And they lived happily ever after

How three couples found their perfect partners and started out on the journey of a lifetime 

As long ago as kindergarten, we would share our snacks with our favorite boy or girl. As adolescents, we watched romantic movies such as “Roman Holiday” or “Romeo and Juliet.” In adulthood, we experienced dating, marriage proposals and a wedding, or break-ups and heartbreaks. Today we bring you three real life stories. Whether you are in a happy relationship or marriage, or a single person recovering from the vicissitudes of love, we hope you can feel recharged and hopeful after reading them. 

Ti Gong

Wu Xiamin and her husband Wang Zhen

‘Love beyond the two of us’

“I attended a wedding ceremony of a former student last Saturday. His father told him: ‘Never forget your Professor Wu, she is the reason for what you have achieved,’” said Wu Xiamin, 81, a Shanghai local and retired professor of mathematics at Shanghai Jiao Tong University.

Back in 2006 word had spread that Wu was helping students from disabled families with their homework and charging no fees. Fang, Saturday’s bridegroom and a Year 12 student back then, was among a group of eight students who visited Wu for tutorial courses on Saturdays.

The boy was recommended to Wu by the Disabled People’s Federation in Jing’an District as his father was disabled. Because Fang was performing poorly in school, he received an extra hour of one-to-one tutoring with Wu.

He went on to attend college and later earned a bachelor’s degree at the School of Continuing Education of Shanghai Jiao Tong University.

Wu engaged in this voluntary work because she felt “it’s her mission to help the disadvantaged groups.”

A victim of polio, which left her with a weak leg, Wu started her free tutoring for students from disabled, poor, or migrant worker families when China resumed its college entrance examination in 1978.

Her husband, Wang Zhen, an expert in modern art history and also a victim of polio, supported his wife wholeheartedly.

“I am a northerner from Shandong Province and am good at making dumplings. I would make dumplings before Saturdays arrived. On Saturdays my wife was so busy tutoring her students, so we ate dumplings to save time. Students who happened to stay at the noon session would eat with us,” Wang said.

Like Fang, many of Wu’s students are now married and busy with their careers.

Ti Gong

Wu Xiamin tutored students during a Spring Festival holiday, with her husband Wang Zhen accompanying her. 

Recalling her young days, Wu said there were no love tokens or fancy wedding ceremonies when she and husband married in 1967.

“That was at the beginning of an era when people acted quite reservedly, unlike nowadays when weddings of all kinds take place,” said Wu.

Both achieved academic success when they were young. Wu earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from East China Normal University in 1960 and Wang gained a bachelor’s degree in law from East China University of Political Science and Law the same year.

Wang began working for the dictionary-compiling department of Zhonghua Book Co after graduation. One of Wu’s uncles happened to know Wang because of his editing work. Appreciating Wang’s diligence and righteousness, he introduced Wang to his niece.

“At first I felt reluctant for both of us were victims of polio, life might be difficult if we two got married. But I was encouraged by almost every friend and relative. And finally I was convinced that we two could help each other,” Wu said.

Over the next 50 years, Wu and Wang did help and encourage each other. Wu would do the housework and occasionally make clothes for the family, whereas Wang would do any manual labor required.

“We went out driving a disabled vehicle. I was very timid, so my husband would start the engine and drive it with me,” said Wu.

“She is a typical Shanghai lady who has no sense of direction. She can only tell left apart from right, but totally confused by east, west, south and north. Therefore, I will guide her always,” Wang added.

On their golden wedding anniversary in 2017, the neighborhood community offered them a visit to a photo studio. Wu and her husband finally had their wedding photos taken.

“I was not accustomed to seeing myself wearing fancy costumes and heavy makeup in the pictures,” said Wu, who, like women in her age, would react by pulling her own leg when talking about love, courtship or marriage.

During the past 40 years, the professor, supported by her husband, reckons to have spent more than 50,000 hours coaching more than 600 students, all without charge.

Wu received the China Charity Award in 2012, and in 2016 Wu’s family received the National Civilized Family Award.

Wu and Wang have a married daughter who was a designer.


Tuanzi Xiaoshi Photo Studio / Ti Gong

Xiao Qing and her daughter take a ride in a hot-air balloon. 

‘Beauty is not just skin deep’

Xiao Qing impressed Zhao Hui somewhat when they met at a freshmen campus party at Tongji University in 2001, but only because of her looks.

“She is beautiful, but I guessed she was merely an eye candy. I had no interest in looks alone,” said 35-year-old Zhao.

The two enrolled at the same grade at the College of Arts and Media, Tongji University, Xiao being a film director major, Zhao majoring in advertising. In Xiao’s sophomore year, she had one semester of painting lessons. Zhao had one semester of the same lessons taught by the same teacher, Professor Bao Feng, in his junior year.

One of the two pieces of student works Bao collected at the end of the semester was crafted by Xiao. The painting was of fish and algae, but in an avant-garde style.

Xiao used layers of transparent paper to paint fish and algae alternatively. Then she put one layer of fish painting upon one layer of algae painting, then another layer of fish painting, until the whole picture looked like a misty pond filled with fish and algae. The theme, according to Xiao, was about both the confusion and aspiration a woman felt in her early 20s.

Xiao’s work was displayed the next year in Zhao’s class, when he finally acknowledged that Xiao’s beauty was not just skin deep. The two dated on November 11, Singles Day, for the first time, three years after their first encounter.

They graduated in June 2005, and registered their marriage in February 2007. A wedding ceremony was postponed till February 2009. There were no cash gift or dowry exchanges between the two families.

