Sunday, February 10, 2013

Love at First Sight

The most memorable trip was the one when I went to Hohhot, Inner Mongolia for our project meeting. Mr. Zhou and I went to Beijing first, I went to see the Great Wall. There, I had my first camel ride. I wished that it was a horse so I could run back and forth on the Wall like an ancient warrior, watching over the North.
Although it was the first time for me to ride on a camel, I was very comfortable sitting between the two humps as if I was on the Silk Road
     We then continued our journey to the capital of Inner Mongolia, which was founded by the Mongol ruler Altan Khan in the late 16th century. It is also nationally known as the home of China’s dairy giants. Like several other meetings, I was one of a few women at the meeting. Most of the people were middle-aged men. A few were recent graduates. This time, there were two recent male graduates. Soon, we started to talk away at the hotel where we stayed. Like others I met at the meeting, it was easy to make temporary friends. You met them at a meeting and then they were gone, even though we exchanged business cards or addresses, and we could meet again at future meetings.
     Later that afternoon, another young man came in representing the Department of Forestry, the funding agency for our project. His name was Wang Lin. Everyone was looking at him because he looked too young. The older people hoped he had been an older person who could really make some decisions. The two other younger graduates were a little jealous. He was very handsome, not a strong muscular type, but delicate, very quiet, and tried not to get my attention. When our eyes met, our eyes were sparkling. At the meeting when it was his turn, everyone challengingly watched him. I hoped the best for him. He did fine. He was very calm and firm. Like a supervisor, he told us the requirements or standards from the department. His voice was soft, but there was no room for negotiation. Everyone was impressed.
    The meeting lasted one week including field trips. Later in the week, it started to rain all day and we had to cancel a field trip to the northern grasslands. We stayed inside all day except for going to the dining hall for our three meals. As usual, I didn’t bring an umbrella. I did end up buying one in Shanghai on one trip since the pounding rain welcomed me there. Anyway, Wang offered to share his umbrella. We walked together to the dining hall and back. I could feel electrical shocks every time his shoulder bumped mine. We talked about nothing except work. My work at that time dealt with spruce seedlings and subalpine forests. Somehow, I gave him the impression that the only thing on my mind was trees, specifically spruce, and of course, my hometown.  I did not know anything else.
     The next day was a beautiful sunny day. Since we didn’t go on the long field trip, it was a free day for us to wander around. So, Wang and I decided to see the greenhouse in the city after lunch. On the way there and in the greenhouse, we tried to identify the trees, shrubs, and flowers that we knew. For the ones that we didn’t know, we just joked around.
     Then, we visited Wang Zhaojun’s Tomb (王昭君墓).  She was born in Zigui County (in current Hubei Province) during the Western Han Dynasty. She was beautiful, intelligent, and well educated.  Emperor Yuan of Han Dynasty (48-33BC) was selecting his concubines again. Wang’s portrait was not presented to the Emperor because Wang did not bribe the artist.  She could have ended up living in the Emperor’s Palace for the rest of her life without actually seeing the Emperor like thousands of others.  In 33 BC, Huhanye, the Chanyu (Khan) of Hun, came to the Han capital to request a Han princess as a bride.  Emperor Yuan presented five women from the imperial harem; one of them was Wang Zhaojun.  Wang was chosen.  Her beauty shocked the Emperor so he wanted to know why he never got her portrait when he selected his concubine.  The Emperor ended up killing the artist for his deceipt. She was credited for peace between China and the Xiongnu for more than 60 years.  Wang had always been portrayed as a model for Chinese woman, to put your country and your family first.
Wang Zhaojun’s Tomb (王昭君墓)  
     The next day, it was time to return home. It happened that we ended up on the same train sitting next to each other. Mr Zhou flew back, I took the tran instead since it was cheaper.  We had a chance to talk a little more. I enjoyed talking with him. On the train, he had all kinds of ideas for entertainment. For example, how to use six toothpicks, breaking two of them in half, to make three identical squares.  He would also have me think of a number then ask me to add this, and subtract that, ending up so that he knew what my number was.
     I was stupid not to figure out the following simple riddle. “A boy was helping push a very heavy loaded wagon from the back and a person was pulling in front. Another person came along and asked the person in front, “Who is helping you push the back of the wagon?” The person in front said, “He is my son.” Then the person asked the one in back, “who is the person you are helping push the wagon?” and the boy answered, “That is not my father.” The question is who is the person in front in relation to the boy.” I just let my imagination go too far. “Maybe, the boy was too tired and upset, so he said that was not his father” or “Maybe the person in front is his stepfather or maybe a bad person forcing the boy to work for him.” I just did not even think that the person in front could be his mother.
     Then we talked about the coming weekend that was our traditional Moon Festival. He said it was going to be September 10th that year. I was so excited, “Oh, really. That is my birthday.” And it turned out that he was one year older than I was, even though he seemed like he was much older to me.
