Friday, October 29, 2010

Waiting 50 years for love

A love story that had its beginnings in 1953 Hangzhou, survives personal and political upheavals, to come to fruition decades later. Liu Zhihua reports

It was in the autumn of 1953 that Danny Li met Yuan Dibao in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, and fell in love. But fate intervened forcing the pair to live on two different continents for 54 years. Miraculously, in May, the couple came together again and got married in September.

Their story became a hot news on Chinese newspapers and TV stations. Netizens declared their love "was the purest in the world".

"It was like a dream. I never expected to see him ever again," 83-year-old Li says.

Li was born in Beijing in 1927, to a French mother and Chinese father.

At the age of 24, she became one of the youngest teachers of Zhejiang Medical College at Hangzhou, and became well known for her mastery of four languages - Chinese, English, Russian and French.

In 1953, Yuan Dibao, a handsome 25-year-old freshman entered her life.

Yuan was the class monitor, and the best student in Li's Russian language class. He was brilliant and diligent, earning full scores on most quizzes and exams.

"He was a good person, very nice to others. All the students and teachers liked him very much," Li says.

As Li began to learn more about Yuan, she discovered they had a lot in common. Her warm feelings for him evolved into love.

Despite the prejudice against a relationship between a teacher and student, they grew close.

Only Li's parents knew what was happening. Every time Yuan went to Li's office, ostensibly to ask for help with studies, they would arrange their after-class dates.

The city of Hangzhou was witness to their sweet love story.

Yuan would often walk Li home and stay for a while. Her parents were open about their fondness for this polite and charming young man.

While Li was in paradise, Yuan was torn between happiness and guilt.

"I sensed he was holding back something, but didn't pay much attention," Li tells China Daily.

What Li didn't know then was that Yuan was married.

Yuan was already 25 when he was finally admitted to college in 1953. He was considered well past the age for marriage in his hometown, Gulangyu Islet in Xiamen, Fujian province. Arranged by his family, he married his sister's friend.

A year went by but Yuan said nothing about his marriage to Li.

In 1954, before moving with his school to Chengdu, capital of Sichuan province in Southwest China, he finally summoned the courage and told her he had a wife - a woman toward whom he felt morally responsible and cared for until her death.

Li was shocked. Although she loved Yuan, the couple broke up.

"I had no choice. We couldn't build our happiness on the misfortune of another innocent woman," Li says.

They never saw one another after that.

In 1956, Li left for Lyon, France, with her mother. The father joined them in 1962.

Before leaving China, Li wrote to Yuan informing him of her departure.

To her surprise, she received not one but several letters over the next few days. The couple then began to keep in touch through mail.

Letters from Li reached Yuan's workplace, and he kept them at a relative's place to hide them from his wife.

"His letters were a great comfort to me in those days," Li says.

Her new life was hard.

She not only struggled to survive in a society that was strange to her and refused to recognize her diplomas and certificates, but also experienced culture shock.

Li learnt shorthand and typewriting, and finally found a job as a secretary in an international trade company.

Meanwhile, Yuan graduated and started working in Xiamen.

In their letters, the couple seldom mentioned their hardships. Yuan shared with Li his happiness over becoming a father, and Li sent him tins of baby milk powder and clothes, knowing that those were days of scarcity in China.

When the "cultural revolution" (1966-1976) started, Li's letters began to be returned. To avoid causing any trouble to Yuan, she stopped writing to him.

But Li could not forget him.

"I could not start a new relationship, although there were many who knocked on my door. I found his love for me most earnest, and felt no one else could match that," she says.

In 1976, as soon as she was sure it was safe, Li wrote to Yuan's workplace as before. But that letter, too, was returned.

She didn't know Yuan's workplace had changed; he had informed her of that in a letter he managed to send out in 1973, but it never reached Li.

The next contact between them occurred 45 years later, in May, 2010.

During the Spring Festival (in late February), Ouyang Luying, Yuan's third daughter-in-law came to know from a relative (the one who helped Yuan hide Li's letters) that her father-in-law had once dated a beautiful foreign teacher.

"When he told me the story I was deeply touched; my mother-in-law had died in 1994, so I encouraged him to write a letter."

Although Yuan often visited the places in Hangzhou that he and Li used to frequent, he never expected to resume contact with her.

Ouyang awakened all his deep memories. He stayed up late for several days to pen five letters.

Besides six short sentences expressing his wishes for good health in Chinese to Li, Yuan also wrote in English to her relatives lest she was dead, saying that he was a student and friend of Li and wanted to know where she was.

He sent out one letter every other day; if he didn't receive a reply to any of them, he decided, that would be the end of the matter.

At last, a letter arrived from France.

With trembling hands, Li opened it. Seeing the familiar handwriting, he thought, "Thank god! She's alive!"

The envelope contained a photo of Li and a three-page letter. In it Li took Yuan through all that had happened in her life.

In 1974, nine years after their last correspondence, Li earned the equivalent of a Master's in Chinese and soon got a job as a Chinese teacher at Jean Moulin - Lyon 3 University on condition that she would earn her doctorate within 10 years - a condition she fulfilled in 1979.

She retired in 1992 as an associated professor from the university, and then worked as vice-president in a non-profit organization that helped the university's Chinese students.

She remained single and lived alone in a house her grandparent left her after her parents died.

On May 1, she saw Yuan's letter waiting for her when she returned home. "I didn't reply immediately, because I couldn't believe it was true," Li says.

She sat with his letter in the yard from noon till midnight. When the next day brought another letter, Li was finally convinced this was no dream.

The couple started exchanging letters as before. Sometimes, with help from Ouyang, they would talk over the phone but preferred letters as Yuan suffers a mild hearing loss.

