Love Anywhere

A short story from Beijing – by H.L.


That summer, whenever Wang Fei played guitar at Xiao Peng’s bar, he always offered cigarettes to his audience. It was more than just following etiquette – he took careful note of which girls did or did not accept. Most did not accept at first. He would play two or three songs and then offer again. Some would still not accept, and for them, he would sing his throaty fireside hymn.

They always accepted after the throaty fireside hymn.

And when he offered that time, they might smile coyly or abashedly, but the important thing was that they were smiling at him. Wang Fei would light their cigarettes, then his buddies’, including Xiao Peng’s, and finally his own. Then his glasses, which he had removed for the show, would return to his nose, and he would lean in to clink beers, clinking all night until his face was as red as everyone else’s, and Xiao Peng would tote him home on the electric bike that they shared.

It was shaping up to be a splendid summer.

Xiao Peng was the only university classmate with whom Wang Fei was still close. They had shared a dorm all four years. After graduating their group of friends split across the country, settling into internships or graduate schools or their childhood bedrooms. Wang Fei, considering himself too spiritual for an office job and too talented for his hometown, could only consider Beijing.

Talented guitarist though he may have been (and with an abundant imagination, which is just as crucial), Wang Fei did not desire conventional success. He held fast to the conventional wisdom about conventional success: that one could only succeed by rubbing shoulders with those in power. Belting ballads to absent audiences, playing late in blue-lit bars, drinking heavily with the bar owner – this act, Wang Fei could master. Greasy nights in bright banquet halls, pounding baijiu with older men who had no interest in music and had probably never heard of Cui Jian – this act, Wang Fei refused. He was only 22, after all – what was the hurry to succeed?

“You can promote yourself on Weibo,” Xiao Peng said more than once. “You don’t need to do banquets and baijiu and all that messy stuff.”

Out of politeness to his dear friend, Wang Fei would withhold a sigh on these occasions. What did Xiao Peng know of talent and dreams? Xiao Peng could have moved anywhere after graduation, because he did not have any apparent allegiances or interests. Instead, he latched onto Wang Fei’s dreams and enthusiasm and skipped off to the capital alongside him.

Not that Wang Fei minded his company. Xiao Peng did not hold him back in his pursuit of unconventional success as a guitarist, and was actually quite useful to him. More than once, Xiao Peng was the only audience member at a show, or otherwise the only one clapping, or the only one sober enough to drive the electric bike back to their apartment.

“You should drink less,” Xiao Peng said more than once. “Save real drinking for friends. If you’re just drinking to impress the bar owner, drink water and pretend it’s baijiu.”

Wang Fei politely withheld his sigh, but eventually could no longer hold his tongue: “Don’t you understand how hard it is to succeed? Bar owners don’t recognise talent – they’re all phonies. You have to drink and smoke and drink more, and then they’ll give you a little time on their stage. It’s barely even worth it.”

And so Xiao Peng opened his own bar.

Wang Fei hadn’t known Xiao Peng had the resources to open his own bar, but his mind was so quickly filled with self-promotional opportunities that he barely considered the how-why of Xiao Peng’s decision.

“Anywhere” (哪儿哪儿) was the bar’s name and it was just big enough for a bar counter, a foosball table, and a gathering of wicker stools around Wang Fei’s designated platform. Wedged between a noodle shop and a housing construction shop in an East City hutong, Anywhere just barely squeezed itself into existence. So too did Anywhere just barely manage, after a long winter of running in the red, to finally attract a small crowd of faithfuls.

They came to the capital for summer internships and classes, and “to just get away”. They stayed in dorms and on friends’ couches and in rich uncles’ spare apartments. They rode colorful bicycles, laughed readily and wore thick-rimmed glasses. They were young.

It was because of these faithfuls that Anywhere was able to dig its heels deep into the hutong. The endless cooking by the surrounding restaurants compounded the seasonal heat, and the air wrinkled with stickiness and hung like a hammock from the dilapidated eaves. Xiao Peng proved to be a diligent boss, installing an air conditioner inside and filling the roof with wicker chairs and red lanterns. Wang Fei and the faithfuls moved to the roof, where they could watch from on high as customers came and went.

The faithfuls would show up as early as dinnertime, toting a box of chuar kebabs. Xiao Peng and Wang Fei would pop tallboys and devour chuar with them until the less-faithful customers arrived, and Xiao Peng would disappear and Wang Fei’s guitar would appear.

