It has been too long since Wei Ying has been back. It’s strange to be surrounded by so many people speaking his native tongue or variations of it, and to hear the departure and arrival announcements in Chinese as well as English, echoing through the cavernous terminal halls of the Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport.
But even with the size of the space, travellers are packed wall-to-wall, shuffling forward laboriously, and the queues for everything from baggage claim to the duty-free shops are frustratingly long. After all, everyone is trying to get home to their family for the Lunar New Year celebrations.
Wei Ying taps his fingers absently on the back of his son's hand. A-Yuan responds by clutching his hand a little tighter, and Wei Ying smiles down reassuringly at him. A-Yuan has been a real sport about everything so far, considering he's only 4 years old and it’s his first time travelling. Because they've been living in Canada since A-Yuan was a baby, he is also more comfortable with English than Chinese, so everything must be extra confusing for him. To make matters worse, there's the fact that Wei Ying had bought their tickets at the very last minute and most flights were fully booked by then, so they'd had to take the roundabout route: flying from Vancouver to Tokyo first, stopping over there for a day, then continuing to Chengdu for a brief stopover, before arriving at Guangzhou. It's already been forty hours of travelling but they're still not done. Once Wei Ying gets his hands on their luggage, they're going to have to make a mad dash from this terminal to the next one to catch their flight to Wuhan.
Unfortunately, what with all the transfers, their flight landed later than Wei Ying would have liked. If they miss this flight, it’s unlikely that they’ll be able to get on another flight with how packed all the flights are. But for A-Yuan's sake, he’s trying not to let his anxiety get the better of him. After all, even if they miss the flight, there’s always the train, and if they can’t get on that… he’ll think of something.
“Attention all passengers. Flight CZ3646 to Wuhan will be leaving in twenty minutes. Please proceed to Gate A29 for boarding, thank you. ”
Alright, getting there in twenty minutes is not impossible — if their luggage comes right about now. Wei Ying cranes his neck to peer down the baggage carousel. A-Yuan has his own little carry-on that contains his jacket and his favourite bunny plushie, and Wei Ying’s backpack mostly contains spare clothes for A-Yuan and the gifts he bought for his siblings. They checked in only one large black suitcase, a brand new one that Wei Ying bought for this trip. To his relief, Wei Ying spots their suitcase a few moments later.
“Ok, here we go,” Wei Ying says as he heaves the suitcase off the carousel. He picks A-Yuan up and puts him on his shoulders. “Hold on tight!”
The only way to move a little faster than the crowd is to shove people aside. Wei Ying takes a deep breath and dives right into the crowd, calling out apologies. He flashes a brilliant smile at one particularly handsome guy who turns to frown at him, but having A-Yuan with him is probably helping because nobody could get angry at that cute little face. They reach the boarding gate just in the nick of time, and Wei Ying turns the charm up to convince the staff to waive the fee for checking his suitcase in at the gate. He finally gets a chance to catch his breath when they are seated.
The flight only takes two hours. To his surprise and delight, his siblings are waiting for them at the arrival hall. Wei Ying wraps his arms around his sister immediately, hugging her so tightly that she laughs.
"I missed you," he mumbles into her shoulder.
"We missed you too," she replies.
"I didn't," Jiang Cheng snaps, looking extremely hassled by the size of the crowd at the airport.
A-Yuan, who was already clinging onto Wei Ying's thigh at this point, withdraws behind his father a little more. He's seen his aunt a few times during Wei Ying's video calls with her, but not Jiang Cheng, and Jiang Cheng's scowl would probably send even demons and evil spirits running.
"Don't be frightened by your Xiaosou , it's not his fault that he was born with a face that ugly," Wei Ying tells his son blithely, earning himself a vicious punch in the arm. "Ow! This is how you treat me even though we haven't seen each other for four years?"
Yanli shakes her head at them and laughs. "Let's get out of here, traffic is so bad that we might reach home after midnight if we don't hurry."
Wei Ying's smile fades a little. "Maybe it's better if you drop us off at a hotel."
It has been four years since he left but he doubts that he's been forgiven for the scandal he caused for the Jiang family — or at least, it's unlikely that his foster mother has forgiven him. Jiang Cheng still lives in the family home with his parents, and even if Wei Ying has a thick enough skin to put up with his Madam Yu's glares and harsh words, he wouldn't put his son through it, and Jiang Cheng will probably have to bear the brunt of her fury for months after Wei Ying goes back to Canada.
