09-Nov-2003 -- Confluence 37oN, 121oE- XiCaiYuan, Shan Dong, China
Our first confluence trip started from the seaport of Qingdao, famous for its Tsingtao beer and as the site-to-be of the 2008 Olympic ocean events. If one believed in “signs” one might have shelved the trip for another …millennium. Food poisoning left one team member bedridden on the first scheduled weekend; and illness delayed the start by an hour on the postponed date a week later. We got underway with the sun well up only to find a small army of police had blocked all access to the Qing-Yin Expressway awaiting the arrival of yet another group of VIPs. After about half an hour the VIP convoy appeared and were whisked through the Qing-Yin Expressway tollgates by their escorts. A few moments more to give them a head start and we and our fellow ordinary mortals were also driving along a smooth, multi-lane highway heading north and east toward LaiXi a small city that is the hub of a large industrial zone.
The expressway is behind us now and the road leading to Laiyang is a rough 4-lane affair with its concrete divider broken every few hundred meters to allow local traffic- bicycles and small tractors mostly- to cross. LaiYang is another important industrial town, but on this Sunday a local temple festival had taken over and the town was humming with activity as entertainment of all kinds and food of course, was purveyed on the roadside and inside large circus style tents…there were hordes of people everywhere including all over the four lane roadway that is also the main street. Weaving our way through the pedestrians and a motley mix of bicycles, motorcycles, tiny pickup trucks and larger sedans and trucks we finally escaped Laiyang and handed over 10 yuan at the final tollgate before we branched off toward the east northeast on a two lane asphalt road that led over rivers, past villages and through orchards as we followed the nose of our GPS.
The road was most obliging, jogging and zigging just as the GPS called for a jog or zig until we arrived at a small village named XiCaiYuan (“West Vegetable Village”). Here the road seemed determined to take us away from our goal so we backed up, looking for a way to get back in tune with the info being fed from 7 satellites. Lo and behold a muddy hutong (narrow lane) appeared that headed up and generally north a couple hundred meters through the humble dwellings of the village and past curious villagers not accustomed to seeing laowai (foreigners) faces let alone foreigners driving a car up a hutong! We passed the last of the houses and a stack of corn stalks before the GPS started saying “whoa” you’re almost there! We drove on a bit to park the car, then walked back to find the confluence point less than three meters from the edge of the road in a vegetable patch, no, wait…in an unplanted walkway between a series of small vegetable patches. Spinach to the northwest, leeks to the north and cabbage to the south. After our obligatory pictures of the GPS reading and the major compass points we hailed several passers-by before we found someone confident enough to photograph our small expedition team…but they were too shy or nervous about being photographed to allow us to return the favor.
The confluence point lies in gentle, terraced hills in a predominantly agricultural area of an otherwise industrial region of China. Besides the vegetables, which seemed to be in quantities too small for the market, there are apple and pear orchards stretching for miles and acres devoted to peanuts. A very simple, electric, peanut-husking machine was in use in the village.
The surrounding area features occasional flatlands between rolling hills and some low mountains. Several small rivers are crossed along the narrow roadway lined with towering trees as one approaches the confluence point from the south and west, but the existence of a small reservoir at the entrance to XiCaiYuan would seem to indicate that water is not in great supply nor is it generally potable. The presence of large numbers of ducks would make anyone wary of drinking from the rivers or streams of the area. This “fowl” pollution however does not forestall the village women coming to the banks to wash clothes, as their ancestors no doubt did. We shared our belated picnic lunch amongst them, toasting our success with bottled water.
Expedition team: 2 Canadians- Douglas Shelly and son Kye; 1 Chinese- Zhao Jumei, one Chinese-American- Danesh Zhao-Graham and one bearded American- Richard Graham