We have left our ‘Alma Mater’ for 26 years. In the tunnel of time, we are no longer the hot youths we once were, and we have marched into middle age with greying hair. In our journey through life, our footsteps have spread across the globe, striving continuously, pursuing the height of our career. Although due to our hectic lifestyles, we have not shown a great deal of concern towards one another, the deeply buried affections among us still remain; although we live far apart, across mountains and oceans, our hearts beat together, pinning for a reunion, to express our affections for one another.
Do you remember? In the golden autumn of 1978, our destiny brought us together to the same classroom. We met, got to know one another, through happiness and pain, sharing the same emotions, like siblings. Do you remember, when we graduated, we said our goodbyes, reluctant to separate…
Today, we sincerely invite you to join our 30-year reunion in the beginning of May 2008. Come; let our pulses beat together again. After thirty years of stormy winds and rains, thirty years of striving and hardships, let us go back and find our youths again.
- The 78 Grade English Class, Chongqing University Organising Team
The email of formal invitation arrived, just a month before my scheduled trip to China. I knew it was on the cards, as I had been in contact with Ping, one of the organisers of ‘Chongqing Crew’.
On the early morning of the 2nd of May, the day after we touched down in Chengdu. I dashed downstairs from our thirteen floor hotel room to the lobby, where Gary, Big Liu and Craig were waiting, three young looking middle-aged men, with their casual smart outfits. Craig was the first to approach and gave me a friendly hug: “Great to see you again.”
In return, I gave him a broad smile: “Yes, long time no see.”
The last time I saw him was in the Gold Coast when I visited him in 2001. He had been a close mate at university, first when we were students and then as colleagues in the same department. Life dispatched us to the different parts of the world, he setting off to Oz in 1986. After being a teacher of Chinese to Australian school kids for a number of years, he relocated to Beijing, teaching English to Chinese students, who, presumably, would head overseas, and mostly likely sunny Australia.
Lurking behind him was Gary, a man I had not seen for much longer, precisely since the day we graduated in the summer of 1982. “Come on, give her a hug too,” Craig encouraged him.
Did Craig know the history between Gary and me? Well, not so much history, just a little embarrassing incident which happened when we were both young and innocent. During the days when boys and girls, even mature ones, were not supposed to be too friendly with one another, and banned from dating, Gary had once plucked enough courage to ask me out one evening for a private “chat”. Perhaps to his disappointment and embarrassment, a chaperone came along, trailing us all the way around the Ming Zhu Lake on campus.
The exact conversation was long faded into the deep holes in my memory, except that he had said something along the lines of liking me and if I’d go out with him. Naturally I said no, and I stopped talking to him afterwards. A couple of other classmates indicated similar interest and my reactions were the same. On reflection, I probably reacted too harshly, or perhaps I was just not properly equipped to handle matters of the heart.
Here we were, nearly three decades later, facing each other again, Gary’s face a smiley blush, and mine revealing a tiny weeny bit of unease too. A quick hug, before I was confronted with the big belly of Liu. I looked up.
“Wow,” I said, recovering from the little hiccup earlier. “Gosh. You have been indulging in yummy food, haven’t you?”
Not exactly the smartest greeting to an old mate, but Big Liu didn’t seem to mind. With a shy smile in return, I remembered that he was always the quiet one in any gatherings we used to have. Rumour had it that he once fancied our attractive American teacher Miss Edwards. No one knew for sure.
All that history.
“Now, look at you,” Craig let out a small whistle. “You look wonderful, young and pretty, Jeanie. I like your dress.” He has not spent his years in a western country in vain. He knew how to put a smile on a girl’s face.
No wonder he’s on his third wife. I smiled. He was born in the wrong era, being a lady’s man.
“I think we were really silly in those days,” Craig had said to me, dreamy and reminiscent, when we were sat in his Brisbane home, chewing over our student days. “We didn’t get the chance to experiment with girls. It would have been fun.” He looked pensive, as if some ripe fruit had swung tantalisingly out of his grasp.
“Let’s hurry,” I said, following Big Liu, our designated driver outside the lobby to the car. From the provincial capital of Chengdu to the new metropolis of Chongqing, a three-hour journey with smooth traffic. The three day reunion had officially kicked off the night before, no time to waste.
“Thanks, guys, for delaying your trip for me. I really appreciate that.”
It had been hectic for me, only one day to do my family duty – to visit my Dad’s grave and pay my respects. May he rest in peace! My sister-in-law and my nephew made a special trip to see us and keep John company. I was ‘dumping’ my husband for the reunion in a city 300 kilometres away.
We chatted and laughed our way to Big Liu’s VW “Santana”, one of the most popular cars in China, successful witness to the German’s diligent pioneering efforts in this massive market. Its solid reliability much admired by the Chinese and very well suited to the varying qualities of the Chinese road conditions. It was nigh on indestructible.
“We had it serviced especially for this trip,” Gary pointed it out, “and he is a good driver.”
“He’d better be.” I sounded serious.
Gary was trying to reassure me, following my concerns revealed during our MSN online chatting. From my previous experiences of the erratic nature of Chinese drivers as well as the poor road surface, my fears were quite justified.
“I’ll sit next to him, just to make sure,” I said, jokingly, but somehow I did feel more confident.
We settled in our seats and off we went. After stopping for a quick breakfast, we escaped the city maze some 45 minutes later. Neither maps nor Sat-Nav were used, just relying on the driver’s intuition and the incomplete sign-posting.
“Here we are, the newly opened Highway between Chengdu and Chongqing.” Gary took the role of our unofficial guide. “If we are lucky, we’ll be there in two hours.”
“We’d better,” said Craig, dead serious. “That’s why I wanted us to leave early.”
“You’re not going to miss your lunch.” The quiet man made a rare comment. We all laughed.
We all knew what Craig was thinking: I’ve paid my contribution, and I’ll make damn sure that I don’t miss anything!
To Be Continued