"Ouyang called me 'Danny Mom' during her first phone call. I had never been called mom before. I can't describe how I felt!" Li says.

A month later, Yuan invited Li to Xiamen, and said it was up to her whether she wanted to live with him or just visit.

When Li flew to Xiamen, Yuan and the family met her at the airport. Yuan held a bunch of 55 roses.

Li accepted Yuan's offer of marriage, and they registered their wedding on Sept 21, the day before the Mid-Autumn Festival, traditionally a time for family reunions in China.

Yuan's sons held a big wedding ceremony for them on Sept 26.

Li and Yuan now live in the third son's house. Every morning they take a stroll on the beach, hand in hand.

"What is gone is gone; we want to be with each other for the rest of our lives. I have poor sight, and he has a problem with hearing.

"I'm his ears, and he is my eyes," Li says.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

things that impact us

I've been meaning to go on a solo trip recently, but the daily 'important' things in life hinder us from just taking off. I was looking at the calendar today, and x weekend I signed up for a class, there are other female things to do like hair appointments, face appointments and the like... it seems that the only free time is 3 weeks later! XXX. I find it amazing how we like to fill up our little bitsy pieces of time by thinking of things we 'need' to do... and not things we 'want' to do. I forgot to make time to go to the gym even, or to take a day for myself to read a book at the beach, or even catch up with the old classmates and ex-colleagues i've been meaning to. It's been ages since I did any of those.

Daily, I see somebody going through a pretty rough patch in his life. I don't dare say I will be able to survive what he's been through. And some days are pretty rough I can imagine. Despite that, he shows enough consideration to not vent the frustrations on the people around him. And I can't say that for most people. Isn't it ironic that when we break into pieces we use the pieces to cut the people around us who mean the most to us? Why we we get hurt, we just become so selfish and make loved ones hurt too, or just make them look bad? I think it's that side of us that becomes vindictive. Oh, 'pity me, for I am hurt'... ... It's too easy for us to behave that way at times. If only all of us showed more consideration to make other's worlds a more beautiful place to live and work in. I'm actually impressed and touched that despite the rough patch, we can still make the work environment a lovely place to be in, and give each other strength to last yet another day in this monstrous world.

Saturday, October 23, 2010


Some days are good, some are bad, some are really bad.
I just want to say that today is a day of revelations and I'd try to describe it, as difficult as it is.

After doing some soul-searching these few weeks, I think I offer words of wisdom at times to grievanced souls, surprising the both of us with the depth of spirituality. I wish I had done more, but because of my personal turmoil, all I can offer are words and ears.

And I'm touched by the way people share about the ones they care/cared for. We like to show bravado, dismissing the tumult of emotions when we face some tough decision-making and growing through personal hardships. I once said 'you care much because you love much', although it was only on online chat, I hope the person knew that I knew how it felt to struggle with such decisions although I have had no experience doing so thus far.

Bad English aside, I hoped to convey that I understood not only the choices made but the 'struggling/wavering period' before making the decision.

And I said it again recently to a man who had fallen on hard times but found that he could love again, and getting hurt again seemed like the end of the world to him. How scary is it to trust someone again and to let your bleeding broken heart be mended, not knowing the outcome? He cared much, that's why he hurt so much. Isn't that so?

It takes courage for a man to cry in front of a girl. Not only the action, but the sheer honesty and willingness to take that step towards releasing the pain, the past, to hopefully let go of the past.

And I also found out the reason for my dreams. It's not often you have vivid dreams where it's so specific and you remember them for a long time. Although the dream might have a bad outcome it could also be a blessing in disguise and an affirmative word to the hearer.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

My dreams are coming true...

Oh, how scary.

During the 2 weeks of the insomnia-and-nightmares/weird dreams period, I had some vivid dreams, the rest I couldn't remember, only flashing scenes of the people in it and the feelings. I dreamt of many friends. Strangely, 2 of these dreams actually came TRUE.

My penpal had told me that he was afraid his leave would not be approved to come back to his hometown, and delayed indefinitely due to the nature of his work. But I had a dream about him BEFORE he told me that, I dreamt he signed off at the stipulated time, and was carrying his backpack, meeting his bro happily at a mamak shop, and I was sure it was in Oct. I told him about this dream. He just got news that his leave was approved and will be back next week, Oct.

I also dreamt about a friend of mine who had just gone through many setbacks recently - a bitter divorce, loss of his assets due to it, his grandparent whom he lives with passing away... I dreamt that he called me during christmas season and I could sense the upliftedness and cheerfulness in his voice, he asked me what is a suitable present for a young lady and I could guess that he's happily attached to one! I gave 3 options and he chose one (I would not have given that option in real life, however...) Imagine my surprise when I told him the dream (I told him in early Oct) and he smiled and chirped that he is recently attached, a girl 8 years younger than him. In September, too! Around the time of the dream. It's really quite scary to me to have this dream come true - and then the other one for my penpal. Thankfully, they all are happy endings.

I also dreamt about other things, I saw myself in x location, I dreamt about other people and certain scenarios. I think I will keep them to myself for now, or try to forget unless it has to be mentioned. Like some mysteries in Life, why I dream about such things and why they come true, I have no interest in finding out.

Too many times, I am tempted to ask 'Why?'... 'Why God?' 'Why this why that.' Why why why... We are Generation Y, all the time asking Why.

But I've come to realize I don't really need to know why. I used this theory while addressing an issue last week. I told the certain person who caused the issue, 'I don't need to know WHY. I just need it to stop.' And it worked like a charm and I'm glad I spoke out truthfully with the love of God. Also, I made a stand this week, it was rather difficult to make given the state of my mind, but deep inside, I'm glad I did it. I'm changing little by little, and it's for the better.