Xinhua 2003 Project Logbook


9th April 2003: Xinhua

Duncan Collis, Erin Lynch, Matt Ryan, Prof. Zhu Xue Wen

After 11 hours in the Pajero + numerous repacks of all the "zhong de" luggage, we arrived in Xinhua to meet 3 men whose faces seemed disconcertingly familiar. Clearly it's time to start keeping a diary because over dinner it was revealed that I'd had an extensive conversation about US colleges with one of them in August. Oh, well. Names will have to wait until tomorrow. Dinner was a tame affair with milk the beverage of choice + only one (not very) spicy dish because Prof. Zhu's stomach was giving him gyp. After dinner we retired to a luxurious hotel complete with nudie-pic bathroom tiles and VCD players. The usual police rigamarole was followed by entry of the Institute's old Compass data. We were assigned two rooms--earlier in the day Prof. Zhu had gone into great detail discussing with a restauranteur how in the the west it was okay for unmarried couples to cohabitate + he repeated this at the hotel.

Tomorrow we will survey a new passage that's been found at a high level in Mei Shan Long Gong, which has been open for visitors since the new year.

10th April 2003: Repetitive stress injury?

Duncan Collis, Erin Lynch, Matt Ryan, Prof. Zhu Xue Wen

We began the day with a top breakfast of dim sum, leaving our posh digs at an unsociably early hour (8am). A 1.5 hr jeep ride followed to , home of Mei Shan Long Gong. When we stopped at a dirt track, my first thought was that they're going to have to build a road if they expect many tourists, but never fear, around the corner they were already hard at work laying a foundation out of water-worn cobbles that presumably had come from the nearby river. In the bed of the tributary flowing from the cave workers were hard at work making round stones square. The powers that be put us up in the newly-built showcave hostel, and then it was time to see the cave. A dam 100m outside the cave formed a pond that reflected the large entrance nicely, including a large stone tablet signed by Prof. Zhu. Through the large river passage with a beautiful ceiling of white limestone with solution pockets, the lighting seemed positively subdued. But then we rounded a corner + it was flashing lights in red, green, and gold. The path wound over a large set of gours + then past a gour/construction zone which was to be a tourist waiting area, to another dam + long metal boats. The boat ride was superb, with low sections breaking out into bits 50m high. The lighting was a bit OTT, but that's to be expected. At the end the boat did a U turn + dropped us off at a dock halfway along. From there we climbed up, past a new passage that we were to map later, and into a series of galleries. 3 tunnels had been blasted in the cave, and there were signs of damage on some of the stals as a result. Near the end there was a large flat area with a green and purple floor + a raised platform--it was positively indescribable.

After lunch we donned caving gear + trooped back into the cave for another go at the boat ride. This time we stopped at the end + followed our guides through 500?m of undeveloped cave. The presence of our guides made it unnecessary to do much furtling ourselves, since they told us they'd already had a look at most things, which was good, since Duncan's coccyx was giving him a great deal of bother. While sitting down to relieve the pain a bit, Dunks noticed the sound of the streamway coming from below. Down a loose climb we found ~60m of stream passage with a (probable) sump at one end and a choke at the other. A possible lead remains at the top of a large flowstone > 10m high. It will require bolting or an extension ladder.

We returned to the cave entrance only to meet a large party of reporters, so it was back into the cave for a photo shoot + interviews. By this point Dunks was in agony so after a lot of explanations and a series of photos he was allowed to go back to the hostel. Matt + I went on the boat ride again, trying hard to look interested in the scenery as we passed it for the 5th and 6th times that day. To be fair, I quite enjoyed being able to see up so high, an experience we don't normally get in exploratory caving

WIth the assistance of 2 ladders we all had a look at the new passage. At one point I gave myself a good scare when I was asked to crawl among some formations + I ended up bashing my head but thankfully didn't break any stal. The formations in the chamber are so delicate, I think they might have problems if they decide to blast a new route into it. The highlight of the trip had to be when the reporters spotted a >6 inch long rat + chased it with their spotlights--the poor thing was harassed terribly, but it seemed to lieve well in the cave--it definitely looked well fed.