     When we reached Beijing, he helped me go to the hotel run by the department of forestry but it was full. He talked to his friend there and asked him to buy me a ticket home. His friend said, “tomorrow there is going to be one person checking out so she could move into her vacated bed in the room tomorrow (usually 2–4 beds per room). I will try to get her a ticket.” I started to feel nervous. “Where am I going to stay tonight?” He scared me by saying “good night.”  He took me back to their dorm at the department of forestry. It was designed for single persons or couples. A couple could have one room. For others, three or four people shared a room just like in a college dormitory but with half the number of people. So, I was placed in a woman’s dormitory room since one person was out for business.
     The next morning, he cooked eggs for breakfast. The eggs were still runny so I could not eat them. He said that I was picky and moved me back to the hotel. Later, he delivered the ticket for me the next day and went back to work. I went out shopping. I bought some fresh grapes from the market and invited him over after dinner for grapes. Instead of eating inside the hotel with my roommates, he suggested that we go to the Altar of Earth, Ditan Park(地坛) for an evening walk. I was not sure at first because it was going to be dark soon. Then he said he would take me back after dark. He talked about how his colleague was trying to find him a girlfriend. I did not want to let him to know whether I had a boyfriend or not. I told him that I didn’t like matchmaking. Then it was getting dark. I was shocked to see that many young couples had just started coming into the park to find their favorite benches. I saw this couple pass by our bench and then come back. I told Wang that this must be their bench. We got up and walked back to the hotel. The next day, he accompanied me to the train station and said goodbye.
     I wrote a thank you note to him after I got home. A few weeks later, I received his letter saying “happy birthday and happy Moon Festival.” Traditionally, families get together to share moon cake. For those who cannot get together, it is a special time to remember your loved ones while eating moon cake. Unlike the letters that I usually received from boys, his letter was very short and simple. I didn’t like it when people used too many beautiful phrases or words trying to please me in order to ask me out, although most girls liked that. All those phrase and words put me off because I did not think they were sincere. This was the first letter that I liked. So I relied to him a letter asking him if there was a full moon he could see?, and if he went outside to eat moon cake while looking at the moon thinking about me?  The moon supposedly transmitted love between people no matter how far away they were.
     So, we began to write to each other about our work and our families. He had an older brother. His father served in the army until 1980. His mother was a homemaker at the farm, until 1980 when his father moved her out to finally settle in Nanjing (南京). I told him about my parents, and how they worked in separate places until 1970. I told him that the engineer in my department was 45 years old and was still waiting to be reunited with his wife and children, implying our future prospects if we wanted to get together. We discussed that if he came down from Beijing to the provincial local area, it would be easier than if I tried to go to Beijing since everyone wanted to reach higher and better places. There was one moment when he considered the option to come down. But I replied with a discouraging letter asking him to think it over really hard. We only met once and we didn’t know how we would get along if we really got together. If we did get along, we would be happy, but if not, he would be stuck in my city alone. There wouldn’t be any hope to redo it. And I would be unhappy all of my life if that happened to him.
     That letter changed his mind and that made me sad. I was alone in my room talking with his picture that was on the back of my mirror. The frequency of our letter writing dwindled. One day, I received a letter from him telling me that he was coming to my city for a business meeting. I was so excited that I did all the possible planning to show him that Chengdu was the best city for everyday living. We had the best vegetables, fruit, and meat of all the country. The weather was nice too. I always loved my city and I really disliked it when I heard people say anything bad about my city. The forest research institute was the largest local institute in the country with about 500 employees. So, I hoped that he would see my city and institute and change his mind.  I knew that there was no way he could take a special trip to come here because we didn’t have vacations. The longest holiday was the Chinese New Year that lasted only three days. It took about four days round trip by train from Beijing in the northeast to Chengdu in the southwest, not to mention the cost of train tickets, about two months’ salary.
     I told him about the tours and famous dishes in a letter. He was very excited to hear and looked forward to seeing my city for the first time. But when the time for his visit came closer, I received another letter telling me that he couldn’t come because all of the party members had to stay around for two months of intensive training and study. I was shocked that he was a party member and the time had to be just right. We were both very disappointed.
     Time passed by. Every now and then, I received a letter from another man or an introduction by others. I always told them that I had a boyfriend and showed them his picture. In my heart, I didn’t know how we could get together. In the meantime, I was working very hard and that kept me busy so I did not have any free time thinking about him.  My bosses were pleased with my work and decided to send me for intensive English training for possible graduate study abroad. I was one of three studying English. My possibly going abroad really moved Wang and one day he told me that he was preparing for tests to go to graduate school.
     Both of us realized that it would be hard for him since he graduated from college four years earlier. He had to take all of the subject examinations. Newer graduates would have the advantage. But that would probably put us in a better position to get together. I was studying English while he worked during the daytime and studied at night for his exam. I often wrote to him encouraging him. Finally his day came to take the exam. After that, especially when the results should have arrived, I didn’t get any letter from him. I thought that maybe he didn’t pass and that he must have been very sad. So, I wrote him a long letter to comfort him.
