Ahh…All the wrestling with the last troublesome title was almost worth it to see this blog pair up with this one, even if their posts are separated by a month. But this title is only in reference to the subject matter and not so much the style or content of this particular blog, the following words are the just stories behind the sentimental projects.
If I may begin with a jump all the way back to the very end of January when I was struck with a bit of inspiration. Valentines Day 2013 was fast approaching and this would be the first one Rae and I spent together, which put a little added pressure to do something memorable. In 2011 we knew each other, but then we were just student & teacher; in 2012 I was hanging out in wintry Wuxi while Rae lounged in sunny Sydney; finally, in 2013 we could share the special day together meaning there was no excuse for being unromantic. But I was unemployed, which makes any gift giving a lot more challenging and even more so when prices are exorbitant (a card with NO words on the inside was something like $6.50!!). The one thing I did have, though, was time so I decided I would call on my creativity rather than reach for my very slim wallet. And on January 30, I dreamt up a simple, yet rather ambitious project: turn the message “Ryan loves Rae” into a picture.
A common early step in any creative project is to obscure the message so instead of using Ryan & Rae, I used our nicknames, Panda and Pumpkin (or in Chinese 小熊猫 and大南瓜). Now bend, twist, and stretch those Chinese characters into the pictures they represent, draw that picture, slap a heart in between and voila. Easy right?!
So easiest assignment was turning the character for love, 爱, into a heart. It was a semi-obvious, but uncomplicated way to resolve the first of three character-to-picture transitions and I knew bigger, more time-consuming challenges lay ahead. The second transition, 大南瓜 into a pumpkin, was actually quite easy, too, but a little less obvious; the 大 becomes the stem and then stretch and curve 南瓜 into the circular pumpkin…simple enough! But as straightforward as those first two were, the panda was correspondingly difficult. So much rigidity in all the strokes to create the characters and rather than expanding into a simple circle, I’d have to arrange everything to resemble the head and four legs of an iconic animal!
A white board and many rough sketches later (and about 2 days of tinkering) and I was ready to make the official drawings on paper. After that stage, I had to redraw it using colored pencils (gotta keep the lines clean and professional looking) and then commence the coloring. These phases took just a few sentences to write, but for a perfectionist with time on his hands this project quickly became my full-time job, at least during the hours Rae was at work. When she returned, I had to try to deflect questions about my crawling productivity on the job front and deal with those repercussions. Most of the mild criticism and disappointment could be absorbed knowing the romantic gesture that was the cause, but it was not always fun.
Once the Panda, Heart, and Pumpkin were drawn and colored to my liking, I then scanned them into the computer and spent another lifetime deliberating on how to arrange them and what size/shape of paper to use (I even consider incorporating “snake year” (in Chinese characters, of course) into the picture, which added another handful of hours playing around with different ways to implement that. With all the decisions made and artwork complete, my stress levels began to drop…so I tackled another final touch. “Inscribing” two semi-hidden messages into the border of the picture: one in English, one in Chinese. Getting the spacing right in the computer was actually quite a challenge, NOT helped by perfectionism, but that mission could only start after perfectly long, suitably romantic statements could be written. If you don’t understand all the details or feel my frustration, I am not doing a good job because this was a massively long, time-consuming, involved project.
True that this was a labor of love, or it started that way; it was probably sometime around the 50-hour mark that my perfectionism really started to inject more feelings or annoyance and rage. By 75 hours (only unofficial time estimates, btw) my perfectionism had an iron grip on me and I found myself miles away from that loving, serene place where the whole idea had started. But, at last, it was done. Here’s a few photos to try to visually show you the effort that went into the art.
On top of this elaborate picture, I also made another piece of art. This comparatively simple project was not without its own difficulties, though. Thankfully, I had a collected the shells long ago over multiple beach visits; all smaller in shape and specially selected for their hole perfectly centered in the bottom of the shell. That meant all I needed to do was 1) put them in descending order of size, 2) select for best color progression, 3) then write some Chinese characters on the inside, 4) double knot some thread onto the shell, and finally 5) double knot the shell onto the main, vertical thread. Completed merely a few perfectionist-driven, frustrating hours later, this gift never strayed TOO far from its original, sweet origin.
On top of those two handmade projects I also bought a piece of cake; there was absolutely no time to make my own one at this advanced stage, unemployed or not. I literally ran to the store, bought a slice of cheesecake, but couldn’t leave it untouched so I “arted” that up by drawing a little heart on the top using a needle, then soaked a red Skittle in a splash of water to get some home-made dye, and colored in the heart.
