Hengshan Road in Shanghai was as good as Sanli Village in Beijing. There was always such a place in every city, for example, there were Fude Street in Xi’an and Languifang in Chengdu. Every evening when the street lights came on, the men and women of the city would gather at these places to destress after an entire day of hard work. Among the people, some were lonely or even sad and they would drown their sorrows and anxieties with alcohol, listen to live music to liberate their spirits. It was here that people satisfied their desires through various different means.
How about Qin Sheng?
Qin Sheng frequented the bars mostly to listen to the singing by a girl, whom he also watched over, so that she would not be bullied by the men who lost their mind when they were drunk.
This girl was Su Qin.
YOUNG on Hengshan Road was a minimalistically designed, elegant bar. It served almost all kinds of alcohols, including some home brewed wine. However, none of the singers here had made it to the big music scene. The boss welcomed everyone who was happy to sing as long as he liked the songs.
Qin Sheng frequented the bar in his university days. Subsequently, he also brought Xia Ding and his gang there. However, he usually went there alone and stayed on for the entire night, drinking a mug of beer offered freely by the boss. It was like when he was in high school, he often visited Nanxiang Bar at Nanmen Wall. He listened to the songs without ever feeling tired of them.
Back in Shanghai, Qin Sheng had visited Fudan and Szechuan Restaurant, but not here. It had been quite some time since he last visited. He was quite certain that the girl was no longer singing in the bar.
She had sung songs sung by Chen Qizhen, Cai Jianya, Chen Li, Mariah Carrey and even Taylor Swift at times. Although there were record companies that offered her packages, she rejected them all, saying that was not the kind of life she was after.
The weather in Shanghai was still rather warm at the end of October. Hengshan Road was busy as usual. Walking on the road, Qin Sheng and Chang Baji could not be bothered about the people following them. After parking their Mercedes at a parking lot not far from the bar, they walked briskly to YOUNG. It was not crowded at all most likely because it was not weekend and there were only a handful of people sitting by drinking and smoking cigarettes as they listen to the singer singing Zhao Lei’s song named “Chengdu”. He was not especially handsome, but had a refined aura about him and the song “Chengdu” which he was singing was very popular recently. Even Qin Sheng loved the song, but more because Qin Sheng really liked Zhao Lei. He felt that Zhao Lei was a true talent because while other folk singers sang about struggles and sorrows in life, there was no negative vibe about his songs. In fact, every song he sang was a description of his life experience and the lyrics could draw people into them like paintings that stirred up imagination.
For example, in the lyrics of this song, “Chengdu”, Qin Sheng’s favorite phrase was, “What Chengdu could not take away, is you.” It was very apt because Chengdu also had its story to tell.
He and she had met here once upon a time. This she did not refer to Su Qin, but it referred to the woman whom he owed a meal of hotpot to. They first met in Time Bar on Jiuyan Bridge. At that time, he was sitting alone, listening to music and smoking a cigarette, while she was sitting at the next table listening to the music quietly. It was rumored that a big shot in Chuanyu was originally working in that bar.
Perhaps it was fate that he got up to ask her whether she there by herself.
She answered, “I came alone.”
He had said, “Do you mind if I sit down with you?”
She shook her head without saying a word.
So he sat down and the two started chatting, although she did not seem very interested in the conversation. It seemed that she was simply entertaining him.
He asked if she had come here for a holiday.
He said he was also here for holiday and so he asked if they could go around together so they could keep each other company.
Qin Sheng thought she would reject his request, but to his surprise, she actually agreed.
Thereafter, their personal tours turned into a partnered holiday. They walked through the cities of Szechuan together. Only when they arrived at in Shunanzhuhai did they go separate ways, with her heading to Yunnan, while he made his way to Tibet.
He thought that she was like him in a parallel world. Perhaps she felt the same way too. However, there was no further development in their relationship. They were each like an acquaintance in their life’s journey.
He had said that he would pursue her if they ever met again.
She said that he had to treat her to a meal of hot pot first.
More than a year had passed even since. They had not bumped into each other, neither have they tried to contact each other.
Qin Sheng and Chang Baji randomly found a seat and sat down. Qin Sheng realized that the boss of the bar, who was over 50 years old but exuberating a youthful vibe was still around, however, the service crew were all new, so no one really knew Qin Sheng. After all, nobody would be willing to work in a bar serving people all their life. If there really happened to be an older employee, he would definitely recognize the boyfriend of the most popular female singer ever in YOUNG.
“What would the two of you like?” the waiter asked politely. From his accent, one could tell he was from Szechuan. Most of the waiters here were university students and the turnover for them was high.
Qin Sheng casually said, “Two beers.”
“Are you sure you just want to order two beers and nothing else?” The waiter was obviously disappointed.
Qin Sheng did not wait for the waiter’s recommendations but interrupted him saying, “Just two beers and nothing else, thank you.”
“Alright,” with a smile, the waiter replied and walked away. He was definitely a sweet-tempered man.