     Two weeks later, I received a letter from him saying that he was selected to go abroad also. He said that I didn’t have confidence in him and didn’t think that he could pass. He was excited and I was too. At the same time, I was one of the top students in our class. Everything was going very well. I was ready to apply to graduate schools in the U.S. I wanted to know where Wang was going first so that I could apply to go to the same school. Finally, I received the disappointing news that he was going to Japan, not to the U.S. He had given up on us. We were not meant to be together. I did not give up; I was so busy applying to U.S. schools and always thought that if we were outside of China, things would be easier for us—we could control our own destinies. He could come to the U.S. and I could go to Japan freely.
     I applied to three graduate schools, which my friend recommended.  I had the highest hope in the University of Minnesota since our Professor Li, who received his Ph.D. there in the 1920’s, wrote me a recommendation letter. The other two, I would just try my luck. Surprisingly, the State University of New York acted very quickly. Professor Dan wrote to me sending me some papers right away. The Chairman of the department encouraged me to attend their graduate school as well. So, I went along. I quickly got my passport, visa, and was ready to go.
     During this time, I received a letter from Wang who said that his father had introduced a woman to him at work and that he agreed to get to know her. I was so excited that we could be free that I didn’t even pay attention to what he wrote. I couldn’t believe that he could consider the girl his father found. Soon, he was in intensive training for Japanese in Dalian (大连) for a few months to prepare for his studies in Japan. He had studied English only, so Japanese would be a fresh start for him.
     The director of my institute decided to send me to Beijing for a special business trip.  He especially let me go on the trip so that I could meet my boyfriend there. Unfortunately, I told him that he was not there anymore. He was studying Japanese eight hours away by train in Dalian. Dalian (大连) is in Northeast China’s Liaoning Province next to Shandong, China’s northernmost seaport.  I had never seen the ocean or beach, I was very close when I went to Fujian, and an overnight train could take me there, that would be my second time and last chance to see him and say goodbye. 
     It was the second time for us to see each other in two years and a goodbye for us. I didn’t have time to tell him that I was coming because I did not think I was going to see him.  I sent a telegram asking him to meet me at the train station since I had a free weekend. He was so surprised that he thought there was something wrong at his parents’ home, since people usually don’t send telegrams unless there was an emergency. He came to meet me at the station.  We were both excited that we could see each other again. We wandered around the city a little. In the evening, he took me to a nearby park.  This was the second time I was in a park after dark.  The only two times in my life, the first time when we met and the second time when we said goodbye. We walked around without talking, and we kissed. We did not want to face reality. I was surprised that there were so many young couples out there in the park at night.  We could not even have an uninterrupted kiss without people passing by. We ran into people almost everywhere and we had to keep moving around.
     The next day, we took a bus to the coast. It was the first time that I saw the real ocean. It was a beautiful day and was crowded with people. We had a picnic lunch by the beach. We had a serious discussion about the future. Most times, he said that we should be friends for life. Other times, we talked about getting married and forgetting all those problems before us. But the reality was that we didn’t even have time to get married. Finally, we decided that we would still be friends. We would still write to each other. I asked him about the girl whom his father introduced to him. He didn’t have many comments. I joked that she must treat him like a king or a god since he was so smart and going abroad. I did not feel threatened by the new girlfriend. We had a whole New World before us and we worked hard for that. We both were going abroad and would be free. He told me that his mother was a housewife all her life and she was looking forward to taking care of his child while she could. I told him that my mother and father were classmates in college and that they worked all their life. They always helped each other out like a full functional unit. I hardly remember them ever arguing.
     He didn’t object to the fact that I was going to America. But he believed that I would change when I went to America and maybe become someone he could not stand since American woman were known to be independent. He suggested that it would better if I went to Japan instead. He said that at least Japanese women would be a better influence on me. I was trying to tell him that I would not change and I was like a water lily that grows out of mud but was spotless (in Chinese: 莲花出淤泥而不染). I was confident that he was not an old-fashioned man who would take a match from his parents, plus he was not even going to be home anyway. When he went to Japan he would see how modern Japan was. He would make up his mind to come to join me in the U.S. where we could study together. Then we could get back together and work somewhere together just like my parents.
     The next day, it was a few hours before I was to leave.  We were locked in his dorm room alone, he undressed me and just look at my body for a long time,  then he kissed my body gently as if I could easily break into pieces.  It was daytime, I hoped there was a hole in the floor where I could hide.  He was never undressed.  I did not know what to do and I did not dare open my eyes.  I never felt that embarrassed and helpless all my life.  No we did not have sex and I really had no clue about sex at the time.  Then, he took me to the train and I took the train back to Beijing and then to my city with mixed emotions of sadness and happiness. Soon it would be August and time for me to go to the United States. I refused to believe that I would be there alone long before he came to join me especially after this trip.
The first time that I was standing by the ocean at Dalian (大连).