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A fire burns inside those seemingly staid Chinese guys

Jacky Fu returned from Canada yesterday afternoon - just a couple of hours to go till Valentine's Day when he will pop the question, present an engagement ring and proclaim his love for all to see on a giant LED screen near People's Square.

The 33-year-old who worked for three years in Toronto has been planning this vacation for months to propose to his 29-year-old girlfriend Lin Lin on lover's day.

"What could be a better Valentine's gift than a marriage proposal?" asks Fu, who works for a foreign trading company in Toronto.

Three years ago, before leaving for Canada, he spent Valentine's Day with his sweetheart.

"With the proposal and the engagement ring, there's really no need for any fancy tricks, flowers or chocolate," he says.

But Fu still has a special plan. He wants to light up the big LED screen near People's Square with the words: "Lin, Please take my ring and my hand." He has yet to nail down the details.

Most people don't think of Chinese men as particularly romantic and expressive. The culture itself does not encourage extravagant displays of emotion. Stereotypical Chinese guys are a bit dull, reserved and reluctant to express anything approaching passion. Shanghai guys are famously meek.

It's the foreign men, especially French and Italian, who are associated with roses, champagne and words of love, at least in the minds of young Chinese women.

Shanghai Daily, however, has found many Chinese men, like Fu, who are making a big elaborate deal out of Valentine's Day, going all out and over the top. Some of their ideas may sound cheesy and juvenile, but the women love that stuff - Teddy bears, Minnie and Mickey Mouse and cutesy surprises.

"The image of impassive guys comes from old movies and novels as well as the belief that Chinese men are not as passionate as Westerners. It seems true for my father's generation, many young Chinese men are actually quite romantic, if not more exuberant than foreigners," says American-born Chinese Nancy Zhu. She has dated both Chinese and foreign guys, and so far is single.

Although many Chinese couples just spend a simple evening together - a movie, a nice dinner and a bit of quality time, Shanghai Daily was able to turn up some Chinese Romeos who plan more creative evenings.

Here are three. Naturally, they all plan to get married. There's no point in wasting time just having fun with different people. This leads just one way to marriage, a child and the meshing of families as it has for thousands of years.

The Mickey Boy

Chen Zhi looks rather typical and staid - a conservative short haircut, glasses and a poker face. He is a sophomore biology major, to boot, but apparently he's burning up inside.

His girlfriend Stephanie Shu shyly gives him two thumbs-up in the romance department. The couple, both 21, has dated since high school. Today is their third Valentine's Day together.

Shu was impressed last year. The couple went with friends for karaoke in the afternoon and Shu expected simply flowers and a fancy dinner.

"Of course not! How could we be so mundane on our special day?" asks Chen, offended that anyone would think him pedestrian. "I deliberately did not give her flowers when I picked her up just before meeting our friends. She probably thought I had run out of ideas after two years."

Two hours later, Chen excused himself and went to the men's room, but never came back. Shi started getting worried after 15 minutes, but she got a text message from Chen telling her to follow instructions from a Mickey Mouse. Shu just loves Disney characters, especially Mickey and Minnie.

As she wondered how Mickey got involved in their relationship, the door to the KTV room opened and Mickey, full regalia, mouse head and all. Shu shrieked in surprise, all their friends cheered, and the Mickey song was blasted on the sound system.

She followed Mickey and expected to see Chen in a few minutes. He had done something similar the year before. At that time he asked a cute boy to lead her on a short treasure hunt with clues. The treasures were flowers and Mickey-shaped chocolates. Chen himself was the grand prize at the end of the hunt.

This time, Shu suddenly found herself in another KTV room. Her favorite pink roses were on the table and Mickey turned on the performance light.

The Mouse song was played, Mickey gave Shu a pretty package with a limited-edition Mickey Mouse watch inside.

She was stunned. Then she put on the watch as Mickey took her picture. She wondered where Chen had gone, asking Mickey, but getting no answer. She tried to call him on her cell, but heard the familiar Mickey song ringtone from where Mickey stood.

Mickey took off the mouse head - it was indeed Chen. Then he handed her a full Minnie Mouse costume that had been hidden. Then they embraced, sang and danced like two happy mice. Their friends came and cheered.

"It had a lot of twists and turns," says Shu. "At first, I thought it would just be ordinary. Then I expected a treasure hunt, but I never thought he was with me for the whole time. And at the end, Mickey and Minnie. It was perfect."

It took Chen a while to find the costumes online, about 500 yuan (US$73) each, quite expensive for a student. Then he decided to rent instead of purchase.

"They were touched by my love for my girlfriend," Chen jokes. "It was a little embarrassing to have people stare at me when I led her to the other room, but I got used to it after a few steps."

Once upon a time, there were two little bears ...

Freelance Web designer Robert Shen, 28, is known for his innovative ideas. He is the brains of his design team.

Shen says his best idea yet is the 16-minute film he made for this Valentine's Day as a gift for his 25-year-old girlfriend Emily Yu. He is determined to take her breath away and touch her heart. He expects a big hug in return from Yu, a freelance scriptwriter.

"She is really smart and we know each other very well after dating almost a year. It's extremely difficult to surprise her," says Shen, who treasures their first Valentine's Day.

And she is not the kind of girl who swoons before roses and champagne. She is sophisticated and Shen wants to deliver something "more innovative and unique."

Using his Web design skills, Shen created adorable flash animations for Yu's birthday and for Christmas. This year he wants to impress her with something bigger and more complicated.

Yu is also a graduate in film and addicted to movies, so Shen created a film about two days they spend together: The characters are Teddy bears - Yu's favorite.

It starts with two Teddy bears in the corner at a birthday party, with Shen narrating in the background.

"Once upon a time, two little bears lived in Shanghai. The pink one had just suffered a long day and didn't feel like talking to anyone at the party. The blue one was concerned about his new project. They met in the corner, and our story begins ..."

For the rest of the film, Shen portrays the important togetherness events in the lives of the two little bears. At the end of the film, the blue one hugs the pink one and says, "Let's make our own films soon."

Since he was unfamiliar with video cameras and editing software, Shen did a lot of research online, consulted friends and experimented. A friend offered to help.

"But I want to make every piece of this film with my own sweat and every fiber of my being," says Shen who has invited Yu to meet at his studio today to make their own movie.

Take my hand on Valentine's Day

While Jacky Fu (who will pop the question today) was working in Canada, he did his best for the last three Valentine's Days to put on a good show in his absence.

Last year Fu e-mailed Lin, giving her meeting time and place. A hired driver or assistant would be waiting at the spot, taking Lin through the whole date arranged by Fu.

Last year, the driver took Lin directly to the airport, where she was given a ticket to Hong Kong. There a driver picked her up and took her to a five-star hotel where she was led to a luxurious suite. All by herself.

Fu had arranged the full treatment and fancy services, from an elegant dinner for one to a spa treatment.

"I was so sorry I couldn't spend the special day with her, so I tried my best," says Fu.

This year, he will pop the question - and maybe we can see it near People's Square.


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