One day early that Year of the Snake (2013), we had chosen to get away from the daily grind and our bosses in Chengdu. We journeyed to the Jiuzhai Valley for the Ice Waterfall Festival somewhere over in the Tibetan regions of northwestern Sichuan Province.
Every Chinese New Year, the folk of that area make pilgrimage and wind their way counterclockwise around a peak sacred to the Tibetans. Long ago there was a peak named after the God of Many Mountains whose aid gave two lovers fighting the depredations of a demonic interloper a chance at living happily ever after.Â People now call this peak Mount Zhayizhaga. At its feet snaked and gurgled a river along its jagged and pine-clad roots. Pebble and stone islands polished by river, ice and rock laid scattered like archipelagoes pointing seaward from the stony shores.
It was on one of these ancient isles in the Emerald River beneath Zhayizhaga that called me to bring Shun there, bring her there, bring her hand to mine, bring her to ponder a life with me.
That question had been on my mind since last spring. I had intended to ask her for over a year, and had been planning it since early in the Year of the Dragon (2012). But I had been waiting for the right auspicious moment since early autumn. The moment by definition was a time and space that would be sacred to us. There was only one place in Chengdu that could fit that criterion. That place was the Lily Pond near the East Gate of Sichuan University where we first hung out as friends â€“ the day we met when she was sent to meet me at the airport by the university and the first woman, indeed the first person, I met in Chengdu.
But I felt that we would always have that Lily Pond in our hearts.
What we needed was a place that was extraordinary â€“ more extraordinary than that place where we had our first real conversation. And by â€œextraordinary,â€ I mean â€œFairyland on Earth,â€ or perhaps â€œNine Villages Valley.â€
It just so happens many legends and tales have been told by the Chinese and Old China Hands alike about just such a place where I could finally ask Shun this question. When finally we had an opportunity to get out of Chengdu and go somewhere deemed sacred and wondrous enough I made sure we had a baby sitter for our calico cat Grendel, a couple of recharged Kindles, and a little velvet box hidden under a pile of thermal underwear and arctic survival gear inside my backpack.
There we were on a stony isle in the Emerald River.
Shun was pulled close to me and I asked her to come to my island. While she had no idea what I was about to ask, our friends moved along the eastern bank where fluttered Tibetan prayer flags. Self-conscious we felt as we held each other, our friendsâ€™ eyes and the mountains and the gods and the multiuniverse itself all gazing at us and stamping their feet impatiently as Shun finally decided whether to believe me or not.
Our river trickled onwards to the Minjiang and then on to Yangtze and finally out to the Pacific Ocean.
She said yes. There were no more questions that day.