The Fume of Sighs – A tale of love

21 May

In preparation for our upcoming wedding, I’ve been going through some of my old blogs, hoping to trace the path we’ve walked together as a couple. I’ve never written specifically about us before, but that love has always been there, hidden in paragraphs, mentioned in passing. And now I’ve compiled them together, and amazingly, they tell a complete story, from when we first treasured feelings for each other, to our first hug, first kiss, to engagement, and now marriage. Praise the Lord for giving me the inspirations to write, so that memories are preserved on paper even if sometimes they fade in the mind. Praise the Lord for good times and bad, for laughter and tears. Praise the Lord for long-distance, and for waiting. Praise the Lord for the days past and the days to come.

New York~ Christmas~ Atlantic Ocean 2010/12/27

The crashing of the waves bring my thoughts back to the here and now. The water of the Atlantic is dark green in winter. The stormy sky stretches overhead, and the endless clouds reach all the way into the horizon, where heaven meets water. The waves rush towards us from afar, cruel, ruthless, one after another, lapping at the sandy beach. The summers on this beach must be bright and beautiful indeed. It doesn’t take much imagination to picture the cheerful summer sun, the colorful beach umbrellas, and the laughter of young children. But I like what I see now much better, the smothering skies, the foaming waters. This is nature at its best, powerful, rhythmic. I think if given the choice, I can stand here forever, until I fossilize and become one with the rising tide… How can I find words, in Chinese or English, to describe this majestic scene? How can I convey, in words or pictures, the stirrings in my heart? A bit aged, a bit youthful. Somewhat confident, somewhat brave, somewhat wistful, and somewhat relieved. A complex cauldron of emotions that mirrors the roaring sea.

I chatted with Wouter again in the evenings, as has been our habit for several weeks. He really is a very well-read young man. I told him about the wintry Atlantic. I could think of no other word except “lethal” to describe what I’d seen. But he understood. He says he dreams of guiding a boat into the heart of the ocean, or watching the sunset in the middle of the desert. He says he’d very much like to see the aurora from the North Pole. My hands stop momentarily on the keyboard, caught by surprise, and pleasure. It seems that whatever cultural differences there might have been between us, they are blurred by the bond of being young together. But right at this moment, I’m snuggled warmly in two layers of blankets, holding a steaming cup of coffee in my hands. I laugh and tell him none of these adventures lure me now, I’m too comfortable where I am. He sent a hugging teddy bear over Skype. He said, “it’s always fun, talking to you.” Fun? A description at odds with what I’d felt today as I stood staring at the Atlantic, but I accepted it happily anyway. In a sense, I’m glad that for now at least, he sees not the brooding and saddened girl that had wanted to become one with the wintry sea, but the sweet and fun-loving girl that would’ve ran and laughed on the sunlit beach.

My 2010 2010/12/31

Perhaps Wouter is 2010’s last gift to me. We used a whole semester to get to know each other. Thinking back on our lengthy conversations and wildly random topics about culture, language, religion, history, literature, even physics, many a times we’ve talked deep into the night. But when we occasionally touched on music or astronomy, I’d felt my knowledge sadly lacking. Now I’m a little regretful that I hadn’t invested too much time in learning the piano when I was younger. In another week, Wouter will leave for home. It’s very strange. This may well be the first time I’m saying goodbye to someone with the full expectation of never seeing them again. But he’s left me some things, amongst which is a powerful thirst for knowledge. In the new year, I’ll definitely read and study more. Maybe, if we meet again some day in the future, I too, can talk at length about astronomy, music, economy and wherever else our conversations may take us.

The Roman Holiday 2011/1/8

2011 started amidst our conversations. That night in my dreams you were there too. January 1st flew by like a fairy tale. We watched Tron. You bought the tickets and popcorn. The movie was extremely dark and hurt my eyes, and I recall from it one line, “Perfection is unknowable…” Later we made dumplings at home and played some computer games. We sat very very close on the couch, close enough to make me dizzy. You put out an arm and enveloped me in a hug. Quietly, I traced my fingers along the letters on your hoodie. The unsaid words between us seem to rise up and fill the tiny room. Smart as you are, you’ve guessed at the feelings I have for you, feelings I can’t even admit to myself. We stayed locked in the quiet hug for a while before you got up and retrieved the Bible. In a gentle whisper you read from Psalms… Are you using the songs of David to mark this magical moment? Or are you scared, and looking for solace in the words of God? That night, we walked home hand-in-hand under the stars. You pointed a finger at Orion, the hunter in the sky, just like the first night I fell in love with you. Your long graceful finger, warm and comforting embrace, carved themselves into my mind.


