I met Xu Han Chuan on the summer day my high school finals ended. At receiving my grades, my parents decided to have me sign up for a travel tour to go play and release the pent up stress accumulated during the preparation of the examination. I held the bright and colourful flyer from travel agency, looking at it for a long time before settling on a three-days tour.
In our slightly closed-up little inland town, the travel packages with trips going to Qing Dao, Dalian, Yantai and the various other coastal cities would be very popular whenever summer rolled by. As to my selection of a slightly “less popular” choice, despite my parents not understanding in the beginning, they respected my choice in the end.
That had been the first time, in my eighteen years of life, properly seeing the sea. Now that I think of it, I’m extremely thankful, too, that I’ve chosen that quiet little coastal city. Because, that was where I met Xu Han Chuan.
By the time we reached Rizhao by bus, it was already noon. After we checked into the hotel and settled down, the tour guide gave us some free time.
I dragged Lin Lan, a girl who’d journeyed here with me, to the seaside near the hotel. Waves of sea breeze caressed my face; I saw a boundless plane of golden sand in the distance, the dancing silhouettes of trees nearby just by the shore—they brim, of the gentleness of the city.
While the water receded, I run barefoot over to the sand to take pictures. Lin Lan posed for the camera with the sea behind as the backdrop for the longest of time, and I hold the phone, snapping a few vividly artistic ones. The two of us walked barefoot on the sand, snapping pictures as we joked about, having fun. I suddenly felt something like I’ve stepped on something strange. Looking down, half an identification cards peeped out of the thin sand beneath my feet.
After picking it up, I lightly read the name on the ID: Xu Han Chuan.
The picture of Xu Han Chuan on the ID was handsome. He was a local from Rizhao, two years older than me. A series of questions zipped past my mind; this beach would be beyond familiar to the locals, why did he come to this beach again, and why would he lose his ID card at this beach.
When I realise such exuberant curiosity about a guy I’ve never met had instinctively sprung up in my head, I laughed mockingly, and sent the ID card to the police station nearby.
It was the afternoon of the second day I picked up Xu Han Chuan’s call. I was going around with the tour group visiting Taohua Island. After taking the speedboat to the shore, I was still having a dizzy spell. Pulling out my phone, I saw a miscall that displayed a Rizhao local number. A little suspicious, I dialled back, and the other party picked up the call very promptly only after a single ring. A clear and refreshing male voice sounded from the other side of the call. “Hello, I’m Xu Han Chuan. Thank you for picking up my ID the other day. Do pardon me, the police said your number was the only contact details you left, how do I address you?”
“Ye Wan Qing*.”
*叶婉晴 = Ye Wan Qing
“I heard you’re here on a trip? I’m a Ruzhao local. May I ask where you are right now? I’ll go find you.” Probably afraid that he sounded rude, he added: “I just wanted to personally thank you, I don’t mean anything else.”
Probably because the dizzy feel from the speedboat I’d just alighted from was still lingering, or perhaps it was another reason, I actually, unexplainably, agreed. “Come over then, I’m at Taohua Island.”
“Hoh, is that the lad whose ID you picked up the other time.” Lin Lan wiggled her brows at me laughingly. “What a beautiful coincidence.”
By the time Xu Han Chuan rushed over, he was out of breath; he’d brought me a bottle of chilled coke. I take it and twisted open the bottle. The drink inside fizzed out with a sizzle, spilling all over me. Apologising, he handed me tissue paper. “I’m so sorry, the weather looked hot so I thought I’d bring you a bottle of chilled drink. I probably ran too urgently just now so the drink fizzed.”
At seeing his earnest expression, I burst into laughter.
In order to pronounce his gratitude, Xu Han Chuan became my tour guide for free and brought we around many Rizhao’s tourist attraction sites. When evening dawned, he insisted on bringing me to the beach to eat BBQ by the sea. “If you’re in Rizhao, it’ll only be worth it eating BBQ by the sea and viewing the scenery, else your trip’s wasted.”
Xu Han Chuan told me he was attending university at Dalian. He’d always thought the world was beyond large and wanted to go out and see the world. It was only after he left his home did he realise he missed this little city and everything in it. Hence, every beginning of autumn, he would take some days off to return to the place he’d grown up in to try to start up.
At saying that, he laughed, slightly mockingly, and gulped down a cup of draught beer. I looked at him. He was a stranger I’d met by chance, yet he appeared so familiar at first sight. Seeing how he had pretty much blended in with the darkness of the night, I’d secretly thought, at that time, that he was a guy with a story.
After looking at the itinerary prepared by the travel agency, Xu Han Chuan suggested that I skipped the plans made by the travel agency and have him continue being my free-of-charge tour guide and bring me around, properly around, this city he lived in.
At seeing his earnest expression, I pretty much agreed without thinking it through.
In the evening of the second day, he quickly pulled me to the beach to see the sea and pick seashells after angling at the Angling Park. After taking off my shoes, I walked on the beach, barefooted. In the beginning, I was very worried and was afraid I’d be cut by the stones under the water. However, I was later proved to have overthought. The sand on this beach was beyond fine. It was as though I was walking in a fluffy dream—very soft.
I held a little plastic pail in one hand, a little metal shovel in the other, digging at the fine sand. When I picked up my first clam, I shouted at Xu Han Chuan for the longest of time. At hearing me, he straightened, and quickly snapped a picture of me laughing, bathed in the afterglow of sunset. That picture was very artistic, so I had used it as my computer wallpaper for a very long time.
