My chance to get closer to Fanny came soon just as I had wanted. Chinese Jamie invited her to come to Guangxi University and
watch a movie with the students and I during our evening class at 7:30 one night. We were supposed to make the time educational for
the students by making questions about the movie for them to answer, but we didn’t care. The students had enough work during the
daytime. We just watched the movie to give them a break but still be able to practice their listening comprehension. The movie was “Rat
Race”. I made several attempts to speak to Fanny, but the conversation wasn’t so lively. She didn’t know how to talk about so many
things in English and also because I think she was a bit shy. She was generally not a very active or talkative person, and the word
variety didn’t appear to have any meaning in her life. Did Jamie read my mind? I wondered if she invited Fanny along because she knew
I liked her somehow, or maybe Fanny liked me and asked Jamie for the chance to get to know me. It’s hard to say and impossible to
know for sure without asking, and I wasn’t going to be so blunt about it, even to Jamie. Fanny also came with us to Nanhu Park another
night with all of the students, Jamie, and I. The three of us met the students at the front gate of Nanhu Park and went inside. There was a
boardwalk that circled the entire lake and had red Chinese style lanterns hanging above the pathway by lines that were tied to some
trees to give a little bit of visibility to those who came to enjoy the view across the lake. We for sure weren’t the only ones there. There
was the same crowd density at Nanhu Park that you could expect to see at a carnival or similar public event. We walked in several
groups because there were about a dozen of us, which was far too many to walk side by side unless we wanted to bulldoze oncoming
walkers. The only one who didn’t come with us was Rock, probably due to laziness. As we were walking, I could see the boys laughing
and having a good time and being what boys are when they get together in crowded public places. Nanhu was just on the border of the
wealthiest part of the city called Lang Dong. During the daytime, the gray buildings that overlooked the lake looked quite dull and
ordinary, but at night, it was a different sight. Each building had varying colors of neon lights on them with different designs. In the center
of the lake we could see some lighted floats of some traditional Chinese style buildings. The Nanhu Bridge, which stretched across the
middle of the lake and shot straight through into Lang Dong had kind of a waterfall coming out of the side that had lighting to make the
water that was pouring down appear to be cycling through different colors and sometimes gave a rainbow effect. This place looked like
something straight out of a dream. It may have been the most beautiful place I personally had seen in China so far. We took many
pictures of the place and of each other as we walked all the way around the lake. It took about 45 minutes to circle the lake and then we
went to a kind of bar called a “Kangaroo Bar” at Jamie’s request.
      This Kangaroo Bar was not far from Nanhu and was in front of another lake that was smaller and didn’t have a boardwalk with many
people walking around. It was on a drive with several other small indoor/outdoor bars clustered together. We all went inside and sat at a
table in a private room. We decided to play the old game “Truth or Dare” with the students. Nobody ever wanted to choose dare, and with
me playing, it’s probably a good idea for them not to. I won’t hesitate to make them look like a fool, especially in front of people they don’t
know. The students knew from experience that I know how to make a monkey out of them. Since they always chose truth I would ask
them the most embarrassing questions I could think of like, ”How many girlfriends do you have?” “Have you ever…<I won’t even go
there!>” I like to think of myself as a gentleman, but when I get the chance to be evil during playtime, I’ll do it with no remorse. It’s a time
when spirits can get broken, but it’s all really just for a laugh. Fanny was sitting next to me, and student William looked at us and simply
said, “Falling in love…” Was it that obvious that I had feelings for her? I didn’t think I was being that obvious, and if he said that, it must
have meant that she was starting to have some feelings for me as well. After spending some time at the bar, we all decided to go home.
One of Fanny’s friends named Mr. Lu was having a dinner party one night with a small group of his friends, and Fanny invited Jamie and
I to go there with her. We met Fanny at her home, which was in an old part of the city just north of the river that was well out of the way of
where most people in the city were trying to go. The area wasn’t so much on the outskirts as it was hidden and secluded within the city.