The last morning we had together, I rose before the sun, my thoughts racing my feet to your little apartment. On the western horizon, Venus was brightly shining. This too, you’d taught me. You flung open the door before I even had a chance to knock. I knew this had nothing to do with the sixth sense or telepathic abilities. It was you, anxiously waiting. I fried two eggs and you made coffee. Everything proceeded naturally. We didn’t say goodbye, not yet, but the two giant suitcases standing in the living room stung our eyes. Maybe we were too unprepared, or perhaps there were just too many things to do, in our mad rush to the bus stop, we couldn’t snatch a proper moment to say goodbye. I couldn’t let you go just like that, so I trailed you to the airport. At the airport Starbucks, we used a whole semester’s worth of change from the vending machine – a handful of pennies and nickels – to buy a cup of large coffee and two chocolate chip cookies. We agreed that the next morning, when we normally see each other, we’d eat these cookies together, thinking of each other and nothing else. What we did not say was, by then, you’d be on top of the Pacific, miles and miles away…

In the end, farewell became inevitable. We parted ways on top of the escalator. From now on, no matter how hard you stared into your telescope, my loneliness you cannot see. You lowered your lips and pressed a kiss onto my hair. I stood on my toes and returned one. That moment, the winds slowed and the clouds watched…

You said, the God that takes care of you will watch over me, we are not truly parted. You said, after you cross the International Date Line you will live in my tomorrow, and can tell me things of the future. You said, we need not worry because our Heavenly Father has a plan for us. You said, you said, you said…

Everything will be okay…

Dear Wouter 2011-2-8

I wanted so much to tell you, Wouter, that sometimes, we can believe in miracles. Sometimes, we can take the risk. Sometimes, we can and should be able to trust blindly. I wanted you as a partner in this adventure, the ultimate adventure of love and being young. But no matter now. I remember sharing with you, before you left, that very special Bible verse: Love believes all things, bears all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Now all I have to do is abide by it. And pray…

The Happy Glow 2011/7/18

I asked Wouter if happiness can glow. Always a master at answering questions, he says it varies from person to person. But I don’t agree. Sang and Louis are a young couple from Korea and Singapore. I’ve always felt they emanated a quiet happiness wherever they go. People mention them with an admiration bordered on envy, even those who’ve only met them once remember them for a long time. I stood by them after the sermon as they chatted happily with those around them. When someone mentioned that Louis is finishing his degree in Illinois and that no longer would they have to endure a long-distance marriage, everyone commented on his big smile. “You’re just glowing with happiness!” they said. That moment I felt forced to take a step back, to step away from them. Only from afar can I truly absorb this magnificent and glowing scene.


But I think really happy people do glow, from inside out.” I insisted to Wouter. “You mean like fireflies?” He sounds like a child. “Yes, like fireflies.” This summer I’d seen my first fireflies, glittering like stars on the lawns of Purdue, mystical as a summer night’s dream. At the quiet hotel at Cornell where I’d stayed briefly with dad, large numbers of fireflies lingered, appearing and disappearing. They’d looked like city lights seen from the highway.

“Then let me be your firefly. I’ll glow for you.” He laughed.

For this, my heart suddenly shined. It felt so good to remember to shine, to be occasionally filled with irresistible happiness.

China, we must talk 2011/7/26

Had a fight with W today. The first real fight in 7 months. It wasn’t too bad. Just two stubborn and proud people not willing to give in. A huffy silence lasted for about 10 minutes. Not too long, not too short either. In the end we decided to call a truce and drop the sensitive subject. It’s hard enough already, maintaining a long-distance cross-culture relationship, without complicating it even more with political arguments. But behind the truce I’d felt angry and defeated, as if I’d been forced to surrender rights, or give up lands.

My mother thinks the reason for our fight is very silly. Even my little brother found it funny, he kept asking, “Why are you mad at your boyfriend?” Some things one can’t explain properly to a 10-year-old child, so I brushed him off. “He has a dog named Japan. He likes it, I hate it, that’s why.” Jimi was even more confused. “Aren’t you a dog person?” he asks. Truly, I am at a loss for words.

