But his life took an unexpected turn for the better when he met a Malaysian woman Gan Suh Eng by chance on QQ, an online instant messaging platform, three years ago.
Despite being physically miles apart, they were drawn to each other.
“She has opened the windows of my soul,” Li, 39, said.
A year ago today, they exchanged wedding vows and began their life together at Li’s hometown, a village in Tangshan, Hebei province.
Li described their love story, which has attracted widespread media attention, as a fairy tale.
To him, Gan is an angel sent from heaven.
Her presence in his life has opened many doors for him.
|Li Kangyu (left) and Gan Suh Eng (The Star)|
Lying on a customized wheelchair given by a Good Samaritan, he can now enjoy the sunshine outside his house with Gan by his side.
Together they have travelled to Shanghai and Suzhou, among other cities, where Li has been invited to give motivational talks.
“A Shanghainese enterprise has shown interest in training me to become a motivational speaker.
“A book on my life story, to be penned by a writer, is also in the pipeline,” he said during The Star’s visit to his house, about 45 minutes by car from the city center of Tangshan.
It is obvious that the love between the inseparable couple is going strong.
For the Chinese Valentine’s Day, qixi, which was celebrated last Saturday, Li presented Gan with a novelty ring that had a hidden clock face, while she surprised him with a blue striped tie.
Wearing a pink top that he had bought on online shopping site Taobao especially for the occasion, Li was delighted when told that the patterns printed on the shirt were that of Malaysia’s national flower, the hibiscus.
“It was a happy coincidence,” he said.
As Li recounted their first year together as husband and wife, Gan sat next to him, stroking his head affectionately.
They were more than happy to oblige when Gan was asked to give a peck on Li’s cheek.
“In the blink of an eye, a year has passed. We are both tolerant of and accommodating to each other’s shortcomings. Our love has grown deeper,” Li said.
Gan, 36, who hails from Selayang, was smitten by Li’s romantic and caring nature.
“Sometimes he will insist on helping me blow-dry my hair,” the former employee of a Malaysian Christian NGO said.
The couple leads a simple life in the village, surviving mostly on Li’s financial assistance from the government.
Although it is a meager sum, Gan said the cost of living in the village is low, so they are doing fine.
Family members on both sides, who originally objected to their marriage, have now accepted them.
“My mom now cares about Li more than she cares about me,” Gan protested in jest. “She will ask to speak to him every time we talk on the phone, reminding him to take good care of himself and rest more.”
A local reporter who has been following their story since last year noted that Li appeared rosier and more cheerful.
“I am about 5 kilograms heavier now and I have gained more muscle on my thigh,” Li said.
Their bright and neat space, a room in the house of Li’s third sister, is furnished with a double bed and sofa. Adorning the walls are their wedding photos.
A small wooden table sits on the bed for Li to use his laptop. As he cannot move his joints, he operates the laptop with a mouse placed near his right hip.
Looking ahead, Li dreams of having their own house and raising a child.
“We also want to start a charitable foundation to help the less fortunate. It looks like a far-fetched goal but I believe it will come to fruition one day,” he said.
By Tho Xin Yi