Instead of an apartment as usual, Fanny lived with her parents inside of an actual house. The house was three stories tall excluding the
first level, which was a garage that had a table, bicycles, and miscellaneous items inside, and the front wooden doors were left wide
open. Some of her family members were gathered together playing card games on the front porch. Fanny and her parents lived on the
third floor of the house, and her extended family members lived on the other floors. From what I was able to notice of Fanny’s
neighborhood, it seemed like as the rest of the city was advancing in development, this place was at a progressive standstill, and it was
one of the few places in the city where it felt strange to be a foreigner since most of the people there seemed like they wondered what in
the world I was doing there as I passed them by. I’m sure many of them rarely ever left the neighborhood as they appeared to be quite
settled into the place and looked halfway between city and countryside folk. It was also likely that few or even no other foreigners came
through that part of town since there was nothing there that most people would ever come there for. From Fanny’s home we walked to
Mr. Lu’s home, which was also in that same out of the way community about 15 minutes away on foot. There was very little traffic coming
through the small and narrow streets that could have passed as alleyways, and many people who didn’t look so fashionable were
walking the streets all over, some carrying supplies they were delivering either by hand, by cart, or by buggy. Also there were young
students walking home from school with their school uniforms and backpacks.
      We entered Mr. Lu’s apartment, and several people were already there. There was Mr. Lu of course, who was thin and had short hair
that came out slightly over his forehead, and he always seemed to be smiling. His smile did not make me suspicious at all. It seemed to
be incredibly genuine. Also there was Mr. Li (Lee), who wore glasses and had hair that was slightly wavy on top. His smile looked a little
more forced than Mr. Lu’s smile, but he had a funny laugh, a laugh that seemed to stay in his mouth and throat and never actually come
out into the atmosphere even though his mouth was open. Also there was Mr. Zhou (Joe), who seemed like kind of a shy guy and wore a
white shirt and tie, and Fanny’s best friend Ms. Lu, who was wearing a dress. Ms. Lu and Mr. Lu had no relation. Lu must be a popular
Chinese surname. My old slimy boss from when I worked in Hefei also had the same surname. Mr. Lu’s mother was preparing all of the
dishes for us, and several other friends of theirs arrived later. We all sat around a small table in the center of the living room, which had
a floor made of concrete with small wooden stools for us to sit on. We ate dinner and had some drinks out of some small plastic
disposable cups that were made of some seriously flimsy material. After dinner, everyone wanted to play some drinking games to make
things more exciting. I watched the others as they played a drinking game where two people would each put out one of their hands and
use their fingers to indicate a number between one and five and also call out a number between one and ten at the same time. Both of the
numbers shown by their hands put together was the number that they were trying to guess as they called out each number. Whoever
could say the right number was the winner, and the other had to drink a cup of beer. They would do it over and over until someone
guessed right, and they looked and sounded very excited. It must have been the same game I always saw people playing at dinner time
at the restaurant on my street. Some people were good at this game, and others were not. They were calling numbers using the local
Nanning dialect, which was very similar to Cantonese. I knew how to count to ten in Mandarin, yi (eee) er, san, si (sih), wu, liu(lee oo), qi
(chi), ba, jiu, shi, but I was not good enough to try this game yet. Later, another young man who named himself Dickson Mile showed up
with his girlfriend. Dickson immediately started playing this game with everyone else. He was good, because he won almost every time,
and when he would win, he would raise his head up slightly looking like he was thinking, “Yeah, that’s what I thought!” even though
probably more than 90% of Chinese don’t know this expression.  It was quite interesting to watch the excitement and people’s reactions
when they win or lose. Dickson had a very loud voice that dominated the environment. It was not powerful, but loud. He sounded like a
salesman. He took interest in making friends with me, perhaps because I was a foreigner and he may not have ever had a foreigner
friend before.
      Another night, Fanny, Mr. Lu, Ms. Lu, Mr. Li, and I were at a small restaurant in their neighborhood drinking beer and Chinese rice
wine. Fanny was the only one out of us who wasn’t drinking. I must have been possessed by spirits (alcohol, not ghosts), because
suddenly I stood up and started flexing like I was Mr. Olympia, making “Errgh!” noises, and Mr. Li stood up as well and did the same
thing with me. The funny thing about that was that Mr. Li had absolutely no muscle tone and didn’t seem like the kind of person who
would ever do that. He just seemed like the kind of person who was confined to his office all day and didn’t have much of a life outside
of work. It would be the same kind of effect if a kitten ever pretended to be a tiger. I guess he was drunk too. There was a couple sitting
at a table just inside of the restaurant, and the woman kept turning around in her seat nervously to look at us as we were flexing. This
kind of thing never happens in China unless you have drunk foreigners around, which can make us look bad sometimes. I felt bad for
startling them, so I took one cup of rice wine over to them and had a toast with them. Then they had no worries. I returned back to my
seat, and Fanny looked like she had chills running up and down her back. “What’s wrong?”, I asked, as though I needed an explanation,
but she said, “Nothing”, though she wouldn’t even look at me. A few moments later, I felt the hair on the back of my neck stand up, and it
seemed like a breeze started rolling through the street. From out of nowhere, a group of about ten young men in their late teens came
walking by us looking very serious and speaking in harsh tones. I looked at Fanny and asked, “Those guys are going to fight someone,
aren’t they?” and she nodded. The first incident in Nanning I had seen or heard about was transpiring not far from where I was sitting. I
guess it wasn’t the perfect place I thought it was.
