The Yunlong Mountain Tunnel was opened in 2002. It runs about a half mile through the center of the mountain. The city has spread miles and miles beyond its former borderlines but Yunlong Mountain used to be on the southern edge of the city. A highway runs through the bottom half of the tunnel and the top half is a pedestrian walkway. If you cut down Zhongshan Road to the park along Yunlong Lake, you can get into the tunnel, up a long concrete slope, and come out on the other side in Quanshan. I don't know how the place looks now.
I might have taken a taxi through the tunnel, couple years ago, but I wasn't paying attention. I couldn’t even tell you what year it was. But it was the last time I visited Xinran’s hometown. Think about it a bit harder, it must have been when I was in Dalian, and I took the boat across to Weihai or Yantai. I don’t have any memory of that part of the trip, except for seeing out in front of the ferry terminal in Dalian, a man had spelled out his girlfriend’s name in LED candles out on the tarmac, waiting for her to get off. I remember I took the bus from Weihai or whatever city on the Shandong coast, and got off at Linyi to take a piss and eat some bus station baozi. I remember that even then, there was so much distance between us—emotionally, of course, but also, we’d spent the last year, at least, living apart. It would have been the first time I saw her since she left me in Vancouver and went to Shanghai. It was a cold day and I remember that I took her hand, getting off the bus, and she was wrapped up in a parka and a facemask. We took a taxi out to her parents’ place, maybe wandered around a bit downtown first. The taxi hit a cat on the way out there. She loves cats. It felt like a bad sign. That’s all I remember. Her parents had finally moved into the house that the local government or whoever had promised them since their danwei housing was demolished in 2007 or 2008. Her mother washed my hair. As far as I know, she’d never told them that we were married, and hadn’t told them that we hadn’t seen each other in years. She probably hadn’t told her parents that she was going to school in Guizhou and running surveys out in the hills, either. I have no idea. She ran a hot rag over my head and dripped water from a basin, washing out all the grime of the ferry ride and the bus and Linyi.
The city had changed completely. There was a Wal-Mart. The city center had been completely remade by the new mayor. I listed places we used to go and most of them had been torn down. The dandan noodles place by Minzhu Lu Xiao Xue, gone. The barbecue shacks along the river, replaced with cake shops and apartment blocks. The shitty karaoke place by the Garden Hotel, long gone. We must have gone through the tunnel to get out to her parents’ apartment. Their apartment was in Taishan, almost down where the University of Mining and Technology had their campus. So, we have taken the tunnel. It was dark already. Her mom went out to get a roast chicken, which she always did when I came for dinner, and shredded it and put the meat in a bowl, sprinkled it with dried chilies. Her father didn’t drink or smoke, but they usually opened a bottle of baijiu, too.
The tunnel, though, I was thinking about it, today. Right after we met, Xinran bought a bike. She had a battered old early-1980s-looking bike before but she bought a low, pink thing to replace it, with tiny wheels and a basket on the front. She’d ride downtown in the afternoon and I’d meet her at her friend Liu Chang’s store down the street from Golden Eagle and Carrefour—long gone, too, and Liu Chang married the local weatherman. We’d get something to eat and I’d ride her back across town, usually stopping off at the lake to sit on the benches and try to finger her, or we’d rush home and get dinner at the restaurant in the xiaoqu opposite mine and beside her parents’ old danwei dormitory. But we’d always go through the tunnel, up that big concrete slope. I’d push to go all the way up with her on the bike, pushing as hard as I could to keep the pink bike’s tiny wheels spinning, then, when we got up in the tunnel, glide through.
I guess they set some big vaults down in that mountain, too. That always made me think it was older than I learned it was. I thought maybe bomb shelters. But anyways, there were big vaults in there, and they’d unload fruit to store. The upper half of the tunnel, there were vendors up there, people selling cheap crap, sometimes baozi or whatever, and always bananas. The trucks would come and unload their bananas into the vaults and women would come out and spread tarps and sell the fruit off of them. As the season went on and the fruit ripened and the prices markered on the cardboard signs of the vendors got lower, the smell of ripe bananas replaced the stench of diesel exhaust.