Vee, Valentines, and Vie Day


By my announcement, it is my last day at Shenyang Aerospace University Friendship Villa, so I am calling it my valedictory day. I was given my walking papers when China’s Foreign Affairs Department decided not to extend my working visa to fulfill existing age regulations. However, I was told that the International Education Center will continue to use my services after I declared that I was an asset available to them living in the neighborhood.

I suggested an emeritus relationship, which does not obligate the university to put me on the payroll but could easily justify retaining my residence at its facility. I asked to retain my quarters. I had not heard from the head honcho whether I could stay, but I was advised by a Chinese colleague that if I wanted to play the game on who is going to wink first, in the absence of a definite “NO,” I should remain in my quarters until advised to do otherwise.

“Take the absence of a response as a tacit ‘Yes,’” she said. I understand the cultural reluctance to say “No”, but perhaps, in this instance, since I am a foreigner with a different context, I should at least have the benefit of a response to my request, one way or the other.

Not to be ornery, but the garden apartment that I and my host family bought, signing my soul on the bank’s dotted lines, will not be handed over until July, and with the interior still to be constructed, I do not foresee a welcome mat on the door until late in October. We also purchased on the understanding that we cannot dispose of the property for another five years. This was the developer’s guarantee that the units were bought not as objects of speculative investment that could easily destabilize the cost, but availed by serious dwellers. Anyway, I shall pack.

Decent rentals require a one-year contract, so I hope to continue my residency on campus until the apartment is available and ready. This is hardly comparable to the dilemma of CNMI homeowners and their mortgage repayments in the current economic difficulties of many families, but my standard of living is lower than theirs, so I may be less anxiety-prone than they are.

It is also votive candles’ day as members of my age group increasingly are fast fading into the sunset. Two succumb to cancer last year, and three breathed their last in the last three months from natural causes. They were well beyond the average life expectancy of our time, and given my host culture’s penchant for honoring deeply and most respectfully the memory of the dead, particularly elders, I have held a votive candle vigil on behalf of acquaintances who are battling “terminal” diseases, and for at least a month, those who have departed. I have six candles on the green garden of my window ledge at the moment.

Valentines Day is observed second only to Halloween but ahead of Santa Claus’ Christmas as the most promoted Western holiday in the Chinese calendar. It is also the celebration of the romantic love projected by Hollywood, exploited without mercy by the masters and mistresses of trade and commerce in China’s malls. This, Chinese lunisolar calendar.

Valentines comes too close to the recently concluded Lunar New Year and the Spring Festival, but the market stalls are full of the “I heart (for love) you,” “I dove (for peace) you”, and “I Mickey Mouse ears you” (don’t know what that means) images and motifs in objects and toys, and are also common symbols in T-shirts and other attire meant for the young generation.

Debunked in recent years from its religious moorings in the martyrology of the saintly Roman Valentinus, persecuted before Constantine took the Byzantine throne for consecrating the marriages of Roman soldiers to Christian women, Valentines Day, nevertheless, remains a potent come-on for the marketers of chocolate and candy, red and pink roses, fuchsias and peonies, tulips and the acer palmatums, the later gracing verandas on Saipan, especially among the local nikkeijin.

But it is my vie day, the French word for “life” adopted into my signature of j’aime la vie, “I love life.” Among my repertoire of short courses, I voraciously celebrate the given-ness of life thus: “Like me, you are a nobody. In the scheme of things, the planet at 4.5 billion years old expected to be around for another 4.5 billion years, in a universe 14.3 billion years already in its swirl, your ideal 80-some years of existence is hardly an earth speck on the sun’s ray. However, those 80-some years, even possibly 90 or a hundred, are all yours for the taking. Putting a face into it is solely your choice and response-ability. Not unequaled but unique, unrepeatable but leaving your signature on the mold, you are one special creature, one of a kind in the whole universe. Like me, you are definitely a somebody.”

As nobodies, status and achievement are to naught; as somebodies, we explode in engagement, encounter, and expenditure in that one moment in time, 80-some years of a human journey.

Have a full-filling vie day!

Jaime R. Vergara | Special to the Saipan Tribune
Jaime Vergara previously taught at SVES in the CNMI. A peripatetic pedagogue, he last taught in China but makes Honolulu, Shenyang, and Saipan home. He can be reached at

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