"It's the New Year, we can't have you and A-Yuan stay in a hotel room," Yanli protests. "Zixuan and I will be happy to have you, if you don’t mind staying with us.”
“Oh. Yeah, that’s… thanks, A-Jie,” Wei Ying replies, smiling at her. “A-Yuan, say thank you Liangliang.” 
“Thank you, Liangliang,” A-Yuan parrots obediently, his intonation of their dialect almost correct.
Wei Ying bickers and jokes with his siblings all the way on the drive to his sister’s house, slipping into the familiar cadences of their native Wuhan dialect without even noticing. A-Yuan falls asleep halfway through the journey, understandably exhausted. Wei Ying has to carry his son all the way up to the apartment from the car and places him carefully on the bed in the guest room, easing off A-Yuan's shoes and socks while Jiang Cheng helps with the luggage. It's dinner time and although they had food on the plane, that was hours ago. Still, Wei Ying hates to wake A-Yuan up when he's sleeping so soundly.
“I can cook something for him whenever he wakes up. It’s no trouble,” Yanli offers. “Let’s have dinner together. I made your favourite lotus root and pork rib soup."
Wei Ying nods and smiles. “I’ll be out in a moment.”
Once Yanli closes the door behind her, Wei Ying takes in a deep breath and lets it out slowly. He has never gotten along well with Yanli’s husband. But in the time that he’s been gone, Zixuan stood up to his asshole of a father and cut all ties even though it meant giving up his hefty inheritance, and Wei Ying has to grudgingly admire his guts. He can be civil for the two weeks he’s here even if they don’t necessarily end up becoming friends.
After four years, Wei Ying is finally back in the place he grew up, a home he was forced to leave. He missed it so much when he was away and he thought that he would be relieved to be back, but all he feels now is confusion. Maybe it's just the exhaustion and hunger talking. Wei Ying pulls himself together and decides that he might feel better after washing his face and eating something, especially since his sister's cooking never fails to lift his spirits.
Over dinner, Yanli shyly announces that she and Zixuan are expecting their first child. Wei Ying drinks perhaps a bit too much in celebration, his excuse being that he has to drink on Jiang Cheng's behalf since Jiang Cheng is driving. It isn't until much later, staggering back to the guest room where A-Yuan is still fast asleep, that Wei Ying discovers that he can't remember the combination for the lock on his suitcase. His head is aching with the effects of the alcohol, so it's no wonder that his brain feels so slow. He probably has at least one more spare set of clothing for A-Yuan — it's tempting to just go to sleep on the floor in his gross clothes and leave everything to later. It's only the thought of making his sister worried if she finds him in this state that compels Wei Ying to sit up and concentrate on figuring out the correct combination.
Half an hour later, Wei Ying finally cracks the combination and opens the suitcase to find it full of carefully-folded clothes that absolutely do not belong to him.
Wei Ying has a moment of raw panic about being a shitty parent, but catches himself and lets it go. It's inconvenient that he and A-Yuan won't have their own clothes for the two weeks that they're going to be here, but it's not the end of the world, and they've been through worse together. After all, none of the stuff in their luggage was truly irreplaceable and what is done is done – even if he managed to locate it, it's unlikely that he can get their luggage back any time soon anyway, what with most of the country being off on holiday for at least the first week of the Lunar New Year and the transport situation being a nightmare at this time of the year.
But while Wei Ying isn't overly worried about getting back his own luggage, the suitcase he has mistakenly taken is full of Armani suits and button-ups, as well as a few traditional tangzhuang with delicate hand-embroidered motifs. He should probably try to get this suitcase of expensive clothing back to its owner. Luckily, there's a neatly-written label sewn onto the lining of the suitcase with the owner's name and a phone number.
While Yanli and Zixuan take A-Yuan shopping for new clothes early the next morning in hopes that some shops will still be open for half the day even though it's New Year's eve, Wei Ying calls them up.
"Hi, is this Lan Zhan? I'm calling about your suitcase."
“Yes. Are you from the airport?” a deep voice replies.
