I step out of my apartment to soak in the outdoors and the music of nature that's come alive again. It's Sunday and the students at the university here in Huainan are taking it easy. Most, like me, are enjoying the sunshine, unmindful of the heat. I walk towards the city centre.
Winter has finally stepped aside to let the other seasons do their thing here. It seemed to last for ever and ever. Spring Festival came and with it came the firecrackers that announced a season of merry-making. But, the season of merry-making lagged behind. I waited, hoping I would see better times but winter stood its stubborn ground, unyielding and unconcerned.
For a few hours on Valentine's Day, winter relented, letting the warmth from the heavens descend upon the earth to let love-lorn couples step out, hand-in-hand, into the street and then it pushed back the warmth, announcing its intentions with a fresh bout of snowfall. And, now, more than three weeks after the passage of winter and the onset of spring was heralded by firecrackers, it seems winter has finally beaten a belated retreat.For three days, we have enjoyed sunshine and warm weather. I think, I can finally say goodbye to the season of frost, snow and ice. But spring? I really don't know where that has disappeared. Winter has yielded ground suddenly.
but not to spring. It seems to have made way for summer. It's sweltering outdoors. Only in the shade can we feel some signs of spring. I am at my computer and the numerous layers of warm winter wear have been discarded while I sit bare-chested in my apartment. Goodbyes are usually painful affairs but I am not too pained at this, one goodbye, to winter.
The city centre is bustling. Rose, a post-graduate student is accompanying me on my little walk around town. On the way, she points out Chinese characters in a bid to educate me. I am hard to educate and forget the characters soon after she has read and explained them to me.
But, she continues trying, anyway. Passersby stare!.We hear strains of music.
A makeshift stage has been set up outside a storefront. Pretty young girls and handsome young men catwalk. We stop to listen and watch. The MC-cum-singer notices us as we applaud a song well sung. After a while he comes down and asks if I would mind joining him on the stage, and singing a song for the benefit of the handful of onlookers gathered there.
I ask if he has music to accompany my song. He says something in Chinese that I don't understand. Rose translates, saying he will be happy with anything.
a line from a song or whatever. I climb onto the stage with Rose. The pretty girls in wedding gowns are arrayed at the rear along with their handsome stage escorts. I get centre stage and nod to a barrage of questions from the MC, sometimes with little understanding of what was asked, secure in the belief that a well-meaning nod would be a good enough answer.
The MC is persistent and asks Rose to translate. She does so and I try to play to the gallery.'How many places have you visited in Huainan'? the MC queries.
'Hen duo de,' I answer, telling him and the gathering crowd that I have visited many places.He ask me the names and I mention a few, saying it's hard for me to remember all the names. He nods!.
'Do you like Huainan,' he asks, motioning me to face the audience as I lie, 'Yes'. A white lie is better than a black eye, my mind warns me in time.It goes on for a while as I try and play the best entertainer I can.
Then comes the request for a song and I launch into 'Speak Softly Love' and stop after a few lines. The crowd applauds my feeble efforts at singing and I acknowledge their encouragement. As a token of appreciation I get the chance to walk with the prettiest girl there, holding her delicate fingers in my hand as I parade up and down the stage a few times. The MC mocks my attempted tomwalk and I get another try at parading her as she smiles graciously.
Photographers have materialized from somewhere and they click furiously away. For a moment I feel like a Hollywood star.This is followed by the ritual gathering of company officials on stage as they each speak to the crowd individually and then say their pledge together, an arm on their chests. I withhold my smile.
I know some of the pledges are as empty as coke cans outside McDonald's.Finally, Rose and I are allowed to climb down from the stage. Off-stage, the MC asks for my mobile number and promises a copy of the pictures.
I don't withhold my smile, thinking how many friends will burn with jealousy when I show them those pics.With winter gone and spring still in hiding, I am drenched under my clothes but who cares! I have just had my moment under the sun.My hour of unanticipated glory has ended but I will live that hour again many times over in my imagination. China never fails to intrigue, surprise and excite. Sometimes, even Huainan, one of the unfriendliest places in China, can be unlike itself..Rajesh Kanoi (Jack) is a published writer, now living and working in China. Many of his short-stories, poems and articles have been published, including a book of short-stories, 'From China With Love' (Lipstick Publishing).http://www.writingup.
By: Rajesh Kanoi