Eloping to Zhuhai



Eloping to Zhuhai


After a whole night of chatting and lovemaking, you got up about ten o’clock the next morning. For a rich brunch, Hua e.hired a driver to take you two to Daoxiang Village, one of the most famous restaurants in Zhuhai. You told her that beginning from today, she should pay whatever cost that might incur out of the funds you had asked your mother to e.transfer to Hua’s WeChat Pay account one day before you left Jingzhou, You had made this special arrangement not only because as a short-term foreign visitor, you couldn’t open any WeChat Pay or Ali Pay accounts in China for your own convenience, but because you didn’t want to “eat soft rice,” a folk catchphrase referring to the shameful practice of a man spending a woman’s money. But the reason you gave Hua was that you didn’t have a cellphone, so you would have much trouble making every payment in cash. More important, if she footed every bill each time you ventured outside, you two would look more like a married couple in public, since people expected wives to be the money-holder in every Chinese household.

            In Daoxiang Village, you had a highly amazing and nutritious “pigeon feast,” namely, five pigeons cooked and served in as many different ways. To most Chinese, pigeons were particularly nourishing and rejuvenating, some even saying “one pigeon equals five chickens.” Though you were quite skeptical about its health effects, you strongly hoped that by eating much pigeon meat or drinking plenty of tonic pigeon soup you could get enough sexual energy to make love with Hua day and night.

            When you returned to her condo suite in Fuhua Square, one of the oldest and wealthiest neighborhood in the city, you played sex on her big sofa rather than took a nap in her bed. To spend your time together in a more meaningful way, Hua proposed to visit Zhuhai Grand Theatre located in a distant small isle, as it was Zhuhai’s internationally renowned landmark, but to avoid running into acquaintances or even relatives while walking closely with you, you two didn’t set off until after supper.

By the time you arrived at Yeli Isle, there had already been quite a lot of local visitors and foreign tourists. Constructed in the shape of two huge seashells, the theatrical complex looked magnificent as all colorful lights began to be turned on. Walking around at a leisurely pace, you were greatly enchanted by the whole dream-like night view. To you, the theatre was a masterful artwork, as unique as beautiful as, if not more than, any other similar architectural buildings in the world, like Sydney Opera House or Canada Place. With its bio-geological connectivity with the South China Sea, the theatre offered a rich symbolic meaning. What kind of pearl could you find if you step inside the shell? you thought aloud.

About half an hour later, Hua led you in a short walk towards the famous Zhuhai Fishing Girl, an 8.7 meter tall granite statue standing at the scenic Fragrant Burner Bay. When you came close to the islet, you saw an elegantly postured girl wearing a gillnet on her shoulders like a fancy shawl, with a large brilliant pearl held high in her hands, with a warm and tender smile on her face as if greeting every guest approaching her. 

“There must be a story or legend about her,” you said.

“You’re telling me! There’re at least three different versions that people have kept telling and retelling here.”

“Just tell me the one you find most intriguing.”

As Hua recounted, the fishing girl is actually the youngest and most beautiful daughter of King Dragon in the vast South China Sea. Tired of her immortal life as a princess in the Dragon Palace, the girl, named Zhu, comes out of the sea with her sisters one day to pay a visit to the human world. Attracted by the songs and laughs from a coastal village, Zhu refuses to return to her heavenly marine world, and soon falls in love with a young fisherman called Hai. Knowing her earthly romance, her admirer Cangjiao, a hornless but scaled dragon in the Dragon Palace, transforms himself into a wounded dwarf and presents himself in a pitiable way to Hai. To take advantage of the fisherman’s kindness, Cangjiao pleads with Hai to treat his faked deadly wound. He tells the young man that all he needs to do is to take off Zhu’s bracelet and grind it into medical powder. This Hai does without hesitancy, but only to realize that his Zhu is to die because the bracelet functions as her talisman. To save Zhu’s life, Hai goes to the wise Elder of Nine Zhou [the ancient name of China], who advises him to go to a dangerous island to find the Life-restoring Grass. After going through all varieties of risks and hardships, Hai eventually finds the grass, which he keeps alive by feeding it with his own blood rather than water until he could use it on his beloved Zhu. When she is recovered from the death spell cast by the evil in Dragon Palace, she happens to find a huge pearl on the beach. To show their gratitude, Zhu, meaning “pearl” in Chinese, and Hai, meaning “sea,” give the pearl to the Elder during the their wedding ceremony.

“What a fascinating and culturally significant love story!” you exclaimed.  

“What makes you say that?” Hua asked.

“Well, for one thing, the story tells us how Zhu and Hai enter into matrimony to form a new life after defeating the evil forces and overcoming all the obstacles. For another, it mysteriously anticipates Zhuhai as a coastal city, a major urban area which has become one of the cleanest, most livable and most beautiful cities in China as the most secular country in the world.”