"No, actually this is the guy who accidentally took your suitcase. I'm afraid I didn't notice that it wasn’t mine until I opened it," Wei Ying replies apologetically. "There was no tag on your suitcase anyway, so I wouldn't have found your number if I hadn't opened it."
"But I can't believe that we didn't just buy the same bag, we even bought a similar lock! Isn't it a strange coincidence?"
A man of few words then. Or maybe he’s just really mad at Wei Ying. Wei Ying braces himself for the conversation turning ugly. "Where do you live? I'll find a way to get your suitcase back to you as soon as possible, and I'll be happy to bear the cost, of course."
"I'm currently in Suzhou, but I am overseas most of the time," Lan Zhan replies. Wei Ying isn't expecting him to add, "Your suitcase is with me. I assumed that my luggage tag was ripped off accidentally and didn't notice that it wasn't mine until I tried to open it."
Wei Ying laughs. "Ah, that's a relief, so it wasn't just me. Are you in a hurry to get your luggage back?"
"There's no hurry."
"Good, ok. I'm in Wuhan and I'm only going back home on Yuan Xiao. Perhaps we could meet up and exchange luggages before then. My name is Wei Ying, by the way."
"I'll be stopping over in Guangzhou on Yuanxiao."
"Great, me too. Let's meet up in Guangzhou then," Wei Ying says, relieved that it's gone so well. "Happy New Year!"
Wei Ying assumes that will be the end of it and puts it out of his mind. When A-Yuan returns with his aunt and uncle, they have shopping bags full of toys and clothing, far more than what they need for two weeks, but Yanli waves away Wei Ying's protests.
“He's already 4 years old and it's the first time I’m meeting him properly. Just let me spoil my nephew a little,” Yanli says, keeping her tone light. There is a question hidden somewhere in there.
Wei Ying wasn’t sure if he would be welcome back next year and hadn’t dared to make any plans to return. Now, he smiles brightly at her. "You won't have to wait another four years before we come back again."
"Really?" Yanli asks, her delight clear on her face.
"I want to spoil my nephew too," Wei Ying says with a laugh. "Can we help in the kitchen?"
They all help Yanli prepare lunch, a veritable feast with all their favourite dishes. Wei Ying told her that she didn’t have to go to all that trouble after the sumptuous dinner the night before, but Yanli insisted. Tonight, Jiang Cheng, Yanli, and Zixuan will all be going over to the Jiang family home to have reunion dinner with their parents, an important familial ritual in the New Year celebrations. Wei Ying and his son are not invited; he isn’t even sure if they have told their parents that he is back in the country. But to make it up to him, they are having reunion lunch with him and A-Yuan.
Zixuan washes the vegetables while Jiang Cheng murders the chives and garlic, and Wei Ying teaches A-Yuan how to make tuanyuan-guo or reunion rice cakes — round dumplings made from sticky glutinous rice flour coloured green by adding aicao or Chinese mugwort, which are filled with sweet red bean paste and flattened into medallions before steaming. A-Yuan takes particular delight in pressing the dumplings into the wooden mould and is clearly disappointed when all the dough has been used up.
Under Yanli's efficient direction, the dining table is heavy with dishes within only a couple of hours: handmade "pearl" meatballs, a mixture of carrots, spring onions, and minced pork covered in glutinous rice; steamed whole wuchang fish with thinly sliced mushrooms and bamboo shoots; three types of vegetables, stir-fried with cured meat or fishcake; fish noodles, made from a mixture of fish meat and flour; spicy crayfish; tuanyuan-guo;and of course, lotus root and pork rib soup. By the time they've all eaten their fill, it's past three in the afternoon.
"How are you going to eat dinner after this?" Wei Ying groans, rubbing his belly.
"We'll just eat some to be polite," Yanli replies with a small smile, but Wei Ying knows that their mother will be insulted; it's his siblings' quiet rebellion on his behalf.
But they still have to turn up for the dinner, and the unfamiliar apartment is suddenly a lot quieter with all of them gone. They go through the new things Yanli has bought for them, clearing a few loads of laundry and staging a mock swordfight in the living room until night falls. Dinner is a meal of leftover fish noodles and meatballs, and a mix of New Year candies and snacks meant for visiting guests. After they've done the dishes and taken their baths, Wei Ying switches on the television so they can watch the annual New Year's eve variety show, Chunwan, and they watch the song and dance performances and comedy skits until A-Yuan's stream of questions begin to falter and Wei Ying catches him nodding off.
