You could say that we both traveled halfway around the world to meet each other. (Okay, I traveled 1293 miles more, but he still had to endure 6076 miles buckled into a small airplane seat to arrive safely in Taipei, Taiwan.) And this travel romance surprised us both in the very best way.
The metropolitan capital of Taiwan boasts a population of 2.6 million, but we were lucky to meet in March, thanks our mutual gregarious friend. That was the night he hosted his “World Famous St. Patrick’s Day Bashstravaganze,” which meant a modest apartment made stuffy by lots of bodies in close proximity, some frenzied attempts at dancing, and the alcohol content seeping into my bloodstream from the ice-cold beer that I was sipping on.
By the time J and his friends arrived, I had already plopped myself cross-legged on the floor, snacking on the dumpling-type dish that I bought near the metro station. I thought he was aloof at first, but his careful mannerisms caught my eye. I watched the card game unfold in front of me, attempted keep hold of the slippery food with my chopsticks and peeked over at him occasionally. Just because I wanted to know more about him. I’m sure I wasn’t very sly about it, but I am also pretty sure that everyone else was too busy to notice. My initial reading of aloofness turned into a hunch of reticence or shyness. And like I could talk about being aloof, I must have looked anti-social as I chowed down my impromptu dinner.
When we actually got to talk my impression of J changed – likely due to the topic of conversation: food, which he is very passionate and vocal about. We even got onto the subject of cheese, and that set my Wisconsin girl heart all aflutter, even though he did disillusion me with the notion that Cheddar was invented in England. Talking with J was so pleasant and easy because he is so polite. Once we got on the subject of my recently dislocated shoulder, J asked me questions about it – despite my responses containing copious amounts of exaggerated whining and moaning, angry rants alternating with self-pity. And then he did a good job of turning the subject around, sweetly telling me, “At least you’re on the mind,” which delighted me terribly.
In fact, that line delighted me so terribly that I put on my best accent (learned from “The Parent Trap” (1998) and Harry Potter films) to tell him “That’s so British” before laughing hysterically, both because I thought I was funny and because I had just embarrassed myself. His eyes widened slightly and I wasn’t sure if he was affronted, but he playfully swatted my arm and chuckled with me – perhaps because I was still in a fit of giggles at my non-joke. (Eek.) J, true to character, was a gentleman. He took it all in stride.
I had to leave early and didn’t get a proper good-bye, but as I brushed my teeth and tucked myself into bed, I wondered about the nice guy I had just met with the loveliest accent I had ever heard.
. . . . .
J got in contact with me on Facebook the next day and we continued to message each other throughout the week. I was lucky to see him for dinner right before he left for Hong Kong to celebrate his birthday with his family members. When he walked me home we discovered that we only lived a ten minute walk from each other. So I invited him up to my apartment… Because I wanted to grab proper shoes, bug spray and a flashlight for the late night uphill hike in the mountain park behind my apartment.
I set a relentless pace up Fuzhoushan because I didn’t want J to think I was unfit. As I later confessed to J, I mentally coach myself, so that night I thought: “All right, Roberts, keep up the pace and don’t breathe like a winded rhinoceros. You got this!”
We emerged at the top of the mountain park, and as we approached the overlook, the other night scenery viewers decided to leave the viewing platform. We perched alone on the fence rail, overlooking the city lights and Taipei’s iconic skyscraper (101, formerly the tallest building in the world, now the sixth tallest). After telling me to be careful J chose to sit a good distance away from me, which was advantageous so he wouldn’t see the sheen of sweat on my skin, but as we chatted for hours, we slowly scooted towards each other until we were side by side. I felt guilty for having kept him out so late on a school night (since I was no longer studying at the university), but when he hugged me at my doorstep I knew I wasn’t ready to leave Taiwan without knowing what could happen between us.
. . . . .
J told me about his upcoming trip to Korea and asked if I’d like to come along. I had already bought my ticket to Japan, and I had planned on returning to the States from there, but I couldn’t lose the chance to get to know him more. After all, he lived in the UK and I lived in the good old US of A so if I left our paths would not cross again. This led me to renew my lease another month and meet J in Seoul for the best weekend and vacation of my life – eating delicious food everywhere, walking hand in hand through gardens, fully coming to appreciate how many photographs J takes, marveling at temples and palaces, figuring out how to get the taxi driver to the Korean Furniture Museum, and spending quiet moments together on the escalator, stealing a kiss here and there.
That weekend, less than a month after we had met, we were both convinced that we had found our soul mates in each other.
The rest has been a magnificent blur. Now that I review our time together, it sounds even better than a fairy tale.
. . . . .
When I got back to Taiwan and my lease ran out, J graciously allowed me to move in with him, cooking me breakfasts that we ate at the windowsill and shouting through the bathroom door “Don’t worry, my dear! I’ll get it; you don’t have to do it” as I furiously squeegeed the floor after my shower. (It’s a Taiwan thing, bathrooms with no actual shower stall.) My hero even exterminated the occasional cockroach invader for me.
I met some of his relatives in Hong Kong before he went back to work in London and I went to a dance education intensive in New York City. He met me in the Big Apple, checked out The Windy City, was introduced to the joys of Wisconsin (Cedarburg and Madison) and flew to Florida to meet my parents.
I knew he had come to ask my dad for my hand in marriage, and I knew he asked when I caught him in his room with the biggest grin ever, dancing around. I only saw a millisecond of it before I knocked on the door and alerted him to my presence because I didn’t want to spy on him – but in that moment, he looked triumphant – a knee and an elbow swung up – as if he was marching victoriously. It melted my heart. (When I asked him about it, though, he tried to play it cool and insisted he was just talking to my dad about batteries.)
Next, I came to London to meet J’s friends and family – though I have yet to meet his father and brother. And it was much like living in Taiwan – minus the tropical weather and actually, it’s not similar at all… The only similarity was J’s incredibly thoughtfulness and hospitality – and that of his mother, sister and other friends! (We also snuck in a bunch of great weekend trips, too – Edinburgh, York, Oxford and Bath.)
I was waiting for his proposal the entire trip, especially because he asked about American marriage certificates before and we had already decided that we would have a Western wedding before the traditional Chinese wedding. (I even did a parody proposal with a sweet Spiderman lunchbox, thanks to this hilarious video.) On my second last evening in London, November 5, he popped the question that wasn’t really a question. He proposed on the longest escalator (remember Korea? We love quality escalator time!) and pulled out the Spiderman lunchbox with a ring box and a packet of tissues. I had been waiting to say yes since Seoul; I chose to respond with 當然，meaning “Of course!” 🙂
So now we’re apart, but we’re getting married. And even after J and I say our “I dos” and he returns to work, we will be apart for a few more months. But it’s all worth it. I really can’t imagine it any other way.
. . . . .
As I told Facebook, “The ring is more beautiful than anything I could have imagined, but more importantly, my man is more wonderful than anyone I could have dreamed.”
Two years after marriage, I still believe that this travel romance is the best gift roaming the world will ever bring me. I am so thankful we were able to find each other.