That Saturday night at the club, a couple of girls came over to our table and started drinking. I wasn’t sure if this was normal, but who was I to question a couple of ladies in their hometown? One of them spoke English quite well and introduced herself as Helen and her friend as Yong, so I thought maybe she knew BJ, and assumed she was an English teacher at one of our sister schools. She said she wasn’t. Soon thereafter, BJ came from his set and said he didn’t know them, and then his friend Johnny showed up and greeted the girls. They were friends of his. After some camaraderie drinking in the Chinese fashion, we were all good friends, laughing and dancing the night away. I now had a working Chinese SIM card for my phone and exchanged weixin info with Helen. WeChat in English was a simple networking app that allowed txt, pics, and voicemail to be shared without cost, and it allowed a simple profile with picture updates. Every Chinese had it, and was the easiest way to exchange information without having to give someone your number.
The next day was my day off and I decided to go out for a ride and see where the day would take me. I took many pictures and soon found myself in some parts of the city that were quite dilapidated beyond repair. I ventured into some broken hallway and found myself in the square of a building overgrown with trees and plants. Even with the slight sense of alarm one gets while in a place they probably shouldn’t be, it was still so beautiful to see the trees and vines reaching upward to the rays of sunlight pouring in through the centralized sky view.
I was riding around some more places nearby and taking some more photos when Helen messaged me on WeChat. She said her and her friends were going swimming and wanted to know if I would like to join them. I had already been to the reservoir plenty of times and it didn’t seem very appetizing. I asked what time they planned on going, and she replied that they would go in the evening, when it wasn’t so hot. Chinese women are afraid of the sun. I told her that the best time to swim was when it was hot. She then said that they would climb on a mountain and then go swimming. Now i was intrigued. When she came by to pick me up, she was with her friend Yong Yong and another girl. We drove off towards the mountains and Helen asked if I had heard of The Great Wall of China. I replied that all had heard of the Great Wall. She said that Yongkang also has a wall and started to laugh. She said were going to see it. I was pretty thrilled, and when we arrived to our destination, we were at a beautiful village at the foothills. There were wooden structures and bridges surrounding a large pond ensconced in bamboo and weeping willows. We walked across a stone bridge and made our way up a long series of stairs. We then came to a crest in the hill and could see a large structure paying homage to the Great Wall in a miniature fashion sprawling across mountain ridges and snaking up and down over mountaintops. The wall was only about 10 feet high but maybe 25 feet wide and had large towers intermittently at each crest of the snakes arching back. We made our way along its meandering path and they were having a difficult time negotiating the stairs. After about half a mile, we could see the end of the wall far off, where construction was still in progress. We were all covered with the slobber from the wet kiss of humidity. The girls were tired and were taking a rest in the the second tower but Yong wanted to see the end. So did I, if anything just to get a higher viewpoint, so we jogged on ahead and after about 10 minutes we were out of breath and at the top of another crest. We climbed up on the walls parapets and took some photos of the view around us. After heading back down, we dropped off one of the girls and we then headed over to pick up another friend. His name was Xin, pronounced sheen. His English was also excellent, and it made me realize how underachieved our youth was in the states. We then made our way to the reservoir, stopping on the way to buy some floaties, and continued on for a well deserved swim. Except for Xin, who didn’t really know how to swim, which didn’t really surprise me because every other person had to carry a floatie with them. We swam across the water from the dam to the mountains on the other side and it even though it was hot, the clouds above eschewed a light drizzle which made the moment even more beautiful. I was floating in the water, ears underwater deafened to the outside world and eyes fixed above on the sky filled with white and gray clouds. The misty air gave the green mountains around us a beautiful mystique, and seemed to come straight from a Chinese painting.
Afterwards, they decided to take me to one of their favorite restaurants. Hua Gua, meaning Hot Pot, whereby a large pot of boiling water was poured into an insert in the middle of the table and segregated into two parts for different sauces, and you ordered many meats and vegetables and poured them into your desire flavor to boil for a bit before fishing them back out onto your plate. An eclectic variety of sauces were available for creating your own mix in some small bowls, into which the hot contents of the pot were placed to marinate as it cooled before enjoying. We asked each other many questions and they were impressed with my ability to eat with kuazi, however it was still difficult to grasp some slippery shrimp dumpling balls from pot of water with only two sticks, even my friends could not get it at every first try. When we were finishing our meal, Helen and Xin hurried away and I thought they were going to the restroom and when they returned I asked about the bill so we could split it and they told me they had just paid. Something I was still getting used to, the Chinese’s insistence on paying for everything. “Next time, next time,” they assured me. A phrase that I would hear very often after trying to pay for myself. Once we got to the car, I thanked them for an amazing day and taking me to see many parts of Yongkong. And they said no, that they thanked me. Why? I asked. “Because we are glad for your company they said.” I was truly touched by their humble response and grateful that I had said yes to the invitation to hang out with them, and couldn’t believe I had been about to decline. I smiled to myself and reminded me that yet another fruitful experience came from saying YES to opportunity.
Afterwards we drove around to “get a cold drink.” And we were soon in the city centre and found ourselves next to a group of people watching some street dancers. I told them we should park and watch them, and they agreed and simply parked their car right where it was. China. We got out and enjoyed the show of a few fellas breakdancing going back and forth. I was glad to see that the hip hop subculture was strong around the world. Once the show ended, we decided to look for some drinks and I told them I knew an ice cream shop nearby. Tigger had given me a card for her shop and I had saved the location on my phone. I guided them over and when ordering our ice creams I handed over my card right away so there was no confusion. I beamed in triumph at my success in paying first and we adjourned to the sitting area upstairs. They all had ordered vanilla and I told them I was disappointed in their lack of imagination. It was a small joke, but I later learned how truly oppressed Chinese imagination was. They all agreed that my mint ice cream was much better. We had ordered different drinks and mine was like a milk tea smoothie with small flowers in them, which i found to be quite charming.