"But Ning-shushu said that if I stay up really late, you'll live forever,” A-Yuan attempts to protest through a mighty yawn. 
Wei Ying chuckles. "I'll let you help me attain immortality when you're older, alright? Come on, time to brush your teeth."
Wei Ying eventually coaxes him to bed, tucking A-Yuan in with the next instalment of a bedtime story that he's been telling A-Yuan since he was three, an epic saga involving magic, swordfights, gods, demons, vampires, aliens, magic rings, sentient swords, and a plot that Wei Ying just makes up off the top of his head every night. Yanli and Zixuan get home just in time for the countdown, and they toast each other, careful to keep their voices down.
"May everything go smoothly for all of us the coming year," Zixuan says, smiling as he puts an arm around Yanli.
"Good health and good luck for all of us!" Wei Ying agrees, raising his glass.
Wei Ying dresses A-Yuan in a brand new red tangzhuang shirt and pants set the next morning, probably the reddest clothes he has ever owned, but A-Yuan looks so cute in them that Wei Ying takes a dozen photos of him on his phone before he brings him out to show him off. A-Yuan practically shouts out all the auspicious greetings Wei Ying taught him at his aunt and uncles, making them laugh, and he gets a stack of red packets from them. He hands them over to Wei Ying for safekeeping and Wei Ying counts one extra.
“It’s from Lao-te ,” Yanli explains in a low voice.
"Ah." So his foster father knows that he's back. "Please thank him for me."
"You're not coming with us today?” Yanli asks gently.
"I don't think it's a good idea. I'll bring A-Yuan to visit Liu-popo instead," Wei Ying says.
While his siblings go back to the Jiang family home to pay their respects, Wei Ying brings his son to visit a sweet old lady who was their nanny growing up. She is technically Madam Yu's distant aunt, but Wei Ying knows that Madam Yu will only visit her on the second day of the New Year, and Liu-popo always treated him as one of the Jiang children. He has no other living relatives to visit and any old classmates will probably be out doing their own New Year visiting with their families, so he heads home with A-Yuan.
“I'll turn the TV on for you while I cook lunch, ok?” he tells A-Yuan.
“I don’t want to watch TV, it's boring," A-Yuan says, switching to English and pouting. "I want to play Fruit Ninja."
Wei Ying can sympathise, he didn't find the endless Chinese New Year programmes that interesting either when he was a kid. He hands A-Yuan his phone and ruffles his hair. "Ok, Baba will be in the kitchen if you need me.”
A while later, Wei Ying steps out of the kitchen to call his son over for lunch and hears A-Yuan chattering away in English about rabbits, his favourite animal. At first Wei Ying assumes that A-Yuan is just playing with the phone camera, until he hears a deep voice replying A-Yuan.
Wei Ying quickens his steps. “A-Yuan? Who's that?”
“Lan-shushu. I pressed something and his face appeared,” A-Yuan replies, and shows him the screen.
Wei Ying blinks. He doesn't think he knows anyone with the surname Lan well enough to have their number stored in his phone, but there is something familiar about the face on the screen. “Ah! I accidentally bumped into you at the airport! Wait – are you Lan Zhan?”
“I’m sorry, you were the last person I called, my son must have accidentally dialled your number. It’s nice to put a face to the voice though. Happy New Year!"
"Happy New Year. And it’s not a bother,” Lan Zhan replies.
From what little Wei Ying can see of Lan Zhan’s surroundings, it appears that Lan Zhan is sitting in a garden pavilion and there’s some fancy embroidery on the collar of his shirt. Lan Zhan looks to be about the same age as him, and Wei Ying can only think of one reason why he’d be all dressed up but alone on the first day of the New Year, and bored enough (or desperate enough for a distraction) to listen to a random 4-year-old talk about rabbits. “Avoiding your relatives?” Wei Ying guesses.
Lan Zhan hesitates, then nods. He looks so adorably grumpy about his situation that Wei Ying can’t resist teasing him. “Let me guess – all of them are asking when a handsome man like you intends to settle down, and are offering to introduce you to the daughters of their friends and neighbours,” Wei Ying says with a grin.
“Their sons, actually. They know better than to try to introduce girls to me,” Lan Zhan replies evenly.
