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It was early summer time in Bai Town.

Bai Town was an average county-level city in Northern China. It had two or three big streets and a population of 700,000. Nothing stood out here in terms of economic advantages and perhaps the only sight worth mentioning was Phoenix Mountain five kilometers to the south of the town.

Phoenix Mountain was a stretched out part of the Changbai Mountains. It covered an area of over 300 km2 and its main peak rose to around 1000 meters above sea level. The mountain was not a tall one, but contained some perilous yet strikingly beautiful peaks as well as serene scenic spots.



Back when they were developing this area, no one knew what made the designers arrange the paths in such a ridiculous way that visitors often lost track of where they were going. After looking around in utter confusion, they might then discover an iron ring embedded in some gap between the rocks, where the climbers would have to bend to squeeze themselves through. Either that or one might have just jumped onto one rock from another only to realize in frustration that they were facing a dead end!

However, it was exactly because of this peculiarity of its settings that Phoenix Mountain had managed to attract a considerable amount of fans and become a popular tourist site in the province.

"The Old Bull’s Back is right ahead. Let’s take a break here to regain some strength."

"Captain Jiao, is the Old Bull’s Back really that tough? Aren’t you just trying to scare us off?"

"You don’t have to believe my words. You’ll understand once you’re up there."

A group of people climbed the stairs as they conversed. The team included both male and female members, all wearing identical caps. The team leader was a guy in his thirties. He was strongly-built and his face was covered with unkempt stubble. Had he been a little more handsome, he might be someone worth considering by the opposite sex, though he would have to be careful not to get mistaken for an old uncle. [1]

The spot they chose to rest at was a clearing near the top of the mountain. From there, another long staircase stretched ahead, leading to the Old Bull’s Back.

It was common practice that a clearing at a scenic spot would contain a resting area, which in turn would have some vendors. There were two types of vendors – those that ran a legitimate business and paid the management monthly fee for their utility bills, and the peddlers—mostly local villagers who sold bits and pieces on their own.

The same went for this clearing. Two benches were set on the left and a stall, with its own set of small tables and chairs, was set on the right.

The team had more than a dozen people in it and their arrival had made the clearing rather boisterous. There were not enough chairs for all of them, so some were standing, some were crouching, and some even took out their picnic blankets and sat on the ground. Two girls, one taller and the other one shorter, did not want to crowd together with the group and scuttled away far to the right.

The stall here was somewhat shabby-looking. Products such as instant noodles, ham sausages, pickles and bottled water were arranged neatly on a square table and two thermos bottles were set on the ground. Next to the table was a small stove with a pot on it which contained some boiled sweet corns.

The stall owner was a young man, sitting on a folding stool and turning over the tea eggs in another pot. [2]

The two girls looked at each other and felt uncomfortable about sitting in the owner’s corner without buying anything, so one of them asked, "How much are the tea eggs?"

"One yuan fifty each."

"…"

They exchanged a look and were a bit surprised by the normal price. Many restaurants in town were selling these at 2 yuan each these days, which was way too much.

"We’ll have two eggs and two bottles of water, then."

"Ok."

The stall owner answered and quickly put everything in a plastic bag before handing it to the girls. "That’s 8 yuan in total."

"There you go."

As actual customers who bought something, the girls now felt justified and sat down on the stools. They weren’t exactly hungry, but the food was already here, so they might as well eat it while it was still hot.

"Wow, how come they smell so good!"

The eggs looked nothing special with the eggshells on, but once the taller girl peeled the shells off and revealed the dark-colored eggs underneath, she smelled an exceptionally pleasant aroma.

"Hey, fella, you didn’t put anything weird in it, did you?" The shorter girl also sniffed at it.

"It was only some bay leaves, chrysanthemums and liquorice, so don’t worry," the stall owner replied.

"Huh?"

The two girls looked at each other with blank faces. They obviously knew those were traditional medicines, but had no idea that they could be used to cook eggs. They did not care that much, though—as long as the ingredients were not harmful.

They each took an egg and had a nip. The eggs still tasted they way eggs should taste, only, these two had a fresh saltiness to them and were incredibly delicious. There was even a slightly minty sweetness lingering between their teeth.

People of the north preferred salty foods and people of the south preferred sweet ones. Too much of either taste would be as bad as having too little and these eggs had the perfect balance. After swallowing down the last bite, the two girls winked simultaneously, which meant, "we’ve learnt some new trick!"

It couldn’t be helped. As foodies/DIY freaks, whenever they found some unusual food, they had to have it right away. The two girls thus found this trip worthwhile. They were now whispering between themselves on the side and would glance at the stall owner from time to time.

"I want to try cooking it tonight as soon as we are back in town."

"We’ll have to buy some black tea, then. Which is better? Yunnan black tea or Keemun?"

"Let’s have a bit of both. I’m not sure where we can get liquorice, though."

"I don’t know about liquorice either. But chrysanthemum, that’s a totally different story."

"Watch your language! Why, where did he get these ideas? That owner looks quite young, but he’s a really good cook."

"Hehe, now that you’ve brought it up, he’s actually a cute guy after taking a closer look."

With these words, they couldn’t help but turn around and stare at the guy openly. Their eyes swept across the guy from head to toe.

