past few months. One site I kept coming back to was that of the Degree Confluence Project. I had thought about how interesting it would be to track down confluences in a country such as China, and this morning, I decided to try an unvisited, easy and close confluence from Beijing. 118/40 seemed easy enough to get to, so I decided to give it a try.
China has 2 levels of rural roads: 1. Super-toll-national-freeways which avoid cities, are much faster, less congested, wider, and better maintained than any North American highway I have ever driven on (and I have driven most of Canada and a fair chunk of the USA), and 2. Secondary national roads which come in all conditions and sizes - These generally go through cities.
I decided to take the secondary national highway 102 from Beijing, driving East to Fengrun, then to turn North on secondary national highway 112 to Tang-yü. My GPS mapping software told me that 118/40 was about 1.5km from the highway and Tang-yü, but I had no idea what conditions to expect once arrived. Highway 102 covered all conditions; from twinned, well maintained, 120km/hr portions to unpaved, rutted portions, donkeys, goats, bikes and people running out in front. The highway was generally tree-lined the entire distance with small villages dotting the sides and intense agriculture in the background. I ran into three government road-blocks. Beijing is, at this time, affected by SARS, and the health department has road-blocks to prevent SARS infected individuals transporting the virus to other parts of the city. People are made to get out of their vehicle, sit in a chair on the side of the road, be questioned by a doctor, and have their temperature taken before being allowed to leave.
Turning on to highway 112 was coincided by a drastic change in scenery. The trees, flat terrain, and intense green agriculture gave way to semi-arid desert, treeless landscapes and mountainous terrain. I drove through this landscape until I reached a point on the highway which was directly 1.87 km East of 118/40. I drove the highway a bit further until I saw a small dirt road which went in the general direction of the confluence. Realizing the road was not going to get me much closer to the confluence, I decided to park the car and walk. It’s generally difficult to walk in the middle of nowhere in China because there are people everywhere, and, not being ethinically Chinese, I stick out like a sore thumb. I was happy I didn’t have to park in a town, because too much attention from the locals could lead to trouble and difficulty in reaching the confluence without having a grasp of the language.
I walked 1.5 kilometres through a field, a terraced hill covered in orchards, a valley, over another hill (200 metres high), and into another orchard valley, where I found the confluence. I could see people working in the orchards, but generally kept a safe distance to avoid being recognized as non-Chinese. People in this area would likely not have ever seen someone who is not Chinese, and it was better to keep my distance (did I not mention that I almost caused an accident driving to the waypoint when the driver of another vehicle took his eyes off the road and fixed them on me when he saw I was not Chinese?). From the waypoint, I could see what was at the end of the dirt road on which my car was parked... a small village of likely a couple hundred people nestled further down the valley in which the confluence was found. It was only upon return to Beijing that I identified the village as Tang-wü.
I took highway 112 back to Fengrun. Instead of returning to Beijing on highway 102, I drove a bit further south to the Toll Freeway and drove 130 km / hour on a 6 lane, empty highway back to Beijing. I spent about 65 quai in tolls (less than $10 US). It’s easy to understand why the Toll-Freeways are empty when one considers that a person in the country may only earn $20 US / month.