Ah, that’s interesting. But Wei Ying doesn’t miss a beat. “That makes things even easier. Take it as my apology for accidentally taking your luggage — the next time someone gets too pushy in a conversation like that, just say you're already attached and show them my picture. One look at how handsome I am and they'll never bother you again."
Lan Zhan’s eyebrow goes up, just a little. "And your wife won't mind?"
Wei Ying shrugs. “It’s kind of a long story, but I'm not married. I adopted A-Yuan after his mother died, so it's just me and A-Yuan."
Speaking of which, A-Yuan is bored and kicking the sofa, and they should really go and have their lunch before the food goes cold and A-Yuan has a meltdown from low blood sugar.
"It's lunchtime for us, we've got to go. I'll send you a selfie later," Wei Ying says with a wink, and nudges his son to wave at the camera. "A-Yuan, say goodbye to Lan-shushu."
Later, Wei Ying sends Lan Zhan a variety of selfies, with different vibes for different occasions — one where he's flashing his most charming smile, one where he's pouting, one where he's blowing a sultry kiss at the camera, and another where he makes a silly face. Lan Zhan leaves him on read for the whole afternoon but eventually replies with a simple "thank you" just before A-Yuan's bedtime.
"That's all? I put so much effort into thinking up the poses! At least tell me if you liked them!" Wei Ying messages back.
A few minutes later, Lan Zhan finally replies: "I liked them. Thank you." There's even a little smiley emoji at the end of his message, and Wei Ying finds himself grinning in response.
On the second day of the New Year, still left to their own devices while Yanli and Jiang Cheng are kept busy fulfilling their family obligations, Wei Ying brings A-Yuan to the Quyang River Park, the biggest park in Yunmeng County. There's plenty of space for A-Yuan to run around and use up some of that boundless energy, as well as a lake to skip stones, and even though the weather is still cold and it's too early in the year for the cherry blossoms, everything is growing green again.
It's quiet here, and almost empty — most people are still visiting family and friends. But even away from other people, the types of grass and trees planted here, and the shape of the bridges and the roofs of the pavilions, are a constant reminder for Wei Ying that this isn't the little corner of greenery near their apartment back in Vancouver. It doesn’t matter to A-Yuan though, and if the air and the earth itself smells different, it is no more complicated than the fact that it’s just a different park, and in that moment Wei Ying envies his son.
While they're exploring the park, A-Yuan finds a pebble that he insists looks exactly like a rabbit, and asks his father to take a photo of it and send it to Lan Zhan.
“Lan-shushu likes rabbits too,” A-Yuan explains. Wei Ying files that little tidbit of information away for later and sends Lan Zhan a photo of the rock. Lan Zhan replies with his usual terse thanks.
Wei Ying's mood continues to plummet and he hits the bottom the next morning. They are visiting the graves today, particularly the graves of Wei Ying's parents. Wei Ying has to convince his sister not to come along this year because it’s thought to be bad luck for her and the baby, and even though A-Yuan has been keen about visiting his grandparents’ graves, Wei Ying finds it hard to find the energy to deal with all his curious questions. But it's kind of amusing to watch Jiang Cheng attempt to answer A-Yuan’s questions with the awkwardness of someone who isn’t used to being around young children, and just as they are about to leave the cemetery, Wei Ying gets a message from Lan Zhan – a photo of a cloud that does kind of look like a rabbit’s head, which delights A-Yuan. It’s sweet, coming from someone who strikes Wei Ying as a bit lonely, and when Wei Ying spots a forgotten New Year decoration from the Year of the Rabbit a few years ago on the way home, he snaps a photo of that and sends it to Lan Zhan.
It becomes a fun little challenge. Every day, Wei Ying and his son keep an eye out for unexpected bunnies or things that look like bunnies and send the photos to Lan Zhan, and Lan Zhan replies with his own photos of unexpected bunnies. On the day that Wei Ying and A-Yuan don't manage to find anything, Wei Ying takes a selfie of himself with a bunny filter and manages to wheedle a selfie out of Lan Zhan in return. (It's a straight shot taken with the forward-facing camera, no filters, with the kind of lighting that would have made anyone else look horrible, except apparently Lan Zhan. It turns out to be the first selfie Lan Zhan has ever taken, and Wei Ying can't resist teasing Lan Zhan about sending him his "virgin" selfie.)
