I felt terrible about what happened between Fanny and I, though it wasn’t completely my fault. Not only did I lose her, but I also lost all
of the friends that came from knowing her — Mr. Lu, Mr. Li, Mr. Zhou, and Ms. Lu. They were all nice people who I wouldn’t have the
chance to see anymore. What a waste of good friendships! I almost lost Chinese Jamie as a friend as well because we had an argument
when she accused me of lying when I reminded her of the fact that I said I didn’t think Fanny and I had a future together, which is why I
didn’t want Fanny to tell her parents that I liked her. I forgot that when a Chinese girl invites a guy to her home for dinner, as she once
did, it usually means she is trying to see if her parents will accept him or not. I guess they accepted me, which is why Fanny didn’t
disappear suddenly and start rejecting my phone calls after I had dinner with them. In China, almost no marriages take place without the
approval of the parents. The parents would disown their children if they went against their wishes about this matter, which would bring a
high level of shame to the child since the act would suggest that they did not have any respect for the people who gave them life and
provided for them since day one, and because that’s just the way it is. Families in China operate under a system that holds each family
member highly accountable for their actions towards the whole family that is nearly unbreakable. There isn’t a great deal of
independence displayed in Chinese youths contrary to how most western countries operate, so it is not very tempting for most people to
try to go out and make it on their own and without their family’s blessing. I haven’t heard of many cases of rogue family members since I’
ve been around. Fanny and I never did anything beyond what friends do, so I wasn’t sure why she got so upset when I didn’t want her to
tell her parents anything yet. The reason might have been because I made her lose face in front of her parents and all her friends after
she had to tell them that she was wrong about us.
      I was surprised to get a phone call from Fanny not long after the upset even though she said she never wanted to speak to me again.
She wanted to talk to me about what happened, so one night after teaching the students in Guangxi University, I met her at the nearby
restaurant Bang Yang on Houju Lu, just a ten-minute walk from my apartment. We sat across from each other at one of the tables inside
the fast food restaurant which was now nearly empty after the dinner rush, but she wouldn’t even look at me. She was acting very cold
and apathetic, and she didn’t look interested in speaking to me at all, so I wondered why she even came. “Why are you so upset?” I
asked. “I don’t care anything about you … I just want to know why you changed your mind so quickly,” she said. What’s a person
supposed to say to that? Thank you for being honest? Maybe I should have tried it to see what happened, but Instead I struggled to
explain my reasons for why I backed off, but nothing was getting through to her. She would not let down her ice-cold guard for a
millisecond. “You were just playing,” she said. “Just playing?? What do you mean?? I didn’t invite any other girls out! I wasn’t playing!” I
said in reply, but she was still very unimpressed. It was a tense and drawn out moment with periods of long silence that was
uncomfortable for both of us. To break the stalemate, I decided I had to let go of my pride. To show her that I did indeed care about her, I
let a couple of tears roll out. “If you go away, I will be very sad,” I said. That show of emotion caught her attention more than anything
else I said or did. She looked at me for the first time since we had been there at the restaurant. Then she thought for a moment. “If we are
just friends, then it’s okay for us to still know each other,” she said finally. “Yes, okay, but how can you change your mind so easily?” I
asked. “I can forget anything,” she said. That was incredibly hard! I think I’d rather go up to Mike Tyson, call him a mama’s boy, and spit
in his face, A.K.A. commit suicide than have to do that again!

Boxing place
      Speaking of Mike Tyson, it was time to meet Paul from New Zealand and go to a boxing gym that he had spoken about before and
begin training. One night, Paul, British Jamie, Tony from the United States whom I helped get a job at Webster, and I met near the center
of the city and took a bus from there on Minzu Da Dao out to Lang Dong in the east of the city. The boxing gym was on Minzu Da Dao, but
the place was so far out that no buses went there. We got off at the last stop, which was at the large multilevel shopping complex called
Heng Yang Guo Ji, and then walked the rest of the way. Minzu Da Dao was perfectly straight from its beginning just west of the center of
the city for about 12 kilometers up until this point with steady traffic the whole way, but here, the road began to slant upwards and the
traffic died down as did the city lights. We were walking out to the rim of the city, talking the whole way. It was now November, so it
wasn’t as warm as it was when I first arrived in Nanning, but being a southern city, it still wasn’t bone-chilling. A light jacket was
enough to repel the cold.
