The West Lake, framed by a glittering night sky and the willow tendrils hanging over our bench, could probably turn any young couple into lovers on such an evening. Especially this Western woman and Chinese man sitting beside its taciturn waters, watching the bats dip and sway to catch mosquitoes to the tune of the humming cicadas in the trees and bushes.
The shroud of night is like a blanket around us, giving us warmth and protection to take the next step, as we sit on a bench along the Su Causeway. We still live in a China where our presence together — as lovers — is a spectacle. But in the forgiving crepuscular light, no one can see that I am a Western woman and he is a Chinese man. For once, we are just another young couple, inexorably inching towards love.
But that does not pacify my mind or heart. I’m not sure anything could on this night, a night that has built up with fervor from the first friendly flirtations John and I had during our trip to Yiwu. A night that has turned me, a young woman who has loved before, into a high school girl on her first date all over again, dressed in a long black flowery skirt and lavender shirt, with a row of tiny clips across my head like a tiara.
This dream night begins with a dream. A Dream of Red Mansions, the Chinese version, which John presents to me in my apartment. “I thought you would want to read it, since you’ve been reading the English version.”Â A Dream of Red Mansions is rife with forbidden adolescent passion in China, the kind that could be a spectacle, like us.
I lift the book up and embrace it. “Oh, thank you, this is wonderful.” I turn to John, standing before me, and I feel the pull towards him, that magnetic energy so palpable between us. I don’t know if I can wait all night, as I lean towards him.
But he does not have the impetuousness that I do — he is used to waiting, and patience, and the joy of something hidden away in your heart. So he turns away, to pull another gift from his bag. It is a CD from Yu Quan, a Mainland China rock group, called Lengku Daodi (Indifferent to the end). Perhaps the indifference of the title balances out the passionate dreams of the book, because we leave my apartment without stealing a kiss too soon.
We head off to a new Buddhist vegetarian restaurant in town, with intimate seating in velvety sofa-like chairs that seem designed to bring young lovers together. John sits next to me, not across from me, as we dine on course after course of decadent vegan delights.
After dinner, John hails a taxi and whisks me off to the Southern entrance to Su Causeway, a thin strip of land that spans the West Lake, lined with willows and benches. I have wandered Su Causeway many times — day, night, dawn, twilight — and in many ways — walking, running, with friends, and without. But I have never stepped upon its banks, only to be transformed — from a mere friend, to a girlfriend.
So here we are, underneath the willow, sitting shoulder to shoulder, trembling before the placid waters of the lake as words elude us. Weeks before, we always had something to say, something to fill the silence during our times together at work — a conversation, an anecdote, a joke. But now words aren’t enough. Love is not a thing that is said, but done. But how to get beyond what is said, and just do something?
I cannot do anything but stumble through words, too nervous to make that first move. It makes no sense. I was the first one to ask John to lunch. I’ve never been afraid to call on John for help or advice at work. Now John has planned an entire evening for me. He would never refuse me. But I cannot be the first one now. My whole being is too electrified by the possibility of love before me — as if I am standing on the top floor of a pagoda, wavering back and forth, just on the cusp of going over the edge, but too overwhelmed by the feeling of vertigo to move forward.
John, however, is not, as he turns to me in a break of silence, as I distract myself with the bats, dipping and swaying before us. “I want to do something historical tonight.”
“Really?” I turn to him, with my chest pounding as precariously as the flight pattern of the bats before us. I sense where this is going.
“I want to kiss you.” He turns to me on the bench, and our lips meet. It is as electrifying as I feel. My heart dips and sways as we both plunge into this new possibility, like bats that suddenly lost their sense, tumbling into the lake instead. We are in love.
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.