We started as pen pals, in those pre-digital days. She was learning English and I wanted to know more about her culture. Happy with the anticipation of waiting weeks for the next letter, our symbiotic relationship continued by post for many years before we gave in to technological immediacy. My invitation to visit her last year, speedily accepted, was an unexpected pleasure.
We met on the arched bridge of East Lake Park next to her apartment, testing out our familiarity in a hug of greeting. The passage of years since our early exchange of photographs showed in our faces, but didn’t matter, as we chatted about old times as if shared in person. In that cold February, the snow hung heavy on the spindly branches, but both tourists and locals had flocked in for the Plum Blossom Festival. I was entranced by the hundreds of varieties, from the palest pink to a deep red that stood out boldly against the white of the snow and the magical mist that enveloped us.
We did the rest of the tourist trail of course, climbing up Yellow Crane Tower, visiting the museums and Guiyan Temple, plus malls by day and the markets of Jianghan Street by night. My most lasting memory, though, was looking out each day from Wang Li’s apartment, taking in the sweeping views of the lake when clear, or the atmospheric suffocation of the nearby blossom trees that peeped out of any lingering mist.
This year the emails tell a different story. It is many days since Wang Li went out. In her city the ghostly emptiness of the roads and malls, peopled only by masked men with spray gun washers, belies the frantic activity going on behind the doors of pop-up hospital wards. Figures dehumanised by their alien spacesuits give exhausted makeshift care at row upon row of beds.
It is plum blossom time again now, and behind the closed gates of Wuhan Park, the dark flowers begin to die off, leaving a red smear on the morning frost.
Next year the blossom will come again.
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Carrie OLeary
Carrie OLeary(@carrie-oleary)
2 years ago

This brings back memories for me. I started writing to a ‘penpal’, the snail-mail method, back in the eighties. We’ve progressed to digital too. Your story is beautifully descriptive and is a reminder of the many wonderful things that have bypassed us this year due to Covid. Great stuff

musing mind
musing mind(@musing-mind)
2 years ago

I got flutters in my stomach reading your story. Completely relatable. Pen pals have become the things of past now. I hope next year’s blossom will bring happiness again and masks will vanish.

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Sandra James
Sandra James(@sandra-james)
2 years ago

I love the last sentence – so much hope. Thank you for a beautiful story!

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Fuji
Fuji(@fuji)
1 year ago

Susan, this story is doubly sad reading it today. The listing says you wrote it in February 2019, which was before most of us knew anything about wearing masks, overflowing hospitals, and exhausted makeshift care. Today is almost 10 months later, and we’re all still mostly caught in this unending story. Your story is so well-written and poignant; I will remember it long after the virus itself is conquered. Soon, please, soon!

Lotchie Carmelo
Lotchie Carmelo(@lotchie-carmelo)
1 year ago

It is already 1 year and 45 days since you wrote this story. And the wearing of facemasks and face shields is still required here in the Philippines. We are growing in many cases each day. I love the last sentence of your story – very hopeful. I am also hoping that this pandemic will end soon.

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