Grandiose dreams can make us miserable

By Hong Liang (China Daily)
Updated: 2006-11-28 11:15

One late afternoon many years ago, my girlfriend and I went to our favourite beach to watch the sunset. The beach was accessible only by a long footpath winding down a steep slope. As usual, it was pretty much deserted when we got there.

The light breeze, gentle waves and soft glow of the setting sun, painting a multi-coloured picture on the vast canvas of the sky, were a perfect backdrop for us to think and talk about our future, which had been troubling us for some time.

We were making very little money then. Buying a house was but a dream. We couldn't even afford the rental deposit to lease a decent apartment. The prospect of us getting married anytime soon seemed dim indeed.

While we were sitting there speechlessly indulging in our self-pity, we heard laughter from a family fishing on the beach with the most elementary of tools fishing lines tied to bamboo rods. The small child screamed in delight when his father made a catch.

The mother, who was about our age, told us that she was a maid at the home of an American banker and her husband was a driver for another expatriate family. They were making a lot less money than us and were living in a tin-roofed shed in an old ghetto nestled in the midst of one of Hong Kong's most exclusive residential enclaves by the sea.

There was not a hint of sadness or discontent in her radiant face when she talked. There was no complaint of hardship in her life. Instead, she was most enthusiastic about telling us how to make a delicious soup from the many small fish they caught that day on the beach.

We knew there and then what we ought to do and got married within a month. I wished I could say we lived happily ever after. But even in divorce, we have never regretted the decision we made that day.

While working in Shanghai, I've heard a lot of complaints from young friends and colleagues that they have been forced to postpone their marriage plans indefinitely because of rising property prices and other costs. It seems that young people in Shanghai, and perhaps in other major cities on the mainland, have bound themselves to certain materialistic preconditions for marriage that are rigid, and sometimes elusive.

I am sure that all couples have some expectations before they get married. We all dream about the little house at the corner of a tree-lined street. It would be nice, too, to hold a wedding reception in the grand ballroom of a five-star hotel, followed by a honeymoon in Hawaii. But these happy thoughts can turn into real nightmares when they are set as conditions for tying the knot.

Hongkongers have become less rigid than before about their marriage plans. The property market meltdown six years after the Asian financial crisis hit in late 1997 brutally brought home the message that a mortgaged apartment, unlike diamonds, may not necessarily be a girl's best friend.

To be sure, long-term planning is a good thing. But when it becomes a source of misery, something about the plan must have gone awry.

The couple I met on the beach that Saturday afternoon many years ago never spoke of their long-term plan. All they talked about were the things they enjoyed doing together.

I have not met them again since. But I think about them from time to time when I'm feeling pensive. They gave me the courage to do one of the best things I've ever done for myself. And I don't even know their names.

(China Daily 11/28/2006 page4)

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