Wei Ying doesn't even realise how much he's been enjoying these interactions with Lan Zhan, until his sister catches him smiling like an idiot at his phone when he looks through the photos Lan Zhan has been sending him over the past week while A-Yuan is taking his nap.
“Is that the person you accidentally switched suitcases with?” she asks.
Wei Ying nods, a little embarrassed. "He's an intriguing person."
"And he seems to get along well with A-Yuan too," Yanli observes.
"Everyone loves my A-Yuan. Like father, like son," Wei Ying quips, winking at his sister, but Yanli just smiles fondly at him, too used to his nonsense to be deflected.
“It must be tough on both of you, for you to raise A-Yuan by yourself in a foreign country. You have to leave A-Yuan in daycare for almost the whole day, and it worries me to think of you two being alone so far from home," Yanli admits.
“We're not alone, we have friends over there," Wei Ying protests. "Like the family who runs the Chinese restaurant nearest to us. The Wens practically treat us like family, A-Ning is always giving us free egg rolls."
“Friends are important, and I'm glad they are close enough for you to think of them as family. If that is all you need, of course I'll feel less worried. But is it all that you need?" Yanli asks.
Wei Ying sighs. “I don’t have time to date. And those surveys and articles that say people find single dads more attractive? All lies. Doesn’t work on women or men,” he grumbles. “Besides, my priority is A-Yuan.”
“How about if it was someone who already gets along well with A-Yuan?” Yanli asks with a smile.
Wei Ying raises an eyebrow at his sister and follows her gaze to his phone. “Who? Lan Zhan? A-Jie, we're just sending each other a few messages and photos, there’s nothing going on."
“But you like him,” Yanli says. A statement, not a question.
“I... Well, have you seen his face? I'm only human," Wei Ying quips, then adds a little more quietly, "Besides, even if I did like him, nothing will come of it."
Yanli frowns. “Why?”
Because he's going back to Canada in a few days. Because exchanging selfies and funny photos is a different matter from starting a serious relationship with someone who has a young child to care for on top of his job and barely has any time or energy for himself, much less a long-distance relationship. Because maybe it’s less painful to let the spark of a friendship just fizzle out in a peaceful, natural death when these two weeks are over, than to be burnt by trying to make it into something it’s not.
Wei Ying smiles and shrugs. “Let's just see how it goes."
Two days before they return to Vancouver, A-Yuan throws a massive tantrum, crawls under the bed, and refuses to come out. Wei Ying resists the urge to crawl under the bed together with his son, only because he wouldn't fit.
"We have to go back, A-Yuan. I know you like it here with your Liangliang, but what about your classmates in the daycare? Don't you miss them?" Wei Ying asks.
"I don’t miss them! I want to stay here!" A-Yuan yells back, in Wuhan dialect even. It's amazing how quickly he's managed to pick it up.
"Ok, then what about Ning-shushu and Qing-a'yi? And Wen-popo and Si-shu? Aren't they our family too?"
A-Yuan doesn't respond. Wei Ying can hear his son sniffling.
“I'll find a way for us to come back this summer. How about that?" Wei Ying says, making up his mind in the spur of the moment.
A-Yuan finally pokes his head out. "Really?"
Wei Ying smiles at him and holds out his little finger. "Pinkie promise, if I'm lying I'm a puppy dog. And you know Baba is terrified of dogs, I'll scream at my own reflection."
A-Yuan giggles and crawls out from under the bed so he can hook Wei Ying's pinkie with his own. Yanli is waiting outside the door to give A-Yuan a big hug and dry his tears.
After Wei Ying manages to get A-Yuan to bed, he grabs his jacket and goes for a walk. He's no longer 4 years old; he can't throw a tantrum like his son and he knows his sister will notice his bad mood. He started smoking when he dropped out of university, but he quit when he adopted A-Yuan and hasn't touched a cigarette since. At times like this, he always finds himself wanting a smoke. Instead, Wei Ying sticks his hands in his pockets and walks a little faster.