“Yeah, except that the weather is too hot and humid. We gotta take a shower at least once a day. And without air-conditioning, no one can live here nowadays.”

“That’s true, but no city is perfect, is it?”

While you felt happy for Hua to have been living in Zhuhai for nearly four decades, you were reminded of Rodin’s bronze sculpture Thinker. Though the Chinese sculptor of the Fishing Girl was far less known and influential than his French counterpart, his artwork was just as “thoughtful” or philosophical and immortal. If The Thinker represented the poetic-philosophical tradition in the western culture, the Fishing Girl captured the most fundamental element in Chinese folk culture. You meant to have a detailed discussion with Hua along this line, but she would rather leave the stone pedestal for another long walk along the Lovers’ Road besides the seawall. “It’s too narrow and too crowded here,” she complained.

To prepare for the walk, you bought a bottle of water for each of you, and two ice creams, both for Hua, who had once mentioned that she enjoyed ice cream very much. 

“That’s very sweet of you,” she said. “You still remember this!”

Hearing her appreciative remark, you told her that you remembered everything special about her. For example, her favorite color was purple, her favorite dish was shredded port fried with hot pepper, her favorite actor was Jin Dong, and her favorite fruit was cherries. Interestingly, she and your wife shared many similar tastes, habits and tendencies.

As you walked slowly along, you reached out to hold Hua’s hand in yours, but she shook off your hand. Instead, she locked her arm in yours, in the way young couples did.

“Were you not afraid to be seen by acquaintances now?” you asked.

“Not in such darkness,” Hua replied.

“But why not let me hold your hand?”

“Wouldn’t we stick out like a sore thumb if we just held each other’s hand on this Lovers’ Road?”

“I see. How many times have you walked with a man here?”

“Only two.”

“When was the last time? With whom?”

“Of course with Dan, but that’s more than thirty years ago, when we newly moved to Zhuhai. As this road didn’t exist then, we walked on the seawall instead.”

The fact that you were the only man she had ever walked along this Lovers’ Road in her entire life made you feel not merely smug but fortunate about your extramarital relationship. If you had known that she never really loved you as you had always believed while still working on the Mayuhe Forest Farm, you would never have tried to see her in 2019 after forty two years of separation, nor would you have begun to share with her your life experiences since then. By the same token, if you had never written and let her read the second part of your Last Love Letters, she would never have developed any tender feelings to you, nor would you have written and published so much poetry for her. Without that initial misunderstanding, you wouldn’t even have dared to show any of your most deeply hidden feelings towards her.

“Why not?” Hua asked after she heard your explanation.  

To partly answer Hua’s question, you went on to tell her that by the time you reencountered her in 2019, you had come to terms with yourself in every sense, As a real monk would put it, you were then old enough to gain all the insights into human relationships and see through the entire world of red dust, especially after you did a lot of meditation, retrospection and hard thinking as a Taoist hermit or quasi monk in recent years. Aged 62, you were then not interested in developing a sexual relationship with any woman other than your wife, not to mention making an effort to find a lover or soulmate at the risk of getting hurt emotionally. So conscious of your own sentimentality or vulnerability, you would never have endangered your emotional well-being in an unnecessary or hopeless situation.

“Above all,” you said, “I knew enough not to bring myself bitterness and humiliation, especially when I realized how traditionally-minded you are, and how happy you have been with your matrimony.”

“But now, both of us have lost our moral integrity in old age.”

“To me, this loss is my greatest gain in life.”

“How so?”

“You see, not every human being has a chance to love someone so deeply as I do you; not every human being can enjoy love with all their heart and soul in the way I can; and not every human being has a complete soul to begin with, but I have you to complete mine.”

“You’re sweet talking me again, but I love to hear it anyway.”

“It’s no less than my emotional declaration made on this Lovers’ Road.”

When you got home, Hua insisted on you sleeping in a different room for the night, saying that you needed to take a really good break. Otherwise, you would overdraft whatever was still left over in your sexuality and become really worried about your e.d. problem. “Besides, both of us are too tired for sex after a long walk,” she added.

Before hitting the bed, you took a joint shower with Hua as if to re-enacting what Zhu and Hai would do at the back stage of Zhuhai Grand Theatre.   

Author's note: This story is inspired by Helena Qi Hong ()


 Yuan Changming

Bio: Yuan Changming edits Poetry Pacific with Allen Yuan in Vancouver. Credits include 12 Pushcart nominations for poetry and 2 for fiction besides appearances in Best of the Best Canadian Poetry (2008-17), BestNewPoemsOnline and 2089 other literary outlets worldwide. A poetry judge for Canada's 2021 National Magazine Awards, Yuan began writing and publishing fiction in 2022, his first (hybrid) novel Mabakoola: Paradise Regained forthcoming in 2025. . 

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