Before I could deliver ANY of that, though, I went to meet Rae in the late afternoon after she finished work. After all, she had to prepare a gift too and that was her request that I join her in the city. Her present was a whole evening instead of just physical item. After a quick walk through the campus to see how the University got into the romantic spirit, the gift officially started. She recreated our very first date from March 1st, 2011, which was walking down Glebe Point Rd all the way to the inner bays of Sydney Harbor. The beer we picked up on the way provided refreshment on the warm, late afternoon once we reached the water’s edge and the alcohol complimented the view nicely. After a good sit, we headed back to the Thai restaurant we first dined at together. This 2013 version of the restaurant wasn’t quite as good as I remember (too spicy!). For dessert, we made a quick stop for a sweet drink; knowing I had the cheesecake waiting at home encouraged me to dissuade us from splurging on something more expensive or substantial. Following the sweet cap to our spicy dinner left the schedule perfectly timed so just as we were enjoying a pleasant, evening stroll down the block we “randomly” popped into an herbal, new-age, hippy-type store…and walked into our massage appointment!
If all of that was Valentine’s Day… what on Earth would I do for the encore of our 2-year anniversary, which was just around the corner on March 1st?! Of course I was still unemployed at that time as well, but I was focusing more time and energy on the job search and I was still emotional and romantically spent from the exertion of all the Valentine’s Day projects. I only started floating some ideas in my head the last week of February and eventually decided on a little “buried treasure” theme…but had VERY little time before our special date on the coming Friday.
This 11th-hour plan started by drinking some sparkling water we’ve had stashed in our cabinet forever in order to get a semi-classy, glass bottle (it was quicker and cheaper than downing a bottle of wine). During the week I had worked on creating the “treasure,” which was poem called, “Two years…today,” which talked about the beginning of our relationship, where it had grown to two years later, and had a few timely pictures in between (clever title, huh?). But the bottle and poem is all I had by Friday morning leaving a fair chunk of the whole thing until the last-minute.
Finalizing the other 55% of my present on the last day suddenly became even more difficult because Rae had actually chosen to take that Friday off meaning her presence would make it rather challenging to write another poem and sneak away, unnoticed from our small apartment to bury the treasure!!! Thankfully, she too had to work on her gift so at least I could compose a decent, rhyming poem that would served as cryptic directions (I even had time to artistically tear the edge of that poem and tie a little string around it to add to the ambiance of the whole present).
On the morning of March 1st, our 2-year dating anniversary, we casually woke…and then spent the afternoon not really talking to or seeing each while we both toiled away, in separate rooms. How romantic!! At some point, I claimed I needed to go to the store, then promptly raced there to buy some proof of my errand, but by-passed home to make a quick stop at the beach to bury the bottle and poem. Falling rain, pushed sideways by whipping winds on the beach were not exactly welcome companions for burying something, but they literally covered my tracks and did so exceptionally well.
By late afternoon, we both were finished with our pseudo-secret projects. We had always intended to walk to our reservations at the beachside restaurant so we could enjoy some wine and the incessant rain seemingly knew of, and respected, our outdoor plans and stopped for the first time in days. As we dodged some massive puddles and small ponds along the walk, we relished the warm, rain-free autumn air on the 15-minute walk to dinner.
The food was reasonably priced for Sydney and actually quite excellent; I still remember I was very happy with my sampler platter. The bottle of wine we brought was made by a Pfeiffer (Jennifer Pfeiffer, actually, not that we know anything about her, but we both enjoyed the connection). On this occasion, it was my gift that was given first while we out of the apartment. When Rae came back from the restroom, there was a little scroll of paper, neatly tied with some string, awaiting her. She unfurled the message and read the poem, but needed a little extra assurance from me to get her out of the rest on the treasure hunt.
After the lovely walk home, I opened another bottle of wine while Rae unfolded the ironing board; not because she irons, but that would serve as her presentation table for delivering her gift. With a carefully selected playlist as background music, Rae proceeded to deliver 88 reasons why we should be together forever. The actual list was not exactly as advertised, but the thought behind each reason perk was very sweet. Roughly an hour after the presentation started we reached the 88th, and final, reason. BUT, there was an epilogue to the 88 reasons and it was a more interactive, “chose-your-own-adventure” type production, but we’ll hold off on detailng that for a little while.
March 1st was coming to a close and so too were the first 2 years of our relationship. A non-so-typical two years, with my traveling getting in the way and making things more difficult…but at the end of those 24 months and the distance long having been reduced to zero, we seemed to be quite happy and looking forward to more memorable times together….romantic and otherwise.