Chapter 15: Climbing Back Into Love With John

John brought me to Tonglu, his hometown in the Chinese countryside, to climb Daqi Mountain. If only I knew I’d have to do more than just climb the mountain — I’d have to climb out of the mess I created this morning.

John didn’t see the best of me on that bus, complaining about the indirect, circuitous route, the precipitous driving, the secondhand smoke, the unpredictable pickups and drop-offs. It was only a couple of hours — why did I say anything at all? After my display of intolerance and impatience with China, did John wonder if the girl he fell in love with — the girl who opened herself to China, who wanted to understand — was still there?

As we sat down at one of Tonglu’s restaurants, dining on a feast of vegetarian delicacies for lunch, I laid myself out — with all of my flaws — like the dishes before us. “I’m so sorry about this morning. I don’t know what I was thinking. I may have been here in China for two years, but I don’t understand everything. I should have been more understanding.” I exposed myself for what I behaved like: a foreigner who only saw the shadows of China. But all I seemed to eat during lunch was shame, and the deep, persistent feeling that I was pushing John away.

As John gets closer to me, he also gets closer to what I fear most — my own shadows. I am something both beautiful and frightening, lovely and dark. He fell in love with the beautiful, lovely side of me, but will the frightening, dark parts of me turn him away?

Maybe they did for Frank, my ex-Chinese boyfriend. Nearly a month after we started dating, I found Frank’s words as a series of text messages one evening when I finished my workout at the gym. “Why are you creating such tension? Why do you have doubts about our relationship? You are selfish in your sensitivity. Your emotional fluctuations are too frightening!” The thing is, in a way, he was right. I did create tension, I had doubts, I did get too sensitive, and I cry just like that.

I didn’t want to cry now, but as John and I left the restaurant — with no sign that he had forgiven me — tears slowly welled up in my eyes. Crying isn’t going to help, especially in a country that values emotional restraint, but as long as I worry John might leave, my self-restraint is leaving me in this moment.

“Is there something wrong?” John turns to me with a look of concern.

I want to tell him so much — that I’m worried about where we are, that I want some reassurance, some kind of sign. But it’s just not the right time to say anything like that, and I just want the tears to go away.

“It’s my allergies,” I say.

“Let’s find a pharmacy, and get you some eye drops.” I clutch John’s arm like a blind girl, blind in so many ways, and he leads us to a pharmacy down the street, buying a little blue vial of eye drops shaped like a blue diamond prism. John opens the vial and dribbles the blue liquid into my eyes, like a second baptism, the cooling sensation in each drop somehow absolving me of the morning’s wrongs and imperfections.

After a few moments, the tears stop, even if the worry still lingers. But John only sees tears, not worry, and leads us on to Daqi Mountain, the peak we will climb that afternoon.

We pass through a bamboo forest at the base of the mountain, and then begin enter the forest, meandering up switchbacks in the granite trail that ends just below the summit. Each footstep, each movement, each word between us builds as we ascend, and so does my resolve for some sign. A sign that John still loves me, even with my shadows. As we pause at each overlook, or pool, or waterfall, I want to interrupt the conversation, to ask him. But my timing is like the birds above us flushed out with the our footsteps — just when I nearly have it in sight, it seems to fly away.

Finally, we reach the end of the trail, with a waterfall and a azure reflecting pool just below the summit. John and I take our shoes off and stand barefoot in the reflecting pool. We are both exposed, both caught in the moment, and, somehow, I can’t help but say what I’ve been longing to say.

“John, would you be able to tell me you love me?”

John turned towards me and smiled gently. “Yes. I love you.” He then took me in his arms and kissed me. I felt as though he kissed me a thousand times in that reflecting pool, cradling my head, letting my fears dissipate into the mist surrounding the waterfall.

Then we stopped for a moment and looked at each other, still in each others’ arms. “I’m such a silly girl,” I confessed with repentant eyes.

“No,” said John. “You’re not silly at all. Not at all.”

John and I glide down that mountain together, skipping and running down those switchbacks etched into this constant, solid mountain. Our relationship isn’t Daqi Mountain yet, but someday, we will find something just as constant and solid with one another, step by step, switchback by switchback.

Did you ever have an uncomfortable moment (or moments) with your boyfriend or girlfriend? How did you manage to “climb back into love” with them?


Memoirs of a Yangxifu in China is the story of love, cultural understanding and eventual marriage between one American woman from the city and one Chinese man from the countryside. To read the full series to date, visit the Memoirs of a Yangxifu archives.