      We arrived at the gym, but it was more than just a boxing gym. This place was huge, and it had a bowling alley, badminton courts, a
weight room, a boxing ring with training equipment, and probably more that I didn’t see, but the place was relatively empty, probably
because it was so far out of the way and hidden a bit uphill off the main road. The boxing ring was in the same room as the weight room,
the ceiling so high there that Michael Jordan couldn’t ever hope to touch it. Paul had a conversation with the boss in Mandarin as Jamie,
Tony, and I walked around and experimented with the weight machines. There was another foreigner there as well. A man in his thirties
was underneath a barbell doing some bench pressing and got out from underneath to greet Paul since apparently the two had met before.
His name was Marcos, a man from Britain who was not so small with medium length dark brown hair that was a little longer in the back.
My first impression of him was that he was some kind of arrogant show-off that liked to put a tally mark on his wall every time he found a
new girl. If people only go by their first impression of others, then they don’t give that person a chance to show that they are more than
one imagines. No matter what my first impression is of someone, I always give them a chance.
      I once had a first impression of someone that they were going to try to kill me, but I still gave them a chance, perhaps foolishly. We
worked together at a restaurant in Florida for about five months, made many jokes and had many laughs, and then one day he turned on
me suddenly and indeed proved himself to be a cold-blooded intensity junkie with murderous intentions. It took everything within me to
drive him off like the cruel and powerful demon he was. He was my worst enemy in life because he was just as intelligent as he was
powerful, and he tried his best to disguise himself as a friend, but was just waiting for the perfect chance to knife me in the back from
the beginning. One could never forget such an encounter, nor ever be the same afterwards. After that, any other first impression wasn’t
so bad.
      Paul’s negotiation with the manager of the gym didn’t go so smoothly. The man originally asked for 750 RMB for a one-year
membership, but then decided he wanted to raise the price to 1,000 RMB per person, maybe just for us. It would have been a good idea
for him to stick to his original price, because in that case, he would have actually gotten some money from us. We decided we weren’t
going to play his “Cheat the stupid foreigners” game and left. Paul told us he had another place in mind for training.

Helping another foreigner find what’s he’s looking for
      As I was walking between the columns one evening after work on the path towards the front gate of Guangxi University, I
encountered another foreigner. He was not very tall and quite thin with glasses and short dark brown hair. He told me his name was
Arnaud, a student of Chinese language study at Guangxi University, and he was from France. He asked me, “Do you know where is the
Yi Dian Bar? I want to watch a football match there.” I had no idea which place he was talking about, but I decided to help him look for it.
We walked out of the university through the front gate and then onto Houju Lu down to the end and then turned right on the intersecting
street that was there, searching every shop along the way. “You’re not like most of the other foreigners I run into on the streets here.
When I see other foreigners, usually they pretend they don’t see me and don’t even say hello,” I said to him. After about a half hour of
searching, we finally found Yi Dian Bar nicely tucked away on a small and quiet side street near the intersection of a large and busy
street. Arnaud thanked me and we exchanged numbers, then he went into the bar and I went my own way.

At Guangxi University
      In our program at the university, we got a new student named Edison from the second largest city in Guangxi called Liu Zhou. He
wore glasses and had hair that reminded me of a Japanese cartoon character the way it looked kind of wild on the top. He  couldn’t
speak a word of English, so it was going to be a huge challenge to bring him up to the level that he would be able to take the IELTS test
in June of the following year. That wasn’t the only recent change in our program. Chinese Jamie continued to have problems with our
boss Nina, so Nina accused Jamie of having inadequate teaching skills, and used it as a pretext for firing her. Now they had to search for
a new teacher to fill Jamie’s place. This proved that Nina was nobody to be messed with, and definitely no one to trust.