      Jamie one day asked me what I thought about Fanny, and I told her that I liked her, but as time went on, and though her and I were
getting closer, I started having some other feelings as well. “I don’t know if Fanny and I have a future, Jamie.” I said to her one day. I’m
not sure if Jamie even heard or understood what I said.
      Jamie had a business appointment in another city called Bei Hai (Bay High), which was a small coastal city on the South China Sea.
She was going there by train, and invited Fanny and I to accompany her. Steven was kind enough to drop the three of us off at Nanning’s
railway station on Zhonghua Lu (Joang Hwahh Loo). It would be about a three hour train ride from Nanning to Bei Hai, the perfect time to
get some sleep, but not really since the seats were very uncomfortable, and to fall asleep would probably mean falling on the floor or on
the person next to you who might have a problem with that. While we were on the train, Fanny and Jamie were talking about something
and kept looking at me, so naturally I asked them, “What are you talking about?” Jamie looked at me and said, “We can tell by your face
that you were the king of Egypt 2,000 years ago”. I guess that was her fancy way of saying that my bald head and goatee reminded her of
a pharaoh. Jamie always had some unusual ways of expressing herself. She was significant and odd among Chinese people, yet refined
somehow.
      We arrived in Bei Hai and took a taxi to our hotel, which was on the beach. We later went for a walk along Bei Hai’s coastline. In the
sand not too far away from the water were many very tiny holes. As we walked close to them, I barely noticed something moving.
Something very small was disappearing down into each of the holes when we came near them. I wanted to know what they were, so I
approached slowly and stealthily to avoid startling them. I discovered that they were miniature gray colored crabs, the smallest crabs I
had ever seen, and didn’t know they ever could be found that small. “Jamie, does anyone ever get attacked by sharks around here?” I
asked. “No.” she replied. I wondered how it was possible for a beach that was on the sea to never have any reported shark attacks.
Either no one ever swam out far enough, or they had some kind of underwater net to keep them out. I wasn’t sure.
      At dinner time, Jamie took us to a restaurant to meet with her business contact. We ate many kinds of seafood there that was very
delicious as Jamie and he engaged in a conversation that was incomprehensible to me, but I was used to it by then. After dinner, we
returned to our hotel. Fanny said she wanted to go swimming in the sea, but I told her it’s a crazy idea to do at night considering what
might be in the water. Instead, we walked next to the sea as the moonlight was reflecting off the water and shining its silvery light
enough to illuminate anything nearby.
      It was a short trip since the next morning we got on another train to return to Nanning. Steven was waiting for us at the railway
station and took us to the seafood market to pick up some sea animals for lunch. They had many aquariums there filled with many kinds
of sea creatures. I saw an octopus in one of the aquariums looking as though it was looking right at me, and was trying to escape the
aquarium by climbing over the edge. It seemed to have the intelligence to know that it was not only a prisoner, but also its lifespan was
going to be relatively short because of some hungry human beings. It was at that moment that I began to feel sorry for the way human
beings treat animals.
      After we chose the animals we wanted cooked, we went to a nearby restaurant to have them cooked for us. On the way, we saw a
small boy holding a plastic bag full of shrimp that had been wrecked by another boy he had a quarrel with, and his shrimp were spread
out all over the street. The boy was just crying, but I wasn’t sure how I could help him. I had nothing to give and no ideas at the moment.
      After lunch, Steven dropped us all off. He dropped me off at my apartment on Xinai Lu near the university. Right before they dropped
me off, Jamie said, “Fanny is going to tell her parents you like her.” In China, that pretty much means that she is telling her parents who
she wants to marry. This was happening too fast for me. “No! You’ve got to tell her to hold on! I’ve only known her for a couple months!” I
said. “OK, I will call her.” Jamie said. Within an hour of getting dropped off at my apartment, I received a call from Fanny. “I don’t ever
want to talk to you again!” she said.  Man, I really messed up!
China Dispatch/Andrew Gramling
  My "Fanny" Valentine in Nanning