A World Apart 2012/3/25

These 20 days together is an enormous luxury for us. Every moment of every day is luring and precious. Everything we’d dreamed of before, now we piously put into action. The fifteen hour time difference had made easy tasks like having breakfast together almost impossible. But now, every morning when I knock on Wouter’s door, the smell of bacon, eggs, and coffee envelope me along with his hug. During the day we’d walk through campus hand-in-hand. And in the chilly evenings of early spring, we’d make a hot stew, a salad, and open a bottle of wine, then sit on the couch to watch a list of movies that we’d wanted to see together. At night we’d walk back together to my apartment, kissing each other goodbye beneath spring blossoms and the gazing moon. At weekends we’d take advantage of the wonderful weather for a walk along the riverbanks, or sit outside a coffee house with a book in hand, drinking in the warm wind, the chattering birds, and each other’s presence.

The Ends of the Earth 2012/9/9

Life like this needs a levering point. Apart from expectations of starting a great PhD program at one of the best schools, my parents and Wouter make up the sweetest moments of each day. Even though I’d only just returned from visiting them, yet my heart pines for them once more. And ’tis a pining that will ever only cease when next I see them again. I’ve never written much about my relationship with Wouter. I know I’ve been waiting, waiting for this long-distance relationship to blossom into something. Only then, I can feel justified in telling this beautiful story, spreading it for all to admire. But still, I am grateful that in these lonely times in my early twenties, there is a someone who faithfully stands guard at the other end of the computer, waiting to exchange details of life and words of comfort. And it is the same someone that has scaled mountains and oceans for me for just a mere 10 days of closeness. Two years ago, he’d burst onto stage like an exploding water balloon, casting unimaginable colors into my life; and now he’s stayed on stage like a gentle guardian, sending ripples of comfort into the pond of time.

Up to this day, I cannot understand what prompted Wang Bo to write “a bosom friend is a near neighbor forever, whether you go to the earth end or wherever”. To me, the earth’s end is literally, the end of the earth. It is a distance as far as the skies and a posture as stark as a cliff. And as I stand, balancing on this cliff, I feel tempted to look back on the broken bits of my soul that have littered the path leading up to this point, I want to quiet down and truly feel this loneliness that, like a chrysalis, squeezes yet protects, and like a hard shell, cuts yet perfects.

To My Future Self 2012/10/7

I’ve heard people say that love and art are both physical endeavors. Then if I could always find the time to doodle with words and play with thoughts, if I could always find the to maintain a relationship and believe in love, I must be a very strong person indeed. Thinking and longing for someone is very tiring, but it’s a tiredness that blossoms and fulfills the soul; putting words on paper is also very tiring, but it’s a tiredness that heals and comforts the spirit. This long and arduous waiting has not blurred my initial dreams, nor has it broken the essence of my character, but instead, it has awakened and sharpened me even more. I have suddenly realized that my biggest fear is not change, nor is it uncertainty. What terrifies me the most is loss of sensitivity. If there comes a day when I can no longer perceive sharply and write sensitively, if there comes a time when I have no thoughts to spare for faith, future, emotions, then I would have truly lost myself in this melting pot of a world.

Dear future self, if by some chance you read this again, I hope you’re writing away in a snug coffee shop on a rainy afternoon 🙂

Airports 2013/2/19

If Beijing airport symbolizes family and friendship, then Indianapolis is the airport of love and dreams. Having rushed through it time and time again, headed towards Cornell, UPenn, Washington St. Louis, San Diego… It holds promises of what is to be. And on that afternoon, upon return from Cornell, while I sat and waited for Wouterto come, after 10 months apart, I felt restless and uneasy. The anticipation building and building, about to explode, turning the blood flow faster, yet turning the hands colder. I was excited, so excited, but also nervous. What should I say? What should I do? Do I hug him? Or wait for him to hug me? Will he be taller than I remember? Tired? Dashing? Do I look too travel-worn? Too flushed? Question upon question, rushing through my mind, and disappearing the second he came walking out of the terminal. Then the hug, like two halves made whole. It seemed stupid pondering about it before, dwelling on something so natural. And then down to baggage claim, up the escalators to ground transportation, and to times of sweetness and magic.

