With love letters in our arms

  • Colours of China
  • Monday, 13 Nov 2017

In their golden years, couples who have written to each other will have a treasure trove of memories. 

I HAVE a box in which I keep all the letters and birthday cards received from my mother, schoolmates and friends. Most of them are from my pen pals.

Making friends via letters was popular among my classmates during my school days and even magazines had columns for pen pals where people posted their names, ages, hobbies and mailing addresses, just like strangers getting to know each other through cyberspace now.

I had two pen pals that I communicated with for years. One, a Malaysian, has become a friend after we met in person when he came to Kuala Lumpur to work.

The other was a prisoner from Hong Kong, with whom I have lost contact after his release.

Once in a while when I spring clean, I read through those letters one by one. Looking at their handwriting, going through the lines and letting memories flow in my mind gives me a warm feeling.

I don’t remember when I last wrote a letter and placed it in an envelope with a line that said “Thank you, postman” in the corner.

But 79-year-old Xia Guilan from Nanjing city still does. Recently, a letter she wrote to her husband Wang Zhen, 83, touched the hearts of many Chinese social media users.

It begins like this: “Hello Zhen, do you still remember? It was May 15, 1956, the first day I attended work, when you wrote me your first letter. You are four years older than me. You cared for me like a brother cares for his sister. I was very happy, knowing that this little handsome brother was so good and it was worth holding his hands my entire life...

“My dream now is to hold your hands through our 80s, 90s and even 100s. By then, we will sit next to each other on the bench, listen to music and chit-chat.... You and I will grow old gradually, until we can’t go anywhere. With the love letters in our arms, we will sit on the rocking chair, under the sun, and chat slowly.”

The one-and-a-half-page letter recorded the details of their lives, from when they met, fell in love and started a family.

Wang wrote his first letter on the flyleaf of a notebook as a form of encouragement when Xia first stepped into the working world. He also drew some patterns, two joining hearts and a shining star at the back.

“I still feel very sweet when I read it now,” Xia told Modern Express.

Xia’s letter was first read out by her close friend at a community gathering of their housing estate and it soon became the talk of the neighbourhood, as did the couple’s love story.

The pair, who were neighbours, met at the wedding of Wang’s brother in 1955 and they fell in love at first sight. “She was very beautiful,” Wang recalled, smiling.

Soon after their wedding the following year, Wang, who was a soldier, was transferred to Nanjing while Xia remained at their hometown in Yangzhou about 100km away.

That was back when transportation was very backward and there was no Internet or cellphones. Even electricity was a luxury. Writing was the only tool of communication the couple had.

They exchanged letters weekly. In the nearly seven years they spent apart, the couple wrote hundreds of letters to each other, including more than 300 from Wang.

“Although we don’t do this anymore, I decided to give him a surprise by writing him a letter again. It took me a few days to finish,” said Xia.

Apart from the letters, the couple also kept a pair of brand new cloth shoes for decades. They were handmade for Wang in 1957, but he had never worn them.

“A single needle and a single thread, stitch by stitch, it is full of her love for me. I can’t wear and damage it,” explained Wang.

“He knew I loved seeing movies. Every time he came home from Nanjing, he asked me to go to the cinema while he volunteered to take care of the children and complete the house chores,” said Xia.

The couple have never run out of words when praising each other and complimenting their contributions to the family.

In September, Zhang Liansheng, 90, was found wandering on the streets of Dalian in the northeast Liaoning province.

The only things in his pocket were a letter he wrote to his late wife 40 years ago and her cremation certificate issued in 2000.

The retired engineer could not remember his name or where his home was. All he remembered was his beloved wife.

In August, a 92-year-old man lost his way after leaving home to look for his wife, worried as she had not returned home for hours.

When police attempted to send him home, he refused and insisted that he must find his wife.

After they reunited, he said “I love you” to his sweetheart of 60 years.

The love of these couples for each other is even more precious in today’s world, when divorce is rampant.

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Opinion , Beh Yuen Hui , columnist


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