Melissa Haines from New York City writes how her boyfriend Matt proposed to her during a vacation in Shanghai, China.
Any man who can do my vacation packing in 24 minutes is a keeper!
My boyfriend and I had been dating for a few months when he got a job opportunity in China! He moved there last November, and we met up for Christmas in Bali, but the distance was killing me. I asked my workplace for a three month love sabbatical (hey, other people get maternity leave!) and by some miracle, they said yes. Matt and I had been in China together for almost two months when he took me on a weekend trip to Shanghai.
Our second morning in Shanghai was sunny and humid; at least, we discovered as much upon exiting our hotel. (You see, I had taken the lead on hotel hunting for our long weekend trip. Pickings were slim so I booked us a perfectly serviceable Chinese hotel with free breakfast. The only drawback was that all of their rooms with windows were taken.)
Consequently, we both blinked a fair amount as Matt pushed open the lobby door. As the haze focused into discernible objects, I spotted Lawson’s, a Japanese convenience store, across the street, lit by a small ray of heaven (in my mind). I hadn’t seen one since my 2009 Japan trip, on which I had enjoyed many an emergency bottled coffee fix at this chain. I declared as much to Matt, who nodded, lingered a moment, and then said: “uh, love, I don’t think I am carrying enough money. Why don’t you go and find some coffee and I’ll run back upstairs?” Far be it from me to object to a boyfriend who wants to carry a lot of money. Go, load up! I said.
15 minutes later, when he still hadn’t resurfaced, I called and asked him to bring the sunblock.
9 more minutes later he called to say he couldn’t find the sunblock, but was coming over to join me.
I found this 24 minute search for sunblock and cash a bit suspicious. Matt rarely forgets to do anything, much less to supply his wallet for a day trip. But, I dismissed it as a sign of an imminent proposal because I couldn’t imagine him forgetting where he put something like a diamond ring. I mean, how many places could it be?
Mystery unsolved, we headed off together for the Yu Gardens – Shanghai’s most popular tourist attraction, according to the good people of Foder’s Travel Guide. After a good deal of wandering, quizzical map-flipping, and squinting in the bright sunshine, we found the bazaar that purportedly led up to the gardens.
What the guide book didn’t say is that the streets around the Yu Gardens are twice as popular as the gardens themselves. Matt and I were like flinching salmon pointed the wrong way in mating season. No one appeared to want to go inside the gardens, just to mill around making a lot of noise while buying jade and pearls and birdcages and snacks and postcards. We shoved ourselves into the teeming mass of the garden-indifferent, and eventually popped out at the Bridge of Seven Bends. Happily, we were crushed up against a European tour group, enabling us to learn that this bridge twists 7 times to fool the spirits, who apparently can’t make right angles. Like crocodiles. (Actually that turns out to be a myth).
Spirits soundly averted, we and the tour group tumbled as one into the Yu Gardens. It felt a little bit like landing in Narnia. All was quiet. Birds were chirping. Footbridges and pagodas spanned tranquil reflecting pools. Rock garden mazes twisted off into secret corners. We hadn’t wandered far before a narrowly constructed lady invited us inside for a free tea ceremony. She poured teas good for indigestion, menstruation, cancer and gangrene, if I remember correctly.
The gardens were perfectly lovely and romantic. It would have been an all-around un-benighted day, except that I was not feeling so well. Mysterious, low-grade stomach trouble is par for the course in China. In America, if you’re planning a romantic day, you pack a picnic, some wine, maybe breath-mints. In China, you chuck all of that and focus your romance kit around Advil, Pepto-Bismol, Immodium, and packs of emergency toilet paper (public restrooms often don’t have it!). Luckily, Matt knows how to do Far East romance, and his backpack was well-stocked. Consequently, I kept rummaging around in it for various remedies through our stroll. After a few such instances, he re-packed it to put all the things I would need in one front pocket. This re-org should have tipped me off, but Matt is always doing sweet things like that, so I accepted unawares. (Yes, unawares is actually the proper adverb form)
At one point, despite the cure-all tea, I leaned woozily on Matt and asked if we could sit down for a minute. The thick heat wasn’t helping any. I was eying up the nearest rock wall but he said, “I actually saw a nice pagoda back that way.” It was a pretty wood and stone structure with climbing vines and flowers twisting through its support beams. Flopping down on the bench, I fanned myself, snuggled into Matt’s shoulder and closed my eyes while he gave me little forehead kisses. At one point, he said, “hey, are you closing your eyes?” and I mumbled yes, but that I was ok, I was just resting.
When I opened my eyes, Matt was down on one knee with an open ring box. It was a gorgeous glittery diamond surrounded by a ring of smaller winking friends. I was halfway through being startled when he said, “would you marry me?” With a shriek I said, “yes! But I have cramps!” Then we laughed and Matt put the ring on me and we held each other for a few minutes while non-English speaking tourists packed themselves in with us, blissfully unaware that we were linking our lives for decades to come. When I tried to stand up, I discovered that my knees were shaky, and that I felt completely cured. “Hey, I don’t feel sick! You…you..shocked…me into health!”
Then I asked him what it had felt like to be carrying the ring around today, and he said “it was fine except that you kept digging in the bag! That’s why I put your things in one pocket.” Ahh! The poor man. He had moved the ring into his pocket (while I was in the bathroom), but I give him so many impromptu hugs that he had to keep moving the ring depending on what side I was walking on so I wouldn’t feel it!
A few minutes later, Matt said, “there’s one more surprise. This morning, while you went to get coffee, I packed up all of our stuff, checked us out, and we are going somewhere with a window!” So that’s what the 24 minutes were about. Any man who can pack me up in 24 minutes is a keeper!
It turned out to be an amazing Starwood hotel. if you upgrade a bit in Asia, you really cross over into luxury. Marble floors, huge stylish flower displays, thematic decorating, pools, fitness, sauna, massage and spa, several restaurants, a rooftop bar. Our room had a spectacular view of the Bund – the posh section of the river that twists through Shanghai framed by the Shanghai Pearl tower and the Bottle Opener building. Matt has surely spoiled us both for all time. He had even made reservations at their excellent Italian restaurant, and afterwards we ordered a bottle of wine to our room, dragged our couch in front of the window, cuddled, and soaked in the skyline.
The next morning, the free breakfast was unending and sumptuous carving stations, chefs making omelettes, a bar with 15 different fresh-squeezed juices (I think we tried 7 between us), breads, cereal, bagels, sushi, fried rice or noodles to order, pancakes, grilled sausage, bacon (almost impossible to find in China) and coffee that made me want to cry.
“Matt, do you see what this is?” I waggled a crisp yellow circle in front of him. “It’s a hashbrown. A deep-fried hashbrown. Do you know how long it’s been since I had one of these? I know I already said I’d marry you, but if there was any question, this breakfast has utterly sealed the deal.” And, I gave him a kiss.
Read more about my Journey by clicking on the links below:
About Melissa Haines
Melissa Haines is a relationship counselor in New York City and writes a blog (blog.whereisthisgoing.us) on the science of dating, mating, and breaking up.