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8 Replies to “Chapter 15: Climbing Back Into Love With John”

  1. Am I a stalker if I comment on each and every post of yours? I just can’t resist the questions you ask at the end of your posts. 🙂

    Here’s an uncomfortable moment. My husband and I were newlyweds and living on next to nothing. We had just moved to the US and he wasn’t used to driving yet, and got into a very small fender bender that was his fault. When I heard about it, I was worried about the repair costs to the other person’s car – I wasn’t even thinking about repairing our car since there would never be enough money to repair the cosmetic damage. And I was worried about our insurance premiums going up. And I was mad at him for not being more careful, because as a poor young couple we couldn’t afford to have accidents. We just could not afford to be anything but cautious and careful and frugal all the time.

    All the while, I forgot to say, “I’m so glad you’re okay.” I was glad he was okay but I hadn’t said it.

    And it was something he really needed to hear at that moment. The accident had been something of a shock for him and he needed me to be supportive and understanding instead of accusing and angry. He needed me to be with him, not against him.

    I look back on those days and think how much better I am as a partner now, and I owe that to him and the fact that he stayed with me.

    1. Dear Melanie,

      You’re so funny — a stalker! Ha! 😉 You know I love hearing from you, and others, about your experiences.

      I can imagine what a difficult situation that must have been — I have been there in the whole “young and poor” situation. But it really is doubly hard when, say, you’ve just moved to a new country and your husband is trying to adjust to it, on top of everything else. With all of that stress, I think it’s so easy to forget the things you should to — as, in your case, to not say “I’m so glad you’re okay.”

      It’s good to hear I’m not the only one who has had those “accusing and angry” moments, where I behaved the wrong way. But like you, I’m grateful to have a Chinese husband who saw beyond all of that, and could forgive me for my ill behavior.

  2. Jocelyn, this is not the first post I’ve read from your blog and it will not be the last. Your writing is truly captivating, thank you for sharing such personal and tender things with all of us, you’re beautiful!

    1. Dear Liz,

      Wow! I am so excited to hear from you — I didn’t know you were reading. Your comment really touched me. I’m so glad you enjoy my writing.

      Offline, we’ll have to catch up sometime. Miss you!

  3. Hah, we have to take a bus like that to get back to my husband’s home village. Luckily by the time we started dating I’d been on many such bus rides (I’m an off the beaten track sort of person) so it wasn’t that jarring. The view on the way is really pretty too.

    I think I mentioned before that the first fight I ever had with my husband was when I somewhat foolishly got into an argument with him about the Japanese. My husband’s dad fought in the war, he’s a big history buff, he knows his stuff, and he has a strong dislike of Japan. Of course me being a huge liberal and a big fan of multiculturalism and all that good stuff, had to start a “but not ALL Japanese people are bad” thing with him. Which is, of course, true. But I think at that point I didn’t quite get the Chinese hatred for Japan, just how strongly they feel, how it really, to lots of people, isn’t just propaganda, but their actual family history that makes them feel this way.

    We made up, of course, although I can’t remember exactly how. Later on my husband met some Japanese people, friends of mine, and came to the conclusion on his own that Japanese people aren’t all bad, which was better anyhow, because he didn’t just have to take my word for it. Nowadays he’ll say that he still hates Japan as a country but doesn’t have anything against individual Japanese people, which is about as much as I can ask for.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Jessica!

      Interesting you mention your argument about Japan with your husband — because I’ve been there myself. Same scenario, that me, from the multicultural point of view, tried to argue that there are some good Japanese, and he wouldn’t have it! Boy did we have an explosive argument over it! And, like yourself, later on he was willing to admit that individuals from Japan weren’t so bad — it did help that my aunt is the daughter of Japanese immigrants who were interned during WWII (it definitely gave him another perspective on the Japanese people).

      Though, he still loves anti-Japan movies (抗日片) and, like your husband, feels an aversion to the country, as a whole.

  4. This is really great writing. And it expresses a lot of the conflicts me and my boyfriend encounter. Its difficult, because I too am sensitive, insecure, emotional and passionate. And there couldnt be a more stoic and calm man than my boyfriend. In most of our time together, we underwent strain because of career concerns in a foreign country and then the sudden demise of this father. Thats a lot for the already sensitive, impatient me. It has made us bicker more than once in a while.

    However, my bf thankfully isn’t as rattled by my sensitivity and there are moments, such as the one you described on the mountain, when we just come around and face each other as we are.

    We are friends with another east asian couple, whose silent chemistry and totally calm relationship always made me feel that maybe my boyfriend was loosing out on that peace and calm being with someone like me, who was more hotheaded. Calm and stable as he is, I used to think he would be happier with someone less temperamental. But every time we make up and realize that we ll conquer this simply because we love each other, I also realize that relationships are something you build and they rarely come pre packaged to look stable and perfect. And that keeps both of us together despite terrible fights.

    I am sure there are many more such mountains that we need to climb, but hopefully we’ll get there too.. together. 🙂

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