Wang Fei was finally beginning to witness his unconventional success take form. Strumming his guitar on the roof during the late afternoon, he would smile and nod at curious passers-by. Playing at night, surrounded by the faithfuls, he handed out cigarettes while evaluating which girls were most and least accessible. A few times he managed to kiss a girl, on the roof or at his apartment, which Xiao Peng would cede to him for the evening. But for the most part, Wang Fei enjoyed the company of the faithfuls, and enjoyed even more that they clapped and bobbed their heads to his music, and if he managed to win over every girl in the bar, all the better. He made merry until Xiao Peng cleaned up the chuanr sticks and beer bottles and drove him home on their electric bike.

What a beautiful sight unconventional success was!

The last week of August swept through like a celestial sigh, the sticky summer pollution giving way to crisp starry-skied evenings. A literal shift in the winds was enough to make one fall in love in Beijing, the way it swept the hutong of its heat and scattered the smog cloud. And fall in love is exactly what happened to Wang Fei.

She was of the Mosuo community, a maternal society in the mountains of Yunnan province in which women had higher societal standing than men. It was a crisp late August evening when Xiao Peng sat her down at the roof’s long wicker table, diametrically across from Wang Fei as he played guitar. She smiled with confidence, listened with purpose, and casually turned away his offers of cigarettes, even after his throaty fireside hymn.

The summer of unprecedented unconventional success had filled Wang Fei’s head with arrogance and his heart with a new desire. He had gained admiration, he had indulged in lust, but he still lacked true love. This girl was exotic in title but plain in behavior – she was beautiful, yes, but plenty of the faithfuls were beautiful. Her ambivalent courtesy and sultry genuineness stuck in the sap of Wang Fei’s ego. If not to drink, or socialise, or clap at his songs, what was she doing on the roof? How dare she sit so confidently among the faithfuls?

She stirred in his deepest man parts the need to dominate.

Wang Fei put down his guitar, shoved his glasses on, and grasped his phone. Xiao Peng, how do you know this Mosuo girl?

An old family friend, Xiao Peng replied. What’s up?

Before he could type Introduce me, she was walking toward him, her long red skirt swishing with intent.

“You’re Xiao Peng’s friend, right?”


A pleasant conversation with coy smiles ensued, but truthfully, Wang Fei was tongue-tied. He kept picking up his guitar and taking off his glasses and putting his glasses on and putting his guitar down. She kept asking about his life and his music and his apartment. Mosuo women move fast! Wang Fei chuckled inwardly. Tonight I’m going to get laid – zou hun!

“I’ve got to go,” she finally said.

“Come back tomorrow.”

“We’ll see.” She smiled and his man parts stirred.

Wang Fei strummed his guitar and watched her leave out the front door. He considered yelling something clever after her, but Xiao Peng had run after her to tell her something. They talked for a long while – why did they look so serious? Did Xiao Peng love her? Wang Fei’s stomach tightened and he twanged his guitar harder.

When he woke up at noon the next day, on a mat across the room from Xiao Peng’s mat, between which lay a sprawl of clothes and cups and electronics, Wang Fei had already received a message from the girl.

You will find true love on the roof of Anywhere tonight.

He leapt off his mat and jumped in the shower. Tonight could not possible come sooner, and he wiled the day away imagining kissing her before she could kiss him.

Wang Fei made Xiao Peng bar off the roof for everyone except the girl – not even the faithfuls could come up.

“Wang Fei, I don’t think she’s coming tonight.” Xiao Peng said.

Wang Fei smirked, “Oh, she’s coming. She told me.”

Xiao Peng and his phone disappeared into the roof’s shadows. Minutes passed, and it was soon midnight.

Unable to stand it, Wang Fei sent her a message: I thought you said I could find you here. His heart thumped as he waited for her reply.

It read: You will find love anywhere.

“She’s standing me up! The bitch!” He slammed his phone on the table and ripped his glasses off, accidentally dropping them on the ground.

Xiao Peng picked them up, “Wang Fei.”


Xiao Peng held onto the bent glasses, and tentatively placed a hand on Wang Fei’s shoulder. “Wang Fei,” he whispered, his voice suddenly harsh, “Love isn’t anywhere, it’s here. Do you understand, Wang Fei?

Wang Fei ripped away from his dear friend’s touch and plopped onto the wicker chair. Out of politeness for his friend, he held his tongue yet again. What did Xiao Peng know of love and rejection? He pulled out his phone, and, hunching over it, began to type madly.

Xiao Peng stood over him for a long while, Wang Fei pounding away at his cell phone. “Would you like a smoke?” Xiao Peng eventually offered.

“Yeah.” Wang Fei did not look up.

Xiao Peng lit his own, threw the box onto the table, and disappeared downstairs.

Hannah Lincoln lives in Beijing and works in market research, while nursing a lifelong love for literature. She runs a photo blog, Your Daily China Moment, and writes China related articles for various outlets. She invites anyone who wants to talk shop and swap stories to drop her a line