China—actually, Beijing—is a pleasant place. Isumi has, though, encountered quite a number of things that have seemed inexplicable, even whimsical, to him. Right on top of the list, Isumi would have put: the phone in the practice room. In the most literal sense of the word, it is a one-way phone.
Isumi doesn't know it its some quirk of China's frankly rather bizarre telecommunication system, or whether the Weiqi Institute is just strongly against their staff and students making regular contact with the outside world. Yang Hai strongly suspects the latter, as Isumi finds out when he follows down to the phone booth next to the convenience store for the nth time.
Three months, six days and almost one hour (Isumi is not the one counting) into their hastily assembled friendship, Isumi can still see himself oiling the hinges of the cabinets (where he shuts his introspection firmly into) and rearranging the furniture till he gets it right.
The snow is falling, powdered, light, incredibly light. Yang Hai is not one to dwell on apologies. "It's the only phone around here for metres," he explains, not even stopping for breath as he drags Isumi into the interior of a cramped little box that passes for a telephone booth.
The slot eats the card (another quirk, Isumi thinks, what if he only has coins?) and Yang Hai does not even need to stop to think as his fingers move over the well-worn numbers. Tapping, tapping, Yang Hai's fingers are tapping idly on the window pane, drawing what Isumi can only suppose are Go stones on the misted glass. One, two, three Go stones, and Isumi instinctively moves to add a fourth. He finishes, and smiles up at Yang Hai.
There is a crush of people outside. All of a sudden they seem to converge in one swift move onto the telephone booth—the press of bodies and clothing and briefcases against the fragile plane that stands between Isumi and them. Yang Hai, phone cupped between shoulder and ear, glares at them, all the while gesturing dramatically into the phone. Isumi cannot help but laugh; it is like him and Yang Hai against all of them, just the two of them in a glass box against the rest of the busy, thronging crowd.
It is getting hot and stale—so Isumi loosens his scarf and Yang Hai soon follows suit. Yang Hai is still animatedly in some heated discussion, hands waving, expression comical. Under normal circumstances there would be no way Isumi would find this intrusion of personal space acceptable—but rooming, no living, together with someone else for a period of three months has done wonders for Isumi's level of sociability.
Isumi looks out and he sees a noodle stand. Ten yuan for a bowl—affordable. Just about what Isumi can think of at the moment. He taps Yang Hai's shoulder and points out, miming lifting the bowl and slurping noodles out of it. Yang Hai shakes his head and grabs Isumi's wrist. "Wait—" he tells Isumi, before thrusting the phone into Isumi's surprised hands. "My mom," he says, by way of explanation.
Isumi makes a noise of silent protest—eyebrows lifted, hands up, palms open—and attempts to convey to Yang Hai that he, in case Yang Hai has failed to notice, does not speak Chinese.
Yang Hai, in turn, mouths to him, "just say something." Isumi brings the mouthpiece close and attempts an awkward greeting. "Ni hao, wo shi Isumi Shinichiro," How do you do, I am Isumi Shinichiro. It is an important phrase; along with 'excuse me', 'where is the toilet?', 'I'm so sorry', and 'I resign'.
Isumi is greeted with laughter, low, musical and modulated. He instinctively passes the phone back to Yang Hai, who, after listening, conveys his mother's compliment to Isumi. "Your Chinese is excellent, ne, Isumi."
Isumi blushes in embarrassment.
They grey outside has tinged the golden sunlight a dusky blue. There is mist—no, fog—on the horizon and it hangs heavily on the buildings and people, weighing down with its chill and silence. Beijing is a city pf people, a city of metal domes and spires that scrape the sky, and of temples and shrines that are as rooted to the earth as the wood that they are built from.
Isumi finds it strange that he does not miss Japan as he would imagine himself to. He sees slivers of Japanese in the complex ideograms of Chinese; he sees Tokyo's smog in Beijing's fog; Japanese ramen in Chinese mien. Even Japanese Go stones in China's Weiqi's pieces (although the bottoms are flat). There even is a Waya clone. Isumi thinks he could get used to Le Ping's antics.
The phone call has come to an end, there is that same ritual—hand up phone, depress button, collect card, curse genteelly as the third step fails to execute within a minute of completing the second.
"Noodles?" Yang Hai asks on the way out as they stand on the icy pavement on the way to the noodle stall.
"Yes," Isumi answers and smiles. "Do you mind? I was just getting hungry…"
"Of course not." Yang Hai is every bit as enthusiastic as Isumi, perhaps, even more as he practically pushes his way through the crowd with Isumi trailing after him.
Isumi has wrapped his hands around himself to keep out the cold and is exhaling experimentally, amused by the white tendrils of condensation that form whenever he breathes out. Yang Hai is ordering noodles. They are seated at the makeshift seats along the counter behind which the cook is submerging their noodles violently into broth. "Fish?" Isumi asks.
"Mmmm." Yang Hai says.
"Green tea ice cream?" Isumi says conversationally. Yang Hai blinks at this seeming non-sequitur. "My treat. After dinner."
Yang Hai jumps at the chance. "Let's have a party in our room!" He takes the noodles from the tray. "And we can stay up tonight," he adds, delighted.
Isumi breaks his chopsticks neatly. "Of course," he says, and smiles.
They eat their noodles in silence and stay a while longer (in happy defiance of their curfew hours) just to watch the snow drift downwards, silently, softly, slowly.
It is near ten when they do finally make it back to their room for ice-cream.
Isumi likes green tea and snow.