The man was in his twenties and was a tall fellow. He was a bit too thin though, and almost seemed frail. His slender neck and prominent collarbone somehow brought a soft feeling to his features while the straight nose added a chiseled look to his face.

His eyes were the most attractive feature, reminiscent of feline eyes and deeply set. The flick of his eyelashes reminded them of a cloud brushing across the moon.

The girls felt their hearts skip a beat. They had not only tasted some delicious tea eggs, but also discovered a handsome guy. Please, that was like killing two birds with one stone!

"Hey, let’s take a photo of him to show off after we go back."

"Of course! My social media accounts are ready for the post!"

With one girl egging on, the other took out her cell phone immediately and was focusing on the stall owner, who happened to lift his head at that moment and saw what they were doing. He stopped them at once, "Please don’t do that!"

"Ah?" The shorter girl paused, without realizing it.

"We’re sorry…"

The owner smiled. "Don’t make me a web celebrity."

"Teehee!"

The two girls sniggered and broke into laughter. They had only thought the owner to be some good-looking villager with little education, but those words indicated that the man wasn’t just about looks.

They were about to start a conversation when the team leader shouted, "Everyone, did you rest well? Let’s move on!"

"I’m okay with that!"

"We should have been on the move long ago. It’s getting dark!"

"How much further? If someone can take me down the mountain on his back, I’ll give that person 10 yuan!"

A clamor rose everywhere around as the team regrouped in a chaotic manner. The two girls were a bit disappointed but waved the shopkeeper goodbye and ran back to the crowd. The team leader commanded loudly with a wave of his hand, "Class, it’s time to move on!"

Almost in the blink of an eye, the group left the clearing like a passing tornado, leaving behind them ground covered with fruit cores and sunflower seeds’ shells.

The stall owner seemed to be used to such a scene. He wiped the tables clean in silence, picked up a few empty bottles and swept away the litter on the ground, stuffing them all into a trash can nearby.

After he had finished tidying up the area, he sat back onto the folding stool and waited quietly for the next wave of tourists to arrive.

It was already afternoon now. The early summer air was still cool and the weather in the mountains was all the more uncomfortable. Phoenix Mountain was densely vegetated and the sunlight was largely blocked by foliage, making the surroundings dusky and dim.

That group walked for about twenty minutes and arrived at the Old Bull’s Back, the most renowned scenic spot on Phoenix Mountain.

The so-called "Old Bull’s Back" was a naturally formed ridge between two deep valleys. Not a single stair was constructed on the ridge and the climbers had to move forward holding onto the iron railings alone. When it snowed and the ground was frozen, the ridge would become impassable. The unusual danger of this ridge even surpassed that of the Cang Long Ridge of the Mount Hua in terms of intimidating tourists. [3].

"…"

The group stopped to watch the arched ridge. Clouds and mist coiled up in the distance and the ridge seemed endless. They felt their legs aching just by looking at it.

"Captain Jiao, of all the crap you’ve bragged about, this one was actually true."

"There’s no way I can pass through that. I already feel dizzy even looking at it."

"I’m not going. That looks so scary!"

Some members were thinking of backing out as they beheld the view before them. Realizing that, the team leader immediately tried to encourage them. "Guys, this is the first time our outdoor group participated in an activity as a team. We have to go through with it and bring it to a successful close. The way down the mountain is right after this ridge. It’s nothing, just close your eyes and you are on the other side!"

"You’re kidding, right? Close my eyes and I’ll at the bottom of that valley."

"Yeah right, and open your eyes again you’re in heaven."

"Hahaha!"

While everyone was talking at once, one of the more excited guys yelled, "Enough with the talking! Let’s do it! I’ll go first!"

He then grabbed the iron railings and stepped hard onto the ridge, advancing fast up the slope. Seeing that he was climbing up without much difficulty, the rest of the team gave their approval one after another. "He’s right, let’s hurry up. Anyone who’s not afraid should just go ahead."

Before long, most guys had climbed onto the ridge while the girls were still a bit hesitant. Most of them managed to gather their courage and walked onto the ridge, though. The two girls who bought tea eggs were the only ones dawdling.

"Boss, we two really can’t go up there. We’ll return by the way we came."

"Don’t say that. You’re the only two left. Come on, get over it! Life is a challenge…"

Before the team leader had time to splash them with some Chicken Soup for the Soul, the two girls had already turned back and ran away without paying any attention to his words, leaving behind a farewell, "Boss, we’ll see you at the mountain gate!"

‘Damn it!’

The team leader had no one to complain to and had become the last one to climb up the ridge. He then slowly caught up with the rest of the team.

[1] ED/N: The narrator is making fun of the man’s appearance, saying he looks older than his actual age and that only women who’re into older guys would fancy him.

[2] ED/N: Tea egg is an egg boiled with flavorings that may include black tea.

[3] ED/N: Huashan, in other words Mount Hua; it’s the westernmost of the Five Sacred Mountains, and can be found in Shaanxi; it has certain religious significance, and is known for its dangers (the route up the mountain is named as one of the most dangerous hikes in the world). Canglong means Azure Dragon—it is its other name, to be exact.

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