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Stupid Cupid Revisited by Justin Mitchell

Traditionally, Valentine's Day has brought out insipid banality, and only occasionally true romantic inspiration in me. On the down side, when I was in the United States there were the sheepskin car seat covers I gave my first spouse after 12 years of marriage and a trial separation or two.
Admittedly they didn't exactly spell l-o-v-e, but they were warm, fluffy and had been on sale when I stopped at the auto parts store for fuses on my way home from work on that particular February 14.

"Seat covers!" a female co-worker spat out contemptuously as we compared post-V Day notes on the 15th. "I'd kill my husband. Dead spouse walking! Your marriage must really be on the skids."
Her acumen was remarkable. I was divorced later that year, though I redeemed myself – if not in her eyes, with one who would become No. 2 – with a rare first edition of a childhood book she'd loved for the next Valentine’s Day.

There were some other missteps, though, but now I've found myself single and affectionate again in a country that observes two Valentine's Days – February 14 and July 7 – I’ve also found double trouble; and this year a triple whammy with Chinese New Year also on the 14th.

When I asked advice from a Chinese pal who has experience in affairs of the heart and eagerly observes both western and traditional Chinese holidays – though St Patrick’s Day and Groundhog Day still elude him – I realized that I had a lot more to learn when it came to romance, Chinese style.Take one Chinese woman, mix together with Valentines Day, stir in Chinese New Year, and see what you get.

"I'm thinking of giving her some flowers for Valentine’s Day," I confessed to him over drinks in a small Beijing bar. "What do you think? Flowers are universal, right? Maybe a double bouquet because of New Year?"

"How many flowers?" His tone implied something I didn't want to deal with, like a visit from the Public Security Bureau or a vestigial thumb sprouting suddenly from my abdomen overnight. I decided to briefly ignore the early warning system that began violently whooping within me.

"I don't know. A assorted bouquet of spring flowers, a dozen roses, something like that."

"For a Chinese woman, roses are recommended and the number can be very important," he cautioned.

"Important? Like how much I spend?"

"It's a code," he explained patiently. "If you give three flowers, it means you love her. If you give nine, it means your love will last a long time. If you give 11, it means you love only her. And if you give 99 it means you will love her forever.

"Ninety nine! What's three again?"
"Three is usually from a man who has many girlfriends but cannot spend a lot."

"Is there a number that says, 'I love you a lot but sometimes things change that we can't control, and if they do you can keep the couch and washer and I can keep the DVD player and Sansui speakers?' ''

"Maybe in Hong Kong," he mused. "They are a little more modern. But I have not heard of it here, yet."

"How about 'Things have been great and I hope it lasts forever, and it will if you stop nagging me about my drinking and smoking?'''

"Mmmm. No. Not even in Hong Kong, I think."
New Year was easier. Essentially I was off the hook, I learned when he told me that  it’s not a tradition to give your wife or girlfriend a New Year gift.
Imagine my relief. Then he added something that made my heart soar as I fired up a Marlboro and sipped my scotch: “It’s usually a family get together, so you might give her older male relatives baiju or cigarettes.”
So caught between the haunting memory of seat covers and with no rare first editions of even the Little Red Book in sight, I cautiously sounded out my newest beloved about numbers, flowers and Valentine's Day.

"You know my favorite flower, of course?" she said brightly.

"Ros...I mean, tuli...lilies. Yes. Lilies," I said confidently, as I focused suddenly on the oversized vanity portrait she’d commissioned of her smiling visage amid an atomic explosion-sized bouquet of pink lilies.

"Okay. Yes, just know I believe in forever, not in a number."

"So, I can keep the speakers just in case?"


"Never mind. Forever it is. In February and also in July. Now, another thing. New Year. Why don’t we have a dinner with your older cousin and his family. I’d love to give him some … oh, maybe, a big bottle of Chevas and a carton of cigarettes?

From: Original         Author: Justin Mitchell         Time: 2/11/2010 6:28:36 PM

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