Chapter 69- To break up or not to break up

Johan flew back from Guilin and came straight to my place.

“I’m exhausted!” He took off his massive hiking bag and collapsed on the couch.

“I’ve missed you!” I squealed and smothered him with kisses. “And BOY are you black!”

He chuckled at my Chinese way of saying he’s tanned, “No Shanghai pollution to protect me from the sun.”

“So? How was it???” I asked, eager to hear about his trip, but mostly just glad he’s back.

He showed me pictures on his cellphone, and told me about Yangshuo, a more scenic and less touristy town near Guilin. The mud bath looked especially fun. I wished I had gone with them.

He finished his story and grinned to himself, “You know what I kept thinking the whole time?”

“What?”

“How much more fun it would have been if you were there.”

Butterflies fluttered in my stomach and I was reminded of the elephant in the room.

“We should probably talk about…” I got choked up before I could finish.

“Yeah.” He knew exactly what I was talking about.

I took a deep breath, “It was all I could think about while you were gone.” I didn’t go into details about how tormented I felt this whole week.

“So…what do you think?” He asked tentatively.

I swallowed and continued the speech that I rehearsed a million times, “It seems to me that we only have two choices. Either try long distance or…or…”

“Or break up.” He finished my sentence.

“Yeah.” I said sadly and wondered if he felt the same way. “Long distance is extremely difficult. We are guaranteed to fight. And what if…”

“You meet someone else.” He finished my sentence again.

“Or you do.” I added.

He squinted the way he always does whenever he plots. “If we do long distance and we break up, it’ll end on bad terms. However…” He stroked his chin as he continued to think aloud. “Let’s say we break up and you meet someone else in Toronto. I could always go there a year later and mess it all up.”

I must be getting used to his way of thinking because I was genuinely touched by that. The fact that he wanted us to be together in the end, however convoluted the plan was, was well…kind of appealing. The idea of two guys fighting over me was exciting. I would be like Rachel McAdams in the Vow.

“What do you want to do?” He asked, and I snapped back to reality.

I swallowed again before working up the courage to tell him my feelings.

“Despite all the reasons not to, I still want to try long distance.”

I wanted to tell him that while long distance seemed difficult, breaking up would be unimaginably painful. I just can’t imagine, nor do I want to, be with anyone else.

I can’t imagine finding anyone else who could make me laugh like a hyena when I’m with them and smile like an idiot when I think of them.

I love that we could always have fun doing nothing at all. I love spending sunday mornings debating about where to eat, then sharing dessert as we browsed the mall for dinner places. I love how instead of being embarrassed, he’d join me when I start spontaneously dancing in public.

I wanted to tell him how much I love his fat, playdough  earlobes, the mischievous sparkle in his eyes, and how his hair look like Einstein’s when he wakes up in the morning.

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Food somehow taste better, and life seemed infinitely more exciting whenever we are together.

So while I could probably find someone better, why would I want better when I already have the best?

However, before I could say any of that, he said “Ok I’m in.”

“Wait!” I protested, taken aback by his decisiveness. “Don’t you want to think about it? This is a big decision! I’d rather you say no than agree to something you’re not sure about!”

I had prepared myself to get hurt that I didn’t know how to react to a positive response.

“I’ve never done it before because I’ve never wanted to.” He said thoughtfully. “But I want to try it with you.”

Johan was not one to act impulsively, so I had a suspicion that he had thought more about it than he led on. Perhaps his past week were just as sleepless as mine.

I sat there quietly as I attempted to digest our decision. Some dramatic gesture seemed appropriate at a moment such as this. I had a sudden urge to shake his hand.

Johan stared back me equally as intense and said in his most serious voice “So…what should we order for dinner?”

Chapter 68- Dear Abby (Aka. my friend Ana)

DEAR ANA:

Let me update you on the latest of the J and K Saga.

The last time we spoke (when I called you 2 days ago at 2am), Johan was still waiting to hear from U of T. Well, bad news: he did NOT get in. (I bet they didn’t even read his essay! You and I both know all they care about is grades!)

Now we are left at a crossroad. I leave for Toronto in 2 months. He will probably stay in China for another year. So I need your advice: should we break up or should we try long distance?

Let’s say we break up:

  • But I don’t want to I don’t want to I don’t want to
  • Btw, he said HE LOVES ME!!!!
  • I love him too and I’ve never felt this way before about anyone
  • I don’t want to I don’t want to I don’t want to

Let’s say if we do long distance for a year:

  • Long distance rarely(if ever!) works
  • We will probably fight all the time (Speaking from experience with Bob)
  • Even if we make it through the year, what if he still doesn’t get in to Uof T?
  • Wouldn’t it have been a big waste of time?