It's past ten in the evening and many shops are getting ready to close for the day, but there are a lot more shops open compared to just a few days ago, now that their owners have returned from visiting their relatives in the countryside. After four years in Vancouver, the streets here seem narrower than he remembered, more cluttered. Yanli lives on the other side of town from her parents, but the narrow alleyways are not that different: neon and LED signboards, shops selling mobile phones and cheap clothes; franchise eateries next to noodle shops using closely-guarded soup-stock recipes that have been handed down through generations; bright 24-hour convenience stores at one corner, and little family-run corner stores at the next street junction, including one where the lady behind the counter of the shop nearest to Yanli’s apartment already remembers him as Yanli’s brother even though the shop has only just reopened after their New Year break.
He’s walked down streets like these since he was old enough to sneak out of the house on his own, but he's not quite the same boy who used to charm free candy off the shopkeepers or play hide-and-seek with Jiang Cheng amongst clothing racks. Kind of ironic that it took coming back to a place that he'd always thought of as his true home to realise that a part of him has already grown roots in the new life he is making for himself in Vancouver, and the definition of home is more complicated than it used to be.
Wei Ying stops at one relatively quiet street corner, looks up at the almost-full moon and lets out a breath that condenses into a cloud of white. That’s the problem with coming back to a place that is no longer his only home – he has to leave eventually, and with it, the parts of his heart that remain with the people he loves.
His phone vibrates in his pocket. It's a message from Lan Zhan, a photo of the moon tonight, so clear that Lan Zhan must have taken it through a telescope or something. Lan Zhan sends a caption with it: "A-Yuan is probably asleep at this time. I thought he would not want to miss the rabbit on the moon on this clear night."
Wei Ying dials his number before he can think better of it. "You're still awake? How do you always know when I'm feeling down?"
"Why are you feeling down?"
"Mmmmm. A-Yuan is upset about leaving. He's grown very attached to his aunt."
"Everyone will experience sorrow and joy, parting and reunion; just as the moon goes through phases of dark and light, waxing and waning. Such is the age-old quandary of the human condition," Lan Zhan quotes. 
Wei Ying smiles wryly, shaking his head. "Do you really expect me to comfort my 4-year-old by reciting Song Dynasty poetry to him?"
"There was a pop song that used the poem for its lyrics."
“I’ll remember to sing it to him as a lullaby tomorrow night,” Wei Ying says with a laugh. He does feel a bit better though; as Lan Zhan has reminded him, that’s just the way life is, with its ups and downs. “Thank you, Lan Zhan.”
He wishes Lan Zhan goodnight and hangs up. The row of shops that he walked past on the way here are almost all closed and dark, save for the 24-hour convenience store in the corner spilling its light on the pavement.
"May we all be blessed with long lives, and even when we are a thousand li apart, we will be admiring the same moon,” Wei Ying murmurs to himself, completing the last two lines of the poem Lan Zhan quoted.
He stands there looking at the moon a little longer before he heads back to his sister’s apartment.
They leave Yunmeng in a flurry of hugs and tears. A-Yuan is inconsolable, and even Jiang Cheng's eyes are a little red as he pulls his brother into a crushing one-armed hug at the airport.
"You'd better show up for our nephew's full-month celebration like you promised, or I'll go over there to drag you back," Jiang Cheng mumbles.
"You won't have to drag me back here, but you're welcome to visit us any time. You don't have to make excuses, you know?" Wei Ying says with a grin.
"Shut up, why would I want to visit you?" Jiang Cheng grumbles before he finally lets go of his brother to punch him half-heartedly in the arm.
But they have to get on the plane eventually, and Wei Ying holds his son tightly throughout the entire flight to Guangzhou. While he’s sad about leaving his siblings, it’s tempered by his anticipation and nervousness about finally meeting Lan Zhan. He tells himself he isn’t expecting much to come of this. They are just meeting to exchange luggages, and even if they've sort of become friends, this isn't like in the movies — there isn't going to be background music swelling to a crescendo, sparks flying when their eyes meet.
By the time they get to the agreed meeting point, A-Yuan has finally stopped crying but Wei Ying is a bundle of nerves. There is a tall man in a soft light blue sweater already waiting there, and even with his back towards them, Wei Ying knows that must be Lan Zhan.
"Is that Lan-shushu?" A-Yuan asks Wei Ying, not bothering to keep his voice down. Lan Zhan turns around.
Shit, the phone camera really didn't do Lan Zhan's looks justice at all, he doesn't know why he's surprised by that. Wei Ying only becomes aware that he's been staring when A-Yuan tugs on his hand.
