Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Come Be My Valentine

In a very traditional Foochow community in those days, most youthful boys and girls would not be too romantically minded because they were "drilled" to be studious, hardworking and prepared to work hard to make a fortune. When a boy reached his puberty, his father would be the first one to tell him to earn enough money so that he could get married. And to his daughter he would say harshly,"Behave well or we will arrange a marriage for you and marry you off young. This is to guarrantee you a bowl of rice every day for the rest of your life!"

Those of us who went to English school studied Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens and perhaps came home to dream good dreams. But we could not break out of the social norms of the day. Perhaps girls who went to Chinese schools were different as they would have been inculcated with very strong Chinese Confucian teaching and remain very conservative.

In school, we followed the older girls around picking the red beans fallen from the tropical trees in the school garden, calling them Xiang Si Dou, or Memory Beans. We collected bottles of them. Some times we made beautiful crafts out of them. But unfortunately, many of us Bad Fate girls,could not claim any boy as our Valentine. Sigh....

In those long ago days we young girls would have discussion groups whenever we were free. In one of our discussions,we concluded that we could divide girls into two groups. Girls who were pretty and were "booked early" by nice young guys from well to do families and they would probably have a romantic life. And perhaps they were lucky enough to live happily ever after. These were the "Good Fate Women".

The other group of girls were the "Bad Fate Women", those who had dreams but had them broken shortly, or even their hearts broken by unlikely boys who went away and never came back to Sibu. There were those who got married but were left by their philandering husbands after some years. Some also never got married because they were disappointed. These would be the Dai Yu of the Dream of the Red Chamber or Hong Lou Mun. It is always very sad to be Dai Yu in any drama or in real life.

I include here a poem by Pao Yu when he was separated from the love of his life, Dai Yu:

Endless are my tears ,
Tossing the love beans as I yearn for you;
Filling the chambers are spring and willow blossoms
in perpectuity they bloom.
Sleepless at twilight, through the window I stare
Unforgettable they are past and present sorrow.
Delightful cuisines, I desire not;
Looking in the mirror, I see my gaunt reflection.
Those frowning brows, feeling the pain of missing you;
In these endless nights, my world stops turning.
Ah! You are always on my mind,
as inexorable as the distant mountains
As continuous, as the ever clear brilliant flowing streams.

But nothing in our young Asian mind could be better written than the sonnet by Elizabeth Barret Browning.

How do I love thee?

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.
I love thee to the level of every day's
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for right.
I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

-- Elizabeth Barrett Browning

After years of washing dishes which thickened our palms, after years of child bearing which thickened our waist, and after years of toil which allowed wrinkles to creep through our face, if we could still find our valentine in the man we marry, that would be indeed a double bonus.

If not then, when the going gets rough, the tough gets going!! March on, Sisters!!

Happy Valentine's Day. You can be your own Valentine.

2 memories:

Yan said...

A beautiful piece on Valentine!

Happy Valentine's Day to you and yours.

I Am Sarawakiana said...

thank you for your graciousness.

Happy Valentine's day to you and your significant half.


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