That evening, we had a bountiful harvest. We’d dig out clams, shells, razor clams and filled our two plastic pails to the brim. To someone who’d seen the sea for the first time, one can imagine how happy and satisfied I’d been. In my excitement, I updated my circle*, and my screen was very quickly filled with likes. Xu Han Chuan’s headshot against the blue sea was especially conspicuous.
* 好友圈 = “circle of friends”; when the phrase “发到好友圈” = “sent to my circle of friends” or “posted on my circle”, it basically means updating one’s feed on social media (usually wechat) where one’s friends can see
On the last day of my stay in Rizhao, it started drizzling faintly. That morning, I gazed out the window, wondering if Zu Han Chuan would “back out” because of the rain. Very quickly, a notification from Wechat popped up on my screen—get your stuff and come down, we’re following our plan. It’s raining, remember to bring your umbrella.
After having pretty much running down the three floors of the hotel, I saw Xu Han Chuan already waiting at the lobby.
Xu Han Chuan had a large tea plantation at his house. Rizhao was famous for their tea. Hence to be able to quietly sip and taste tea was all the more satisfying in the height of a blazingly hot summer. Though I’ve developed the habit of drinking tea from my parents, I’ve never stepped a foot into a real tea plantation before.
Hence, when I heard Xu Han Chuan was going to bring me to a tea plantation to pick tea leaves, I’d been jumping in joy for the longest of times. On the way, he told me a lot of things tea-related knowledge. He said that only spring tea had been of the best quality in a year. However, the spring tea at that time had long been sold out. Summer tea was of slightly lower quality, its taste, however, was still pretty refreshing.
That day, holding our umbrellas, we picked the tea leaves for a very long time. He told me that these newly picked young leaves after frying would be dried and would become the tea leaves we drink every day. After that, every time I drank the Rizhao green tea Xu Han Chuan gave me, I’d always recall, instinctively, the day he’d brought me to the tea plantation to pluck leaves.
It was still raining when I left Rizhao. The bus arranged by the travel agency had long parked itself by the hotel. Everyone was holding their cameras, snapping pictures of everywhere to serve as souvenirs as they bidded the city their last farewell.
At seeing Xu Han Chuan and me walking over, Lin Lan shouted at me even though the distance was far: “Wan Qing, I’ve waited half a day for you! I thought you’ll completely quit the group tour and not go back with us!”
After sending onto the bus, Xu Han Chuan waved his hand at me, bidding goodbye: “Have a safe trip.” His voice was low, his gaze was deep. His pretty iris brimmed of gentleness, as though the comforting sunlight and the gentle sea breeze of this city.
In that moment, I realised that there was something that had changed. After having interacted and stayed with each other for two days, a feeling, something I’ve never thought about and didn’t dare think about, sprouted between us. He was sunny and humourous; being with him was as though walking under the sunlight, unperturbed.
The bus started. He stood there lonelily on his own by the roadside. Looking at his straight but lone figure, my nose suddenly tinged sour. I came hurriedly to this city, and I left hurriedly from this city, and yet I wasn’t able to bring anything back.
When I returned home, my life was very quickly filled with happenings like my final results as well as other burdensome and troubling things. I held an awkward score, hesitating between the paths of my uncertain future and my parent’s expectation.
Xu Han Chuan’s greeting calls still came in frequently. Sometimes, he’d send me some pictures of the Rizhao streets. The unfamiliar travellers in his pictures were as though a quiet reminder of our wonderful meeting not long ago.
When filling in the enrollment aspiration form, I did not seem to take very long in convincing myself to give up the larger and more flourishing cities, and filled in the school in Rizhao. After filling in the form, I left him a message on Wechat: I hope that from autumn onwards, we’ll be able to meet every day.
Very quickly, I received his reply: Definitely. He even added a bright smiley face.
The day I received the letter of admission from the university in Rizhao was the happiest day of my entire eighteen years of life. It was not only because I was able to draw a ceremonial full stop for all my ten plus years of diligent studying, it was also because I met a person because of a little accident not long ago in that city. Come autumn, I could finally reunite with him joyfully.
I took a picture of my letter of admission and sent it t Xu Han Chuan on Wechat. It was only after looking at the “your friend is typing” on the chat page repeatedly for a long time did he finally send me a short “congratulations, Rizhao welcomes you”.
After that, after we’ve been together for a very very long time, he brings up, on his own, the feelings he had at that time. It wasn’t that he was uninterested in me, it’s just that we’ve only just met. He did not want his confession to mess up the decisions I made, hence he had been very carefully hiding his ardent feelings before I filled in my enrollment aspiration form.
Even so, I was still able to notice his feelings a little. I’m thankful, thankful that I am able to become the person whom he looks at in gentleness. In fact, I have long started imagining my future with him in secret.
Before I’d met Xu Han Chuan, I was the same as all the other people my age–longing for the boundless universe outside. Only after I’d had to Rizhao and met Xu Han Chuan did I realise that the streets in this small city are the breathtaking landscapes that had me, even now, falling in love with. Not only am I able to have a bright future in Rizhao, I can get, too, a wonderful romance.
To Xu Han Chaun, Rizhao is his homeward journey. The mountains and water there, they are his home.
To me however, perhaps in the near future, I can, with Xu Han Chuan, calmly walk side by side, neither too fast nor slow, on the streets of Rizhao and willingly accept what this little city has to offer.
At least, we’ve treated each other with the sincerest of hearts the moment we met each other. I have my reasons to believe, and anticipate, autumn’s arrival, and that there will be something lovely that will happen.