My friends and I are ready to call it a night and retire to our hostel on the last night of a two-week whirlwind vacation across China. We have been to the Forbidden City and have seen the Terra-Cotta Warriors. We’ve ridden double-decker buses and have been pulled in bike-drawn rickshaws. We’ve eaten at street vendors and in tiny restaurants. Our trip seems complete.
While we’re cutting through a park on the last night in Xi’an, a person whizzes past me. I look closer. Are those . . . Rollerblades? It isn’t just one person, either, but a whole park of people, zipping in counter-clockwise circles around a courtyard. Around the edges of the courtyard, women sit on stools in front of blankets piled high with skates. I look at my friends, and they have seen it too. Their faces are bright with excitement.
“Duōshăo qián?” we ask one of the women. How much?
“Wŭ kuài.” 5 yuan—a little less than one US dollar.
We pay her and strap the Rollerblades to our feet. Then we too are zipping around the park. We separate, moving too fast to stay together.
I have been making circles for several minutes, when someone comes up beside me: a petite Chinese girl in her late teens. She looks at me, a tall, blonde foreigner having the adventure of a lifetime. Then she smiles at me and holds out her hand.
I take it, and she smiles wider, giggling. We attempt to speak, her with broken English and me with broken Chinese. Her name is Juju. She likes English. No, I am not staying here very long. I will be taking a train to Guangzhou tomorrow.
Mostly we smile and laugh—the universal languages. She pulls at my hand to help me stay upright when I slip, and I steady her when she loses her balance. After a few minutes, Juju calls to her friends, and they join us. I become part of a line six people long, sweeping around the park. The boy next to me speeds up and pulls us behind him at breakneck speeds.
“Tài kuài le!” Juju calls. Too fast!
I laugh with the joy of it.
Her friends drift off until it is just me and Juju again. I look at my watch. It is time to go. I don’t know how to explain this in Chinese, but I stumble out something, and I think she understands.
“Hĕn gāoxìng jiàn dào nĭ,” I tell her. It was so good to meet you.
She smiles and repeats it back.
We wave and she skates off. I return to the hostel with my American friends.
The next morning, we wake early and catch the train for our 30-hour journey back to Guangzhou, knowing that we will probably never return to Xi’an.
On the ride home, I try to remember all the amazing things I have seen on our trip, but all I can think of is a park at twilight and a girl named Juju.