Night life in Nanning
      Kobe, the young man who was so kind to me and gave me free bottles of beer when I met him at Oh Dear a few weeks earlier sent
me a text message one night inviting me to his birthday party. I had to get someone to translate it for me since I couldn’t read Mandarin
text. His birthday party would be held at a bar called Le Nest near the center of the city off Minzu Da Dao. I didn’t know how to find the
place, so his friend called me on the phone and told me to meet them at the old Walmart on Minzu Da Dao where they would pick me up. I
waited there in front of Walmart, which was in a complex of several levels with many shops, not much resembling a Walmart from the
States on the outside. Kobe showed up after several minutes with his friend named Amanda, a very beautiful looking Chinese girl who
was definitely down with the modern trends with dyed brown hair that was long and wavy and wore a leather jacket and a skirt. We got
into a taxi and went to Le Nest.
      Le Nest was on a side street that weaved through like a snake past small restaurants and shops. We entered Le Nest and I couldn’t
believe how crowded the place was. It was a large, dimly lit room with many tables that were all full and absolutely no space anywhere.
People were crammed together in every inch of the place. There were two pathways to move through the place, but even they were
congested all the time. There was also a second level above, but from the first level, there was no way to see how crowded it was up
there. On the side of the main bar room were a couple of small KTV rooms. We went into one of them and about two dozen of Kobe’s
friends were there eating fruit, peanuts, seeds, and other snacks. People took turns singing songs passing the two microphones around
to each other. Some of his friends attempted to speak English to me. Even though they were complete strangers, including Kobe,
everyone was very welcoming to me. They wanted me to play a drinking game with them using a cup and dice. Each person got one cup
and five dice. The way to play the game is to roll all of the dice underneath the cup to keep the numbers hidden, choose a number
between one and six, and say how many of that number that you think everyone has all together. Usually start low and gradually guess
higher and higher. When someone guesses a number that is hard to believe, you can call them on it and tell everyone to show their dice.
If there aren’t enough, the last person who guessed must drink, but if there are enough, the person who tried to call them on it must drink.
It was a lot of fun. After some time, Kobe brought out his birthday cake and lit the candle, which opened up like a flower and had a candle
on each petal that was burning. His friends also chose a song from the computer, Happy Birthday of course. They asked me to sing since
the song was in English, so I did. Kobe was very happy to celebrate his birthday with all of us.
      Later, some of us went out back into the main room where all of the people were. As I was walking through the crowd, I was
surprised to see our new student from the university, Edison. He was at a table with some of his friends playing the same game with the
dice that I was just playing. We both looked equally surprised to see each other, but had few words we could say to each other. Edison
gestured me to stay at his table and play the dice game with him and his friends. In China, from numbers one to ten, they have hand
signals that can be used to show that number that still only require one hand to use from six to ten. Since it was so loud, we used those
hand signals to tell each other what we were guessing. Kobe and a few others were in another part of the room, presumably with other
people they knew there. I had nervous feelings about being in this place, like it was the trendiest place in town that everyone wanted to
go to in order to show off and be seen, and I didn’t fit in. I felt completely out of place, but after I had a few more drinks, I started to think
that this was MY place! I was one with the loud dance music that prevented friends who were right next to each other from hearing each
other, and I was having a good time.  Everyone else there might have had wealth and class on their side, but I had soul! I didn’t want to
be rude to the one who invited me, so I went back into the KTV room with Kobe and his friends, leaving Edison and his friends to it. We
later came back out into the main room and went to a table where some of Kobe’s friends were. We played the same drinking games,
which never got old and enjoyed the music which started to become blurred as everything else did from drinking so much. Going to the
bathroom was a serious pain. It took nearly five minutes just to move from one end of the place to the other because it was so crowded.
Somehow everyone in the place had enough patience to make it through without incident, though it was trying.
      Kobe’s friend Amanda was kind enough to escort me by taxi to my apartment on her way to where she was staying when it was time
to leave. Kobe wanted to make sure that I made it home safely by sending his friend along. Even though I had such a great time that
night, Nanning’s nightlife was starting to suck me into its trap just as it was doing to so many others. I was still blind, but someday I
would realize just what kind of place I was really in.
China Dispatch/Andrew Gramling
Learning more of Nanning
and its people