Tuesday, August 11, 2009

20th Reunion

I flew back to Chengdu for my high school 20th reunion. Of the 360 students in my graduating class, more than one third showed up. Most I had not seen for 20 years and had a hard time remembering. It was embarrassing but also a source of rapturous laughter once the identities were revealed.

The reunion ran in style. We formally signed in and then were seated in a banquet hall. Three MCs guided us through the long list of agenda items--teachers spoke, student representatives spoke, MCs recited cheesy poems, we watched a video montage of old photos, and every class was asked to perform. The routine resembled so much of our high school annual variety show that it brought melancholy to my grins, for the unruly boys had lost their hairs and gained much weight, and the timid girls had wrinkles crawling next to their lustrous eyes.

Lunch ended in guys endlessly toasting around tables with baiju. A few puked in the bathrooms. Outside of the banquet room, we took endless group photos. Afterwards we broke into smaller rooms for tea. An old friend, a professional musician, played guitar while we sang songs that had long slipped into the “oldies” category at KTV.

Then we went around updating the circle of our past twenty years. Most had become entrepreneurs--selling insurance, selling gold investment, selling real estate, and selling interior decoration for the real estate. Some looked as if having made fortunes, others apparently struggling.

We all said how we missed our high school years--teachers caring, friends loving, and time innocent. David, visiting all the way from the US, said that his life had been down hill ever since high school. Everyone nodded. I felt dizzy from too much alcohol during lunch.

I joined Jason for a smoke outside. Jason and I had been close ever since high school. I had witnessed his many romantic longings and listened to his ups and downs with his ex-wife who had been his college sweet heart. Jason had remarried a year ago and was now expecting his first baby.

“How is Jenny then?” I asked about his ex-wife.

He sighed. His silence surprised me, for he had been open with me about his entangled relationship with Jenny. They were married for 10 years, a seeming perfect couple for as long. Then Jenny pushed him away--she was distant in bed and in life. She said she wanted to be alone. Jason had always wanted to remarry her, if she would ever agree to, even though she could not satisfy him in bed, even though she kept pushing him away.

“A month after I re-married,” Jason finally started, “Jenny committed suicide. She put a…” Jason gestured the shape of a rope around his neck. “She was rushed to the hospital. But she had been up there for too long. It took her several months to wake up. Now she still can't take care of herself. Her hands shake all the time…”

I was shocked mute. Oh Jenny, the pretty Jenny with her smooth long hair.

“She told me that she had been depressed for so long,” Jason continued. “I should have noticed in the latter years of our marriage. Now whenever I visit her she would hit me. She would cry and say it's my fault. What can I do? I'm married now expecting a baby. It is my fault.”

We finished a second cigarette and went back in. Our friends were still reminiscing about the good old days. I sat deep in the couch, nursing my headache from the hangover. The noisy chatters gradually grew tasteless--are we spending so much time dwelling on the good old days so we can get away from the cruel reality that shall be unnamed among old friends? I looked at those faces around me that had grown chubby and sagged. How I longed to talk to them about our present confusions and longings, like we used to. Life had been a lot tougher than we had ever imagined, yet we all conspired to hide our scars in baiju and laughter.

So I left, hoping for another reunion in which we could be younger.