Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Part Twenty Two

And now, within six months after graduation, I found myself a husband.

I was 26 years old then , and this was really the first time in my life I could be together openly with a man.

Graduation was in early Spring, - the new job began late in the Summer, --- and during the time in between, I was introduced to several young men by various mutual acquaintances.

I realize that in other countries, young, urban people may spend several years dating and playing the field in high school, college, and beyond – but I left the field almost as soon as I had entered upon it.

Once word got around that a young person was available for marriage , the volunteer matchmakers would get busy and eventually invite the lucky couple over for tea.

I remember meeting one young man that my sister had found for me – and I remember how he was not too tall, but also not too short. He sounded smart, he looked kind of handsome – and I would have liked to meet him again. But his call never came – which did not improve a self-confidence that was not so great to begin with. I just never felt myself to be especially attractive, even if people often told me otherwise.

(Believe or not, but many years later I met this guy again, on an outing organized by my husband’s work unit in a newspaper company called “China Daily” which was the only English news paper in China at that time. He and my husband were both journalists. He looked so surprised when our eyes met – and he was still single. I knew several people in the crowd, and I think my popularity and laughter that day put him in a very quiet mood. Or… at least I hope it did !)

Then my family was paid a visit by an “uncle” I had met when I was working as a nurse up north in the provincial hospital.

He was in my father’s generation, but not really related to us. ( He was a subordinate/friend of my mother’s uncle - the general who had helped me so much at the hospital). He knew the family of another high-level military officer who had a son about my age who was available for marriage and he jumped on the opportunity to do all these important people a favor.

So he invited me and the boy over to his place for a blind date, and the three of us spent 90 minutes making small talk.

My date had been late, and his appearance definitely did not impress me . He was short, average looking, overly casual, and wore a military green overcoat which may have been fashionable among the Red Guard ten years earlier, but was definitely backward in 1979.

But there was no question that he was smart, ambitious, and especially witty – and I guess that’s why I got interested in making a second date.

And of course, he came from a family background commensurate with my own. His father, like my father, came from a peasant family, and then joined the People’s Army in the late 1930’s, rising through the ranks to become an officer. But unlike my father, he stayed in the military after the revolution, and met his wife while serving in the Korean War. She had been one of the many teenage volunteers who were sent to the front to boost the morale of soldiers in those days.

By the late 70’s, his father was the #2 commander of Liaoning Province (bordering Korea) and he lived in Shengyang, its capital city of 7.2 million. Even though his rank was similar to my father’s, since they were in local government, they lived much more luxuriously in a single family, 10-room house. They had three sons and a bodyguard who lived with them and did all the household chores.

(One time, when I was visiting, the guard had just finished the dishes and was sitting down with the family, when all of sudden, it began to rain outside. Mother-in-law immediately ordered the guard to close all the windows, but there were so many , he could not close them all at once. The sons were doing nothing at the moment, but none would join me in getting up to help. There was a younger brother who lived at home. And I often saw him ordering this guard to do this or that for him. It seemed to me that the guard was serving the son more than the father, and I complained to my new husband who agreed that his younger brother was spoiled and abused his power.)

Being military, the family was untouched by the Cultural Revolution – except that since all the universities were closed, my boyfriend had to spend three years as a recruit in the People’s Army. But as soon as a few schools began to reopen in 1971, he enrolled in Shanghai University where he got a four-year degree in English language. He then spent another 18 months studying French at my school , Beijing Foreign Language Institute #2 ( but I don’t remember ever seeing him there.) He had also gone to the Foreign Language middle school before the Culture Revolution for two years. So his English was quite good by then.

When I met him, he worked as an interpreter for a manufacturing business – but he had many plans for further advancement –and unlike me and almost every other young person our age – he had his own apartment – which is where I was invited for our second date .

On that second date, he invited me to meet his two friends who lived in the same complex – and I really enjoyed their company. They had all grown up together, so their families knew each other. They were smart – high spirited – and we were all at the threshold of our new , exciting lives. What did young people like us talk about when we got together in those days ? Politics, of course ! Bemoaning the corruption everywhere in government – but certainly not as idealistic communists. Even though we were all the privileged children of high officials, we did not like our party and did not like our system. We were curious about the freedoms found in the West – especially those of us who had learned Western European languages.

Following that, I came over to visit every week, and eventually was given a key to the apartment.

Regarding my family, father, as usual, had no opinion about my new boyfriend, but mother was very opinionated – and she asserted strenuously that I “could have done much better” She thought he was too short (she and her siblings were all tall) – as well as ill-mannered and too full of himself. But as usual – the more I was told what to do – the stronger I felt the urge to do the opposite

I wanted to go ahead with a marriage – but it wasn’t as if I didn’t have some misgivings.

One day, I paid a surprise visit to his apartment – let myself in with the key – and waited all night for him to return. (note: there was no telephoning ahead for such visits – since telephones were still very rare – and the only phone in his entire building belonged to the doorman.)

Where had he spent the night ? Could I believe that it was “just with a few friends” ? I felt that I had been very open with him about my life – while he shared very little about his.

So, yes, I had some reservations – but I also had this feeling – I guess you’d call it traditional – that he was now my man, for better or worse.

I also badly needed to move out of my parents’ house. There were only two bedrooms for all six of us, and there was no privacy at all. And being so cramped, the conversation among us was always turning unpleasant. We endlessly talked about how to change our living conditions, but nobody could do anything. For 30 years, the Chinese government had not built any residential housing, so it was impossible to get a larger apartment. Even after dad’s name had been cleared and he was entitled to a bigger place, no such place was available. All we ever got were promises, and it wasn’t until 1986, that my parents finally moved into a 3-bedroom apartment. (My mom is still living there now, while they allowed us to keep the old two bedroom apartment, and eventually my older brother purchased it.)

Within six months of our first meeting, we applied for a marriage license, and six months later we got married.

The wedding itself was not big deal. It wasn’t that huge ceremony one associates with traditional weddings in the countryside. It was really just a big dinner. Stubborn until the end, my mother refused to contribute to the trousseau or other expenses – but that was OK – since his family could easily afford everything. She wouldn’t even contribute that kind of comforter/quilt that Chinese mothers usually give to daughters when they get married –so I had to grab the materials from her trunk and make the quilt myself.

After the wedding, we spent a week at a lakeside resort (with his two younger brothers !) and then moved into his apartment – to which another room had been added – only it was on a higher floor in the same building. It wasn’t much – but it was way more than almost any other newly wedded couple could expect in China at that time.

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