But of course, all good things come to an end, and it is this airport that witnesses our goodbyes. We’ve said goodbye with coffee and cookies, with roses, and with tears. Whispered promises, futile efforts willing the time to slow, drawing strength from the good times passed and the good times to come. The hands hold and hold ‘til there is nothing more to hold onto, and then the mind plunges into emptiness. An abyss. A dark hole, that is both in the heart and in the stomach. One that can’t be shared, or filled, or healed. And then a mindless blunder back, hardly taking in anything, keeping a tight hold on the phone until that too, becomes silent. And now back to normal living. A normalcy that seems both mundane and tasteless.

The Waiting Place 2013-12-2

Sometimes I’d wonder if I’d have had the courage to start this relationship if I’d known there’d be so much waiting. I believe the word “wait” means something different to a man and a woman. A man thinks of the passing of seasons, the stretching of time, and they rejoice in a certain glorious promise that there is going to be, despite all difficulties, an end. Surely that’s what the word “wait” implies, that there is something we are waiting for. And if we’re patient enough, and good enough, in the end that “something” will break forth in all its magnificent beauty and the persevering waiter is rewarded. But to a woman, “waiting” is not that simple. In fact, it is pure agony. The process is dark and stormy and filled with uncertainties and concerns. It chisels away at the soul. The heart isn’t broken, not exactly. It’s nothing as neat as snapping the heart in half, because love, and waiting, was never only about hearts anyway. It’s also about mind and lungs and guts. It’s the thoughts that can’t be controlled, the constriction of air when a familiar shape is in sight, and the wrenching of the guts when realization hits that it was all imagined after all. We get it from generations of mothers who have sat on the doorstep and waited for their sons, from generations of wives who busied themselves with the present while their minds wandered afar… Women can endure waiting all right. It seems to be their divine gift, and also their divine punishment.

To 21-year-old Us 2014-8-5

Dear Sophie and Wouter,

Happy Qixi! You won’t believe this, but guess what?! We got engaged!! I wanted so much to share this news with you the moment it happened. But we’ve been busy with traveling and work, and it’s been hard to find time. Now I can finally sit down with a cup of latte and tell you the tale 🙂

Now… Where to start? I can’t begin to describe how thrilled I am. But I bet you aren’t surprised at all! In fact, clever as you both are, you probably were expecting something like this to happen, right? After all, you were the ones that encouraged us to stay together and to push onwards when circumstances had been very unfavorable indeed. Now that I think about it, I am amazed by how daring you are. I’m ashamed to admit that even though I’m 3 years older, I am much more materialistic, much more cautious, and much more skilled at calculating risks and benefits, and would therefore have retreated where you’d have charged.

I think one of the golden things about a long-distance relationship is that it teaches us to live by hope. Goodbyes can be painful, and in the weeks immediately following a painful goodbye (like right now) the next reunion can seem very very far away. Six months comprises of an astronomical number of hours and seconds, and each one of them dark and unfriendly. The mundane and insignificant daily labors seem not only uninviting, but practically torturing, after glorious weeks spent in each other’s presence. And yet, time after time, improbable figures like “4 months” became next month, next week, in 2 days… Such a delight, as CS Lewis puts it, “that tingled down the spine and troubled the belly and at moments went near to stopping the breath.” And finally, oh finally, the tight embrace, the warmth and closeness! I think the sudden joy of that moment is on a similar scale of entering Paradise. At least that is what it appears to be now to an imagination limited by the flesh. Such a life is lived off faith, a trust that we will stay true to each other until next time, an unshaking belief that there is a next time, because we will work for it, and wait for it, and rejoice in it. And because such a relationship feeds so much off hope and faith, in bringing us closer to each other it also brings us closer to God, who has, again and again, stressed the importance of these virtues. And it is this, being cuddled together in the palm of God, more than anything else, that has kept us strong and courageous. A different kind of courage than the one you started with, the kind driven by passionate love, but a clearer, better, longer-lasting one.

Love’s Testimony 2015/4/8

Thank the Lord for what we’ve been through. The trials that have caused us much heartache and tears are now treasures we look back upon. If not for them, how would we have learned patience, hope, faith and love? God is faithful, all we have to do is lean in closer to Him. And when we’re both in His embrace, we are one body that nothing can separate.

Note: Some passages, if not most, were translated from my Chinese blog. I’m afraid some of the wistfulness and beauty have been lost in the translation, though I tried to preserve it the best I could. Also, the Chinese blogs were written over a course of 4 years, while the English translation took but 4 days. The subtle changes in tone and attitude as one grows from 21 to 25 is also, sadly lost.puzzle

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Posted by on May 21, 2015 in Uncategorized


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