04-Jan-2004 -- Story continues from 23°N 109°E.
Sun 04-Jan-2004, 6:45 a.m. - I woke up early, had a shower, got dressed, went out for a walk, came back, made a cup of tea, made another cup of tea, and finally made as much noise as possible, but still Tony and Richard remained snoring...
8:15 a.m. - We eventually checked out of room number 30,208 of the Phoenix Hotel, leaving our bags with reception, then went for breakfast at a small restaurant in a side street that we'd spotted from our hotel room window. After breakfast, we took a taxi to the Beida Keyun Zhongxin Bus Station, and bought tickets on the next bus heading WNW to Nalong. The confluence was 39 km away.
8:55 a.m. - The girl sitting next to me on the bus had a goldfish bowl, which she had placed on the floor behind the driver's seat, along with all the other luggage. We wondered how long it would take before the bowl overturned and the goldfish were flapping all over the floor, gasping for breath. The answer came very soon. As soon as the bus started moving, before we'd even left the station, the bowl very nearly overturned, disaster thwarted only by a brilliant diving save from its owner. The bowl spent the rest of the journey under her tight control, arriving safely in Nalong without further drama.
9:10 a.m. - Fifteen minutes after we'd officially "departed", the bus finally inched its way out of the bus station. This was a true "trawler" bus. We began an agonisingly slow crawl along the streets of Nanning, averaging 8 km/h according to Richard's GPS. We had started out with just five passengers: the three of us, the goldfish girl, and a guy who kept asking me where we were going even though I kept ignoring him. The driver obviously hoped to make the trip worthwhile by picking up more passengers. During the long crawl, we did manage to acquire one more.
While all this inactivity was going on, Richard, riding shotgun at the front, discovered he had the only seat in the bus that reclined. He took advantage of this, laid the seat right back, and shut his eyes.
9:30 a.m. - At long last, the driver reached the outskirts of Nanning, and finally put the pedal to the metal. Richard's was also the only seat that came equipped with a seatbelt, and after the first risky overtaking manoeuvre, he pragmatically decided to use it.
9:35 a.m. - Five minutes after flooring it, the driver slowed down and pulled into a roadside stop, where we hung about for what seemed like ages, in the hopes of rounding up yet more passengers.
9:45 a.m. - At last, we were really on our way, nearly an hour after our official departure time.
10:40 a.m. - When we arrived in Nalong, with the confluence still 3.6 km NNW, we found out that the bus would continue down the road to Nalong Kuang (Nalong Mine), in the direction of the confluence. So we paid a top-up fare and stayed on board, eventually disembarking in Nalong Kuang with the confluence just 550 metres NNE.
The first thing that struck us in Nalong Kuang was a large statue of some--no doubt famous--local coal miner. It wasn't clear whether he looked grubby because he was supposed to have just emerged from the mine, or simply because the statue was in need of a good clean.
Tony and I took a detour to use a public toilet, and when we returned to where Richard was waiting, he had a small congregation of children gathered around him. As we continued on, the number grew and grew, until we could no longer count how many children there were. They offered to take us to the coal mine, which sounded like it would be interesting. I wanted to do the confluence first, but Richard said the children might disappear if we did that, and then we'd lose our opportunity to visit the mine.
Well, as it turned out, there was no chance of that happening--once the children had latched onto us, they accompanied us every step we took--but we decided to do the mine first anyway. When we got there, 380 metres northwest of the confluence, we discovered that the mine had already ceased operations some time before, and the entrance was now all boarded up.
So off we went in search of the confluence, dozens of happy children swarming all around us. We passed through some banana plantations, and eventually found the confluence near the southwest corner of a brick building atop a small knoll. With so many children running about, getting north-south-east-west shots without any people in them proved somewhat problematical, but success was achieved with two out of four.
On our way back to the town centre, we passed a couple loading freshly picked bananas onto the back of a small truck. It seemed clear that the coal mining community had guaranteed its continued existence following the closure of the mine by switching to growing bananas instead.
Our final stop was the school. Although some of the children were very bright, I had been unable to adequately explain why we'd come and what we were doing there. So, at the school, some students went off and summoned one of their teachers, and I explained to her where we were in terms of latitude and longitude, hoping she would be able to convey this knowledge onto the children in some future geography lesson.
We decided to leave before we wore out our welcome, having already caused mass disruption in the town on what would normally have been a peaceful Sunday morning. We made our escape by hopping in the back of a three-wheeler heading back to Nalong, with many of the children chasing us down the road for a long long way before eventually giving up.
11:45 a.m. - We caught a bus from Nalong back to Nanning. It stopped in the nearby town of Shuangding for 15 minutes, where the market was in full swing. Tony and I got out and strolled around for a while. We saw stalls run by roadside dentists, ear doctors and eye doctors, as well as a guy selling honey straight from the comb.
Back in Nanning, we went to the business centre of the Phoenix Hotel to arrange Richard's train ticket to Pingxiang, on the border with Vietnam, where he would go the next morning. Then there was time for one last meal together before Tony and I had to start making our way out to the Nanning Airport for our flight back to Shenzhen, from where we caught a bus home to Hong Kong.