"Baba?" A-Yuan asks in confusion.
Wei Ying blinks and clears his throat. "Sorry to keep you waiting," he says, smiling brightly at Lan Zhan and hoping that it isn't obvious that his heart is racing.
"I didn't wait for long," Lan Zhan replies. He isn't smiling and Wei Ying can't quite read his expression; if he didn't know better, he'd have thought that Lan Zhan looks a little flustered.
"Lan-shushu! Happy New Year!" A-Yuan greets Lan Zhan cheerfully, breaking the tension.
Now Lan Zhan smiles a little, and hands A-Yuan a red packet from his pocket. "Happy New Year, A-Yuan. May you grow up tall and strong."
"Ah, Lan Zhan, that isn't necessary!" Wei Ying protests.
"Take it as my apology for taking your suitcase," Lan Zhan insists. "I have some gifts for A-Yuan as well."
"Thank you, Lan-shushu!" A-Yuan chirps as he accepts the proffered paper bag.
They exchange suitcases and the conversation comes to an awkward standstill again. He could ask Lan Zhan out for coffee or something, but is there really any point when he's flying halfway across the world in less than an hour? And while Lan Zhan is naturally quiet, Wei Ying gets the distinct feeling that he's holding himself back too, for whatever reason.
"Well, I guess you have a plane to catch as well," Wei Ying says.
Lan Zhan nods. There really isn't much to say after that.
They say goodbye and Wei Ying reminds his son to thank Lan Zhan again for the presents. He almost manages to resist the urge to look back, but when he finally caves and glances over his shoulder, Lan Zhan is walking away with firm strides and has probably put Wei Ying and his son out of his mind. Wei Ying is disappointed, but he promised himself that he wouldn't have any unrealistic expectations about this meeting with Lan Zhan.
Wei Ying squares his shoulders and faces forward again. "Shall we buy some souvenirs for our friends? What do you think they'll like?" he asks A-Yuan.
He doesn’t see Lan Zhan turn back to watch him and A-Yuan disappearing into the crowd.
Their return journey is going to take another 30 hours or so, but at least it's a lot less complicated, with just one stopover at Chengdu. Wei Ying gets A-Yuan settled in their seats early and they open Lan Zhan's present together while they are waiting for the rest of the passengers to finish boarding.
There's a thick colouring book with stickers and really good colour pencils, a selection of Tang Dynasty poetry for kids with Hanyu Pinyin under the Chinese characters, and an English board book about a father rabbit and his son. Wei Ying reads the English book to A-Yuan first, and his heart does a funny little skip when he gets to the illustration of the father rabbit cradling his son in his arms while they look up at the moon, telling him that he loves him "right up to the moon and back”. Lan Zhan has put a lot of thought into the gifts – and maybe Lan Zhan is just the kind of guy who picks out thoughtful presents instead of grabbing some random thing off the shelf, but it’s a lot of effort to go to for the kid of some random guy who took his luggage. He’s starting to regret letting Lan Zhan walk away without at least trying to ask him out or explain.
“We haven’t sent Lan-shushu today’s unexpected rabbit photo! Let’s take a photo of the rabbits in the book to send to Lan-shushu,” A-Yuan suggests.
Well, there’s no reason why they can’t continue their game with Lan Zhan, Wei Ying reasons. Another more selfish side of him whispers that it's a good excuse to keep the conversation going, even if they technically don't have any reason to keep in contact anymore. Wei Ying snaps a photo of A-Yuan holding the book and hits send just as someone moves into the edge of his vision.
“Oh, sorry, I know we're in your seat, but would you mind if we switched for the window–“ Wei Ying begins to explain, but the rest of his words are lost in his surprise when he sees who it is.
“Lan-shushu! Baba was just sending you our unexpected rabbit for the day!” A-Yuan pipes up excitedly. “Are you going to Vancouver too?”
“Yes, that’s where I live,” Lan Zhan replies. Suddenly, Wei Ying thinks he understands Lan Zhan’s previous reticence. But now, there is a tentative hope in Lan Zhan’s expression as well.
“That’s where we live too!” A-Yuan tells him. Lan Zhan’s eyes meet Wei Ying’s, a question seeking an answer.
“Hello, Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying says softly, and smiles.
Lan Zhan smiles back. “Hello, Wei Ying."