11th April 2003

Duncan Collis, Erin Lynch, Matt Ryan, Prof. Zhu Xue Wen

Went to the "new" passage in the showcave to survey it. First we surveyed to a few likely candidates for survey stations on the existing centreline, slightly hindered by the station numbers on the survey not matching those in the dataset, and not being able to find any marked stations. However, the showcave guys instructed us where to stand, so presumably it's OKish.

The passage is fairly well decorated, but nothing really stunning, and quite muddy in places. Surveyed to the end, where the way on is blocked by flowstone, and also investigated a couple of holes in the floor, one of which went to about 50m of passage, but we were told not to survey it--think the Chinese guys wanted to go out for their tea.

12th April 2003: Engineering problems

Duncan Collis, Erin Lynch, Matt Ryan, Prof. Zhu Xue Wen

After quite a lot of discussion, it was decided to go + have a look/survey around the end of the boat trip, with an eye to locating a good place for the tunnel entrance. It was a nice change to be able to see so much thanks to the showcave lights, although they tended to go on and off at inconvenient times and in places they occupied the best footholds.

We spotted a possible bolt traverse to a higher level ledge, but Prof. Zhu clued us in that the ledge was tufa, and not suitable for tourists. Most of the rock forming the walls in that area was conglomerate aka biscuit, which posed an engineering problem for tunnel construction. In fact, the whole length of the E bank had been undercut in the past, and a section of sediments had slumped, while a large boss (~5m dia) had split in half, one part falling into the streamway. Now the challenge was to find a bit of rock strong enough to hold a tunnel.

The boat ride back was a bit jolly, with the photographer + manager doing their best to sink our already leaky craft.

In the afternoon we had a long discussion with the management and then posed for about 20 photos with the staff.

13th April 2003: Fossil cave

Duncan Collis, Erin Lynch, Matt Ryan, Prof. Zhu Xue Wen

A night of hard rain, + the river was running brown. The river cave was removed from our itinerary, leaving us with only a fossil cave survey to knock out before we could head back to Guilin. For a change we decided to survey out. We quickly reached an end to the cave -- a choice of two low arches with deep pools. There was the sound of running water beyond, but the pools were distinctly uninspiring. Luckily the locals informed the prof that at one time there was passage beyond, but now a blockage barred the way on and the water level had risen in response. The "no go" thus being official, we all breathed a sigh of relief and quickly surveyed out in time to get back to the nice hotel in Xinhua in the evening.

Unfortunately, Prof. Zhu declined the offer of a nice hotel and we were stuck in one that was distinctly down market--even our driver complained of the smell!

The highlight of the evening was not the beer (a joy after too many days on the awful brand they stocked in Mei Shan) or the writing on a scroll with a wonky pen, but rather our wholesale flight from a tourism official sent to watch over us as we roamed the bad streets of Xinhua. We pounded down the stairs, out the door and through the the parking lot before giving in to the inevitable.

14th April 2003: An unfortunate encounter

Duncan Collis, Erin Lynch, Matt Ryan, Prof. Zhu Xue Wen

The long hours of our journey home were interrupted by a woman standing with her feet firmly planted in the middle of the road, a heavy orange brick held upon her shoulder. Our driver slammed into reverse, but she ran up to the jeep too quickly, hand outstretched before her as she ran into the bonnet. She demanded 100Y, and Prof. Zhu told the driver to giver her a one. This quickly became 10, then 50, and finally 100. She came alongside the jeep, hoisting the brick up against the window + paint-work as she made her demands, alternately threatening and pulling up her shirt to show her breasts. The money in hand, she let us go + we sped off.

I was struck by the different reactions we all had to the incident. Prof. Zhu quickly acceded to her demands, while those of us from the west responded more aggressively, sizing up the situation with an eye to denying her the money. Prof. Zhu undoubtedly knows best, having lived through so much turmoil in China, but it was a bit disturbing that he didn't make any attempts to notify the authorities. I have to assume that they must condone the crime. I'd come to think of China as a very safe place, perhaps corrupt in places, but not violent or dangerous.

A road worker told us there was no more tricky business ahead, but at the next village 2 large lorries blocked the road and a gang of un-uniformed men demanded a "highway tax" from each vehicle that passed.

I shall not be back to Shouyang any time soon.