“Once the total combined possessions of me and my husband was 47 yuan (US$7.43), that was when we were looking for jobs. Someone asked me why I didn’t marry a Shanghainese (who usually has already had apartment) and make my life easier, and I think I just chose the right person, regardless of where he came from,” said Xiao, 34, who is from Ningbo in Zhejiang Province. Zhao is from Chengdu in Sichuan Province.

At the beginning, Zhao was worried his bride might be a DINK (double income, no kids) kind of woman. For Xiao, having a senior position in the family hierarchy, had felt tired caring for clingy nephews and nieces who never let her out of sight during family get-togethers.

Tuanzi Xiaoshi Photo Studio / Ti Gong

A photo featuring Zhao Hui and his daughter on a visit to Chongming Island. 

The birth of their daughter in December 2009, however, dispelled Zhao’s worries.

Despite a difficult delivery, the 3.6-kilogram baby was healthy.

However, her appetite was a problem. Reluctant to take milk, she even underwent a pediatric massage for anorexia at eight months old. In less than one year, her health indexes dropped from among the top to near the bottom.

“A mother will never forgive herself if her baby undergoes this,” said Xiao. So she dropped her plan to go back to the workplace and became a full-time housewife to care for her daughter. After a year, Xiao had brought her daughter back to the condition of a normal healthy child.

“When one door shuts, another opens,” said Xiao. Having learnt the basics of photography at university, she soon began taking photos of her daughter and recorded her own daily life on her blog. Xiao called herself Tuanzi, or rice dumpling, online.

Gradually her reputation grew and people paid to have Xiao take photos of them and their children. Xiao is now a freelancer photographer based in Shanghai, and Zhao is an expert in advertising operations.

“I am good at making friends with children. Back from each outdoor shoot, almost all of my child customers wished I were their mother and would like to follow me home,” Xiao joked.

The Zhao family have their own snaps of happy moments stored at the online digital album (http://xshiart.lofter.com). A set of pictures featuring a father and daughter outing at a reed pond on Chongming Island immediately catch attention.

“Between wife and husband there had better be the same world view, moral outlook and value system. The two had better grow side by side psychologically. These are two creeds I believe will keep your marriage happy and stable,” said Xiao.

TANG VISION / Ti Gong

Gao Yang and Zhai Zixuan (left) pictured at their wedding ceremony.

‘My husband the hipster dancer’

Dai Kerong, a tenured professor and doctor with Shanghai No. 9 People’s Hospital, received a teenage patient at the Department of Orthopedics 10 years ago.

Zhai Zixuan, then 19 and from north China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, was born with lipomatosis on her left leg. The leg was malformed and twisted due to the tumor.

“I was told by doctors elsewhere that I must undergo amputation, but Dr Dai and his team saved my leg by using 3D printing technology. After several surgical simulations on a printed leg mold, they finally inserted into my knee an artificial joint,” said Zhai, who can now walk with the help of a crutch.

The leg was saved, but her relationship with her boyfriend didn’t survive.

“My former boyfriend did me a favor and accompanied me to the hospital for a recheck. Dr Dai, who saw him for the first time and felt happy for me, held his hand and cried with joy,” Zhai recalled.

On August 8, 2014, Zhai and her boyfriend broke up for good at Hongqiao International Airport, one heading for another country, one weeping bitter tears.

The next day a friend sent Zhai a ticket for a modern dance performance. During the performance, Zhai, wearing heavy makeup to cover her sorrow, met Gao Yang, a professional dancer around Zhai’s age from Xi’an in Shaanxi Province.

“He cut his hair short and had zigzag patterns on both sides of his head. He wore a pair of harem pants with the crotch drooping low to the knees. ‘What a hipster!’ I exclaimed,” Zhai recalled. “But I gradually found out Gao Yang was a young man who would treat you with 10-fold kindness if you just did him a small favor.”

Absent for a performance in Macau, Gao remote-controlled a birthday party after begging friends one by one to hold a celebration for Zhai.

Once when she returned from a home visit, Zhai found Gao waiting for her at Beijing Capital International Airport in a deluge at midnight. The taxi that night from the airport to their accommodation in Beijing cost Gao 500 yuan (US$78.68), almost half his monthly transportation budget.

Their relationship as lovers was established when Zhai visited Thailand as a Chinese language teacher for foreign learners.

A stranger in Thailand in its rainy season, Zhai felt lonely and depressed. “There were geckos crawling on walls and ceilings at my rented house and things didn’t go well,” said Zhai. “Then Gao appeared.”

The contrast between loneliness and companionship delighted Zhai even more. “I never saw her so happy before,” said Gao.

TANG VISION / Ti Gong

AGao Yang makes a speech with his bride Zhai Xixuan by his side.

When he left, Gao handed Zhai a bag containing two raincoats — one large, one medium — for Gao was not sure which size would fit. Zhai was greatly touched.

Later she sent him a video, in which doctor Dai described in detail the condition of Zhai’s leg and showed her lesioned leg.

Gao wanted to be with Zhai on seeing the video for the first time. To make sure his decision was a deeply pondered one, he watched the video repeatedly that day. The next day, May 10, 2015, he told Zhai: “I want to be with you.”

In April this year the couple held a wedding ceremony in Shanghai in spite of the fact both of them came from the north.

“I have stayed in Shanghai for five years in total, undergoing four operations,” said Zhai.

“We want to thank hospital staff and friends in Shanghai who once treated Zixuan so nicely,” said Gao.

Dr Dai, who always hoped Zhai could get married and be happy, was the witness for the couple at their wedding ceremony.

“Friends envied us for what they described as ‘true love,’ but you choose and you neglect. Some people choose an affluent material life and neglect true love, whereas for us, we chose the opposite,” said Gao.

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