Couple's love remains strong a year on since lockdown
Recalling their days together during the lockdown of Wuhan, the former epicenter of the novel coronavirus outbreak in China, newlyweds Chen Lei and Zhang Liuqing found themselves relying more on their family.
Both Chen and Zhang are real estate managers. While Zhang worked in Wuhan, Chen worked in Nanchang, a city around 350 kilometers away, after transferring there over a year earlier.
The two had previously planned to register for marriage in Wuhan during the 2020 Chinese Lunar New Year holiday, but events conspired against them and the city's unexpected lockdown in January last year scuppered their plans.
"The epidemic messed up our arrangement, but also gave us a rare chance to stay together all day long," says Chen.
"At the height of the outbreak, I felt that the end of the world was coming," says Zhang, his 33-year-old fiancee, noting that the company of her parents and fiance relieved her anxiety.
But what encouraged Zhang most was the swift gathering of medical staff nationwide to Wuhan. "They sacrificed their family reunion to guard the safety of millions of Wuhan residents," she adds.
As spring arrived, and the situation in Wuhan gradually began to ease, the life of the two lovers had also warmed up. "We played badminton every day to stretch our bodies and found our new common hobby－cooking," says the 34-year-old Chen.
Marriage registration in Wuhan resumed in April 2020, after a suspension of more than two months.
"We ordered the earliest time slot that was available," says Chen, who got their marriage certificate on April 7.
Marriage registration in Wuhan used to culminate in a ceremony, where newlyweds obtained the certificate, made marriage vows, and smiled for the cameras. This ritual, however, was suspended as the city called for continued vigilance against the virus.
"We filled out some forms to get the certificate, with no more ceremony than that," Zhang says.
However simplified the ritual was, the lovebirds could not restrain their desire to kiss each other, though separated by their masks. And the scene was captured by a Xinhua photographer at the site.
"We barely had any photos together, and this one was special and precious for me," says Zhang, who saved the photo on her mobile phone and looks at it from time to time.
"It was like a milestone for me－our relationship entered a new phase, and our city later lifted the monthlong outbound traffic restrictions," Zhang says.
As Wuhan returned to normality, Chen returned to Nanchang to deal with his two-month backlog of work. On April 8, Zhang tearfully drove him to the train. "Be careful of your safety, and I will wait for you at home," she told him.
"For the first time, I found the word 'home' irresistible," says Chen, who had defined himself as a workaholic, noting that living together with family during the lockdown made him emotional when it came time to depart.
"Now I go home to be with my family when I'm free on weekends," Chen says.
The next time the couple were reunited was April 25, when Zhang took the high-speed train to visit Chen and celebrate her birthday with him in Nanchang.
"When my husband left Wuhan in early April, he had to provide the negative nucleic acid test certificate. Weeks later, I could leave the city with just a health code on my phone," says Zhang. She notes that the simplified procedure made her feel that her city was no longer a dangerous place.
"But the real ending of our psychological lockdown was in June when nearly 10 million Wuhan residents completed their COVID-19 tests. That was when we were sure that the city was secure and we could step out of our houses," Zhang adds.
In July, Zhang gave birth to a daughter. "After the epidemic, all that we wish for our baby is that she grows up happily. We hope she will not have too much pressure in her life," says Zhang.
Now, the couple calls each other on weekdays via video to follow the baby's growth. And on weekends, they meet alternately in Wuhan or Nanchang.
"We usually walk along the greenway by the East Lake to enjoy the sunshine and the fresh air, and so do many others," says Zhang, adding that, as time has passed, more people visit the scenic spot in Wuhan.
"But nearly everyone wears a mask. The city has resumed normal life, but cautiously," she adds.
For the new year, Chen has a simple wish for everyone: "I hope we can all cherish the present and live a happy life."