| The same evening that I gave Summer the necklace, Daler, Betty, and Willimas invited Jackie, Summer, Nathan, Jane, Candy, the classroom teacher named Ms. Wang, and I to go to one of Anqing's dancing bars. There didn't seem to be nearly as many bars as in the United States, and they usually were not extremely crowded. Strange since the streets are much more crowded. In China, they like to call dance clubs disco bars. The bar we went to was quite spacious as we walked inside. There was a large service area close to the entrance and a lighted stage for dancers and beauty competitions. Those were the only times I would ever see women in China dress non-conservatively, but it was never what people would consider to be trashy. Along one side of the bar, there were booths with comfortable velvet couches inside that formed half circles around small tables in the middle. There was also a small dance floor in the center of the bar that bounced. Above the dance floor, there were colored lights and a disco ball sending different colored patches of light whirling around the room. There was also a second floor that overlooked the whole scene from above. The place had the atmosphere of a pop music concert. Not dark and dangerous, but light-hearted and fun. The speakers were blasting some modern Chinese dance music tunes while as many young people as possible jumped up and down on the bouncing dance floor. There was one song in particular that caught my interest, probably because it was the only song that was played with English lyrics there. It was a dance rendition of the old song "The Rain," sung by a female vocalist that I had never heard before in America. The song goes straight to the heart and invokes a depressing emotional response. The song was a little popular in China. Everyone except young Candy made it onto the dance floor. Even Daler and Jackie tried to get down, although dancing didn';t come naturally to them. Willimas was looking around while dancing with a smile that hardly ever seemed to leave his face as long as I knew him. He was always looking for a chance to turn a serious situation into something comedic. We were naturally the center of attention since our group had foreigners in it. We felt like stars. Some of the other people there danced with us, and many other people watched us while we were dancing. A few of them could speak English and gave me compliments. They probably weren't used to seeing an American style of dancing, or seeing an American at all.
Summer was afraid to get anywhere near me on the dance floor. She never had a boyfriend before, and the idea of it made her quite nervous. I had a hard time dealing with her shyness, although she was usually very outgoing. I danced continuously even after all of my friends went to sit down, and after a while, Daler decided to literally pull me off the dance floor to have a drink with the rest of our group. I guess they missed me a lot. The bar served many kinds of alcoholic drinks, including Budweiser and Jack Daniel's. People would usually mix together Jack Daniel's with Pepsi and ice cubes in large clear containers and pour it into small glasses for group drinking. They like to play the rock scissors paper game to decide who will drink the most. I chose some kind of pineapple-flavored beer that wasn't very strong and tried to enjoy the music. I noticed Nathan grab a hold of Ms. Wang's hand and walk with her to the dance floor, but I knew exactly where that was going since Ms. Wang already had a boyfriend in another city. Before too late, and after having plenty of fun, we left the bar and went back to the hotel because we had planned to go to a mountain the next morning. Candy would take a bus and go back to Hefei where her parents were waiting for her. Jackie was also going to Hefei where he was studying medicine at one of the many universities there, but remained in contact with us with his mobile phone.
The next morning, Daler and Betty picked up Jane, Nathan, Summer, and I from the hotel and ate breakfast. Summer was still feeling shy around me, so she sat down next to Nathan instead of me. Daler observed the situation and jokingly asked me, "Do you miss your wife?" Then we picked up Willimas from his job in the middle of a business district and traveled to a mountain not far from Anqing. On our way to the mountain, Daler said to us, "There is no reason to do anything in life if it isn't for love." He was definitely a man who was ruled by his passions. The mountain was called Tian Zhu Shan. There were supply shops next to the gateway entrance to the mountain that we stopped at before beginning our hike to load up on supplies to carry in our backpacks. Those of us who were younger traveled up the mountain pathway quickly and easily, but we had to stop and wait for Daler as he struggled to make it up while Betty loyally stayed back to help him. Daler wasn't very old, but it may have been a long time since he exercised. His eyes became bloodshot and started bulging out of his sockets as he coughed to give his lungs greater circulation. He looked like he wasn't going to make it all the way up. We took a ski lift to get to a higher part of the mountain. Up high, there were people who had built small homes along the pathways and sometimes sold food and drinks for increasingly higher prices the higher we traveled up the mountain. There must have been more people who lived on the mountain than were hiking the mountain that day. It was very foggy, and it started raining while we were hiking, so we used some ponchos we bought from the store at the base of the mountain to protect ourselves from the rain. Along the way, we ran into some other foreigners from Minnesota who had been to Russia, and were now traveling through China. They were the first foreigners, aside from Franklin and Caro, who we had met since coming to China. By this point, we had probably seen tens of thousands of people, and most of them had probably never seen a foreigner before in their lives. Daler made it as far as he could, but then turned back early with Willimas and Betty. The rest of us kept hiking up to the highest point of the mountain. Most of the mountain peaks were not very jagged, but were topped by smooth gray rock, and many parts of the mountain had small bonsai trees growing out of crevices on the sides. Looking over the ledge at the horizon, we couldn't see very far beneath us because of the fog, but that only added to the beauty and mystery of the mountain's dreamlike qualities. We decided to take a different path down to the entrance than the one we came up on and got lost. On our search for the entrance to the mountain, we found a small lake with some old metal canoes next to a small abandoned utility shop. I climbed through a small window of the utility shop, and found some life preservers and oars that we needed to cross the lake. It didn't look like anyone had used those canoes for quite a long time, but they held out long enough for us to make it to the other side. After several hours, we made it back to Daler's van where Willimas Betty and Daler were napping. After we woke them up, we returned to Anqing. Willimas reserved a seat for me next to Summer because he said it would be more fun for me to sit there.
| China Dispatch/Andrew Gramling
Enjoying China's nature