"Wǒ ài nǐ." Those are the only words in Chinese I can still remember. However,
everything else about those magical days in Hǎinán many years ago seem forever
fresh. I was part of some incongruous youth exchange between my hometown in
Hawaii and "friends" in the People's Republic.
Perhaps I was too young or too naive to understand why such exchanges even
existed. No doubt many of the sixteen-member joint delegation had pecuniary
interests at the forefront of their minds. A few were interested in language
exchanges. Fresh out of college and without a job, at that time I
optimistically believed that peace would come naturally if people simply
relaxed, shared freely, laughed, and danced. My father urged me to attend this
event to "broaden my horizons" and help me find a "purpose in life." I already
knew art and poetry were related to my purpose in life, but parents were not
convinced. When did gave me a free airline ticket and some spending money, how
could I refuse? My father believed that this trip would be part of a valuable
"growing up experience" that would somehow help become more cosmopolitan.
"Everyone should study abroad for a while." he said, "It helps you discover
who you are."
Hence a few weeks after dad's proposal, I was with a small exchange group.
Although their ostensible goal was to promote economic trade in the name of
"peace", the opening speeches by the flaccid bureaucrats made me yearn for the
mountain slopes of this tropical island. As the ceremony wore on, I dreamed
about the not-so-distant cliffs of Tiān-yá or chances to chill out on a beach
somewhere in Sānyà.
Yawning, my eyes wavered across the hall to the Chinese delegation. There I
noticed a demure dark-haired young woman in a stylish changpao sipping a
watered-down cocktail while politely pretending to be interested in the
lieutenant governor's speech.
Instinctively, she felt my gaze and we smiled with a mixture of irony,
resignation, and a tinge of sassy defiance. I did not know that she was the
vice-mayor's daughter or that protocol declared visitors and island residents
should avoid getting "too close." All I knew is that over the next weeks days
I couldn't stop thinking about this lovely person. I imagined us as deep
friends who had known each other many lifetimes, and allowed myself to believe
that "karma" (a foolish euphemism?) had somehow brought us together once
again. This Qióngzhōu Strait beauty was constantly at the forefront of my
awareness, though part of me made futile attempts to ignore her. Logically, I
knew there were too many differences for this relationship to have any future.
Yet what was a "future" actually? House payments? Whining babies? Years of
petty jealousy? "Do most people who marry actually have a future?" I asked
Naively, however, I believed no difficulty was insurmountable if there was
love. Though my Chinese was quite limited and her English was shaky at best,
Yàhuī managed to teach me some important things about love. By the end of the
goodwill study-tour nothing else seemed important, so we managed to spend one
Now whenever anyone talks about "foolish love" or the impulsive
shortsightedness of youth, I feel a nostalgic tinge for Yàhuī's hesitant yet
exploratory kiss. We often floundered for words, but I could sense in her an
intelligence beyond words. Nor was I immune to her charm and grace. Her
"futureless" love is the only thing that has given me any hint of a future for
the last thirty-three years.