After the waiter left, Chang Baji joking said, “Come on Qin Sheng, wasn’t your intention of bringing me here to let me experience the nightlife of great Shanghai? One beer per person is too little. If we were in Xi’an, the alcohol would be free-flow.”
“That’s not the case here. We were merely poor students at that time and all we could afford was a bottle of beer. Subsequently, when we grew more familiar with the boss, he would treat us to that one bottle of beer,” Qin Sheng explained, smiling.
Given that Chang Baji was a seasoned player in the scene, he laughed and said, “There must be a reason you brought me here, so out with the story.”
“All I want is to relive my memory. There used to be a girl who sang in this bar and I really liked her singing,” Qin Sheng said, not hiding his nostalgia.
“Is she your ex-girlfriend or first love?” Chang Baji chuckled as he probed.
Qing Sheng was not expecting this 40-year-old man to be curious about his private life. Nevertheless, he did not try to avoid the question, so he answered, “Ex-girlfriend and first love.”
“No wonder you have chosen to come to this place. Looks like you are still unable to let go. All you young people are always talking about l love… To me, these are not realistic at all. There is nothing more serious than life and death issues,” Chang Baji said with a Shaanxi accent. Although what he said sounded rather funny, one could see that he was also rather perceptive.
Qin Sheng did not contradict what Chang Baji was trying to say but continued, “Sounds logical. Nothing in the world is more important than matters regarding life and death.”
“Han Bing looks like a nice girl. I guess you really like her since you are trying so hard to protect her. From my many years of experience, I could sense she also has a soft spot for you. You two are a perfect match given you are talented and she is beautiful.” Looked like Chang Baji wanted to play the matchmaker.
Qin Sheng rolled his eyes. He could not be bothered to explain, because it could make things worse.
After the two bottles of beer were served, Qin Sheng merely took one sip while Chang Baji down an entire bottle. What a big drinker Chang Baji was!
“Finished,” Chang Baji said, looking at Qin Sheng and laughed as he thought to himself, “Today’s beer would be on Qin Sheng, so I am going to drink to my heart’s content.”
Qin Sheng was tempted to tell him off.
However, he decided against it. He was not Chang Baji’s match if they started fighting. “One more dozen of Budweiser please,” he shouted to the waiter.
The waiter was elated. He accepted the money and left to get the order.
“That’s more like it.” Chang Baji nodded in approval.
Qin Sheng listened to the music quietly and drank his beer, sip by sip. He was a totally different person from his usual self, who drank from big bowls and took large mouthfuls of food when he ate.
This was because whenever he was here, he usually just down one bottle of beer. Su Qin did not like him to drink beer and limited him to just a bottle.
After they down another bottle of beer, the resident singer had just taken a rest from singing and would resume in half an hour.
Qin Sheng took this opportunity to go up to the resident singer and asked, “Can I borrow your guitar for a moment?”
The singer looked puzzled.
Qin Sheng chuckled and said, “I would like to sing a song.”
Although the manager of the bar was someone new, they had the culture of allowing their patrons to sing. Therefore the singer nodded and handed the guitar to Qin Sheng. Qin Sheng sat down at where Su Qin used to sit and had a few words with the band leader. To Qin Sheng’s delight, the band leader was familiar with the song he wanted to sing; after all, this was a folk song Bar.
Qin Sheng tested the microphone and when he was ready, he gave a cue to the band leader and announced to the people in the bar that he would be singing “More Beautiful than Spring”.
By this time, the bar was packed with more guests and they started applauding and some were even screaming encouragingly. Chang Baji looked surprised, but he also started cheering.
The music introduction sounded.
Through narrowed eyes, Qin Sheng began strumming the guitar and opened his mouth to sing.
“Thinking of you on Second Ring Road
On top of the mountain you stood, more beautiful than spring
With the wind blowing on you, the rain comes down
I say all the wine cannot be compared to you
In the night, in the pavilion, I am singing for you
Yearning for our quiet rendezvous
The plane flew over the cities
But refused to leave beyond a thousand miles.
Roll the spring into one morning
Transform all the words into secrets, close the door
Sweet emotions of love that cannot be explained, may I ask, who would bring it away
But to transform the years into songs and leave them behind…”
When Qin Sheng’s voice first sounded, coupled with his strumming on the guitar, everyone knew he was very professional in singing and definitely not a novice. To be honest, he was better than the resident singer and he possessed a hoarse and low voice.
The audience remained very quiet as they listened to him sing, and this included Chang Baji who was still stunned.
He repeated the verse.
He sang the last stanza.
The moment Qin Sheng finished singing the last phrase
“I say all the wine cannot be compared to you…”
The entire audience thundered with applause and sounds of whistling and screaming accompanied the applause. Among them, Chang Baji clapped the loudest.
Qin Sheng simply saluted everyone as he mumbled a thank you.
Then he handed the guitar back to the resident singer, who looked stunned indeed, walked towards Chang Baji and muttered, “Let’s go.”
The two men left the bar, leaving behind them a noisy crowd.
At the second level of the bar, a woman was in tears for a while…