By Shao Weiwei, Pan Yingqiu
As the sun dipped below the skyline of buildings composing the Xiamen University Malaysia Campus, Zhang Ke walked Limi Cally back to her car. They were not teachers or students at the satellite campus of Xiamen University, based in its namesake city in southeastern China’s Fujian Province, but builders of the second phase of the campus.
Xiamen University is the first among prestigious Chinese universities to launch an overseas campus. The school is in Kuala Lumpur, where Zhang and Cally’s story took place.
No Love Lost
Love can be dramatic. In November 2017, the school owner, the construction general contractor and a consulting agency gathered for the first blueprint review meeting for construction of the second phase of the Malaysia campus.
During discussions, architect and Malaysian party consultant Limi Cally and contractor representative Zhang Ke clashed on a few details of the project and couldn’t find any middle ground. This was how they met. Zhang first came off a bit abrasive to Cally, but her impression slowly changed over the following days. At the same time, Cally’s serious and responsible attitude about the project and generosity left a deep impression on Zhang.
As the project proceeded, the pair began to see each other more often. As the builder, Zhang had to overcome construction difficulties, meet technical parameters and ensure construction quality while delivering the requested design concept and architectural style. Xiamen University boasts a history of over one hundred years. Its first overseas campus demanded proper homage to the school’s time-honored history and classical flair. Its dormitory building was designed to feature three layers of beams on the roof getting shorter as they ascended to encapsulate the building’s name which literally means “topping the clouds,” implying pursuing ambitious goals.
Amid ongoing communications about the project, Cally’s attitude about Zhang softened. She eventually told him she would like to visit China if she had a chance.
Somebody ‘Like You’
The pair gradually evolved from polite partners into daily friends. During down times, employees from both China and Malaysia often went shopping, singing and climbing together. One weekend, Zhang invited Cally and her friends to climb a mountain near the campus.
They set out at 4 a.m. to catch the sunrise. The mountain road was slippery due to recent rain. Cally started lagging and Zhang fell back alongside her to keep her upright. Reaching the mountain top required scaling a steep two-meter slope, and only a heavy rope hanging from the top provided any help. A friend tried and failed because the slope was so wet. Cally and others suggested turning back. “It’s just a few more steps to the top,” Zhang insisted. “It would be a shame to give up now.”
After scurrying up himself, Zhang offered a hand to the rest of the group. “The rope is strong,” he insisted. “Crawl slowly, and I will pull you on the top.” Cally looked up at Zhang’s sincere face, and her retreating heart began to tremor. She finally found the courage to seize the thick rope. When she reached for the top, a strong arm grabbed her tightly. “The moment I arrived at the top of the mountain, the first rays of sun spilled out into a rush of morning glow, and time seemed to stop,” Cally recalled of the experience. Both attested to their hearts racing like the climax of a movie.
Their relationship formally started over a night of karaoke. They expressed their feelings about each other through song. Zhang sang “Like You” by Hong Kong singer Wong Ka Kui, while Cally did “Like You” by another Hong Kong singer Gloria Tang Tsz-Kei.
License to Love
Cally lived in the city proper of Kuala Lumpur, while Zhang lived nearer to the project, 45 kilometers away. At first, Zhang couldn’t drive. So Cally would drive to meet him at work site to walk and chat. Love inspired big changes. Zhang learned to drive in just a month and secured a Malaysian license. The week after he got the license, he still didn’t dare drive into town alone and asked colleagues to accompany him. After his driving skills matured, Zhang was able to meet Cally more often. And their relationship grew.
Eventually, everyone working on the project got big news: Cally resigned her high salary job as an architect for a position in Zhang’s company, China Power Construction Group. Most of her friends were shocked by the move, but Cally was determined.
Originally, Zhang and Cally represented different parties and were positioned opposite each other, fighting for benefits for their respective parties. But eventually they became a single team. Colleagues joked that Zhang had stolen talent from Malaysia. Cally’s former boss also gave her grief about it. By now, their story has become folklore in both companies.
As a former Malaysian architect, Cally is more than familiar with the local situation. Thanks to her strong competence in language and communication, she began serving as a translator for the project and became an indispensable weapon for the company. Due to her outstanding performance, she was honored as an “Excellent Foreign Employee” by the company and was invited with Zhang to attend its 2019 annual corporate meeting in Chengdu, capital of Sichuan Province.
Her trip to China reaffirmed both her professional and personal choices. The city impressed her with beautiful scenery, prosperity, delicious food and awe-inspiring historical relics. She enjoys working in her modest and tidy office in China.
Today, the couple is inseparable. Colleagues envy them. “I went back to Malaysia with Cally when her brother got married and met her family, and then she met my parents in China, ” Zhang revealed. “As for a wedding date, it’s up to her.”