february flowers by fan wu

i'm trying to write this as honestly as possible, and by "this" i don't mean the book (i loved it), but how it made me feel even more distant to where i am and how i am living, and how it rationalised my blooming antipathy towards everything. i picked up this book in my most frequented bookstore in the city where i find myself feeling safest and calmest in because it's the only place (apart from my bedroom), i was anonymous and intact.

i remember how guangzhou was promised to me. i was to spend the summer of 2013 in a small but charming apartment, see the lotuses in linhua mountain, walk through shamian island, maybe fall in love in the process. when alex left for guangzhou, somehow, we lost each other and that's the way it should be. he told me once that, "if there's a city where you'll be fine alone, it's guangzhou." and maybe someday i'll experience it for myself. 

the novel is about an unlikely friendship between ming, 17, virginal and in love with literature and yan, 24, wild and seemingly in love with everything, who meets in a university in guangzhou. their interactions happen mostly in rooftops, where yan smokes and haughtily hands out always lavish and most often harrowing tales of her love affairs, while ming plays violin and fawns over yan. they visit cinemas, buy fine-tailored suits, drink tea, eat dimsum, and take ferry rides across the glittering luahua lake. they are frivolous, beautiful, and romantic.

the book frequently mentions the city and it's illumination, how it lit up, how it burnt, how they reacted under the scrutiny of light and explored the darkness. i thought about how differently we become when we are under lights. in light, we are overwhelmed by it, by the flaws it exposes. in darkness, we are somehow more courageous, we take steps that we didn't know was offered. in light, we bathe and in darkness, we submerge.

"we had power failures all the time so was used to darkness. actually it was more exciting to be in the dark. you can imagine things more freely...to keep myself company i began to talk to myself. i told myself the sky was a piece of light blue paper, stained by a naughty angel. i also told myself the cotton fields were blossoming with big pink flowers now and the only reason i couldn't see them was because they were sleeping under black blankets."

besides that, their life is filled with the burdens of the past and the future, two sides that pulls them in both directions, and they struggle to find their balance. yan, comes from a minority group in the mountains, and is desperate to find a job or a husband to sponsor her life in the city. while ming, comes from a family of scholars, and is adept and fortunate enough to be supported emotionally/intellectually/financially. there is a disconnect between the two characters who so embodied the virgin/whore dichotomy, but what's important is their attempt to boldly reach out for each other out of need and compassion, and because what is deeper than their divergence is their dismissal for others.

for the most part, i felt that i was yan, a girl fluctuating between what she wants to be and what she really is, too jaded for love and too idealistic for reality, she is paralysed in a state of almostness. she knows too much of men, hotel rooms, the rain, sacrifice, and cities upon cities.

"i like watching dramas, especially tragic ones, and i often feel as though i'm one of the main characters. but it's tiring to play somebody other than yourself all the time."

at the same time, like yan did, i yearned to be what ming was. this girl whose state of almostness meant purity, letters, mosquito nets, swimming, denial, and pages upon pages of books. she is somehow beloved for this the. what i wanted most however, was min's decisive innocence when she chose to spend her 18th birthday with yan's exlover, in an attempt to tether herself to yan's elusive existence, and somehow came out of the experience, unmarked. this too, made me realise that who we are, is defined by the hotel rooms we've slept in.

"i said it was my eighteenth birthday and i wanted something special. he said he would do whatever i wanted. i lifted my hand and pointed to the luxuriously decorated white swan hotel across the street. 'i want to sleep there. i've never slept in a hotel room,' i said. it was the truth."

started: thursday, 14th of may 2015
finished: monday, 18th of may 2015

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