Ling Wang met her future husband at a Chinese New Year party in 1995. He was performing on stage, playing classical guitar, which she liked. She introduced herself after the show, but with party business abound, the conversation was nice but brief.
Her first impressions: Robert Duan was “a handsome young fella.”
This was her first New Year in a foreign country. At the time, Wang was one of many Chinese international students finding a second home at the University of Minnesota.
Wang attended the party with her host family, Dr. Chris Macosko, a chemical engineer and professor emeritus at the U of M, and Kathleen Macosko, her “American mom.” Kathleen sat next to Wang’s future mother-in-law and started matchmaking.
As the semester progressed, Wang spent her time at Peik Hall, chipping away at her master’s in educational leadership and administration. Duan was stationed in the department of chemistry in Smith Hall, completing his doctoral degree in polymer chemistry and material science.
Occasionally, the two would cross paths on Washington Avenue Bridge, always heading in opposite directions. After one too many chance encounters, they exchanged email addresses, but Wang waited to officially date.
“I told myself that I am not going to have a boyfriend for the first year when I studied abroad in a foreign country, just because I’m lonely and want a boyfriend,” she laughed.
When she wasn’t at Peik Hall, Wang headed for Walter Library, usually in the basement area that now houses The Toaster Innovation Hub.
She would comb through stacks of journals, newspapers, and books for her thesis on post-higher education and vocational education in China. Wang couldn’t check out the journals her professors assigned, so she’d sit in the basement and read for hours.
And of course, Duan was there too. While she read, he would browse the media files and CDs. In addition to chemistry, Duan studied in the music department, refining his classical guitar repertoire.
Music helped the Wang and Duan bond. Despite the two both being Chinese international students, Duan was more Americanized. He had moved from Shanghai in the late 1980s to attend the University of Detroit Mercy, where he graduated with a bachelor’s in chemistry and master’s in computer science.
Duan had already familiarized himself with the culture and language, while Wang struggled with her English. But music she understood. As an undergraduate, Wang played guitar and drums in a band, so she admired other musicians.
“I personally haven’t ever encountered anyone who can play classic guitar that well,” Wang said. “That’s the first thing that attracted me.”
Wang and Duan got married in 1998, three years after they officially started dating, and they’ve been together ever since.
To celebrate their 25th anniversary, the couple traveled back to the Twin Cities, stopping at the Nazareth Chapel on the University of Northwestern, St. Paul campus, where they were married, along with the U of M campus.
Rediscovering Walter Library was a particular highlight for Wang. Wither all her time in the basement, she never noticed the grand ceilings, hidden owl embellishments, or even the Great Hall’s inviting warm glow.
“The smell of the books is still with the library, even with all these remodels and years passed,” she said. “That smell definitely brings back all those memories.”
She was surprised by the remodeled upper levels. What once was shelves upon shelves, each stocked with pleasantly aromatic books, is now office space.
Wang remembers spending half the day reading books or graffiti carved into the tables and chairs. She didn’t understand the English slang words, so she hunted for a dictionary to decipher those cryptic messages. Usually the graffiti was innocent — maybe laden with double entendres she didn’t catch — but Wang also learned “a lot of curse words, and a lot of dirty words.”
Everything feels new and modern. Wang usually avoided the library bathrooms, for example, but the updated bathrooms are clean.
Overall, the remodels are “stunning,” revealing a beauty she never noticed before in the library. The reading rooms didn’t originally have air conditioning, so summers brought heat and rows of huge, loud and noisy fans. Now, the reading room is quiet and tranquil, like something from the Harry Potter series.
“Some things changed, but some things never change,” Wang said.
After 25 years of marriage — with long days apart and multiple moves across the globe, from Minnesota to New Jersey to Shanghai to Chicago and most recently to Cleveland, Ohio — Wang and Duan are still strong.
They have a daughter, now 22 years old, who was practically raised in Shanghai and is bilingual and bicultural.
Wang is retired from her career in programming, software engineering, and project management — partly because of the pandemic, and partly from frequent travels to China to care for her mother and father.
For her undergraduate degree, she studied Chinese literature. So in her free time, she works as a social media consultant for the People’s Literature Publishing House and as a freelance translator. Here and there, she also writes essays and stories.
Duan is the vice president of technology in the advanced materials division for The Lubrizol Corporation, a chemical manufacturing plant based in Wickliffe, Ohio. Previously he’s worked for Dow Chemical, Valspar, Sherwin-Williams, The ChemQuest Group, and Novagard.
But people always ask Wang, “Why celebrate your 25th anniversary in Minnesota? Why not visit Europe or Hawaii?”
Even though she only spent three years at the University of Minnesota — five years for her husband — the Twin Cities was her first stop in a new country. It’ll always be her second hometown.
“That’s where we met each other and fell in love. And we married in Minnesota. And the most important people in our life are from Minnesota,” Wang said. “Walking down the memory lane is definitely the best way to celebrate our 25 years … And each time we run into a milestone, we’ll go back there to visit.”