Can I afford to waste a year doing long distance? What if we just end up breaking up anyway? What if he meets someone else? What if I do? This may sound horrible, but the thought has briefly crossed my mind that: What if I meet someone better in Toronto? I can’t do anything about it because I’m technically in a relationship.

I can think of a million more reasons not to do long distance. But….I love him I love him I love him.

Help Ana! Please speak rational to me!

Sincerely,

Confused Canadian in China

dearabby

DEAR CONFUSED:

Every girl (at one point or another, whether they admit it or not) has wondered: Can I do better?

It is normal (perhaps even necessary) to have such thoughts. Because only then can you decide whether you are with this person because you want to? Or because you are afraid to be alone?

The question can indeed sound cruel, but perhaps we could redefine it to make it more palatable.

The word “better” can mean a variety of things. To some people, “to do better” means to find someone more handsome, richer or…richer.

For others, it could mean to find someone who understands them better. Someone who makes them laugh more. If you are not excited to spend the rest of your life with them, then yes, perhaps you can do better.

Objectively speaking, you should probably break up and try to find someone in Toronto. Long distance can be extremely stressful, and could end bitterly for two people that might have made it otherwise. Even if you break up, you could always pick up a year later if he goes to Toronto.

And Let’s face it, you are no spring chicken, and biologically speaking, you do not have much time to waste.

Fact: there is an excess supply of single women in big cities these days, thus creating a skewed dating market. In 2012, 34% more women than men graduate from college (see book: Date-onomics by Jon Birger ). So unless you are willing to date across socioeconomic lines, you should be getting on that husband hunt ASAP.

However, and this is a big HOWEVER, having followed your story personally, I would not be offended if you do not take my suggestion. While statistics indicate that shark attacks are nothing to worry about, if you ask the guy who had his arm bitten off, he might argue differently.

To quote a lady wise beyond her years: “The heart wants what it wants.”—Selena Gomez

Good luck and let me know how your story unfolds!

Sincerely,

Ana (Advice Giver Extraordinaire)

Chapter 67- The other “L” word

When I found out he didn’t get into U of T, all of my anxieties melted away and was replaced with sadness.

While I was too busy worrying about what a rejection could mean for our relationship, I didn’t think about how he would be affected by it. Now I felt sad because he was sad. Now I wish he had gotten in because it’s his dream.

I didn’t know what to say, so I just held him. He buried his face against my stomach and I rested my cheek on the top of his head. I could feel his chest rise and fall as he sighed sadly. The two of us stayed like that for a long time.

After awhile he felt ready to speak again.

“I’m bummed out.” He said.

“Me too.” I replied.

“Well…At least now we can move onto the next step.” Johan switched gears, never the one to waste time on unhelpful emotions.

“What are you thinking?”

“Stick to the original plan. If I didn’t get in this year, take the missing courses, apply again next year.” He was already in action mode while I remained in sadness mode.

“What about Michigan?” I reminded him.

About a month ago, Johan got notice of acceptance to the University of Michigan. I remember him bursting into the bathroom and sweeping me up into his arms. Good thing I was just washing my hands. He ranted ecstatically about it being one of the few schools that offered a dual degree in Social Work and Computer Sci. All of which could be done in 2.5 years. They also had a great design program that would allow him to incorporate technology with social outreach. It was beyond ideal. Almost too good to be true.

And it was.

For international students, a double masters would rack up a quarter of a million dollars in tuition. And no, being Canadian would not get him a neighborly discount. So while we were overjoyed that he got in, we also quickly ruled it out upon learning its price.

I thought he had given up on that, but instead he said, “I might defer it for a year.”

“But the tuition…”

“I could win the lottery in a year.”

An eternal optimist, Johan believed there’s always a way. If it were me, I would have thrown my hand up in defeat and gone crying home to mama. Then again, I’ve never wanted something that badly.

“What about us…” I recovered enough to remember.

Johan sighed again, “Any chance you could stay in China one more year?”

“I gave the school my resignation months ago.” I suddenly wished I had considered a coworker’s suggestion to quit when I find something better. Nooooo! I had to be all noble and tell them right away so they could find a replacement asap. Ugh.

“Any chance you could come to Toronto anyway?” I asked.

“It’s an expensive city, I can’t afford to wait around there.” He pointed out that even job searches would take time.

I was no position to help either, having not secured a job myself. My plan was to try for a year in Toronto. If the job market is still bad, then relocate. It made no sense for him to come if I might leave.

I was too unstable. He was too unstable. Everything was too up in the air to plan together. At this point we were both thinking of the other “L” word.

Long-Distance Relationship.

“Should we… consider long distance?” He spoke first of the taboo subject.

I winced as I recalled jokingly asking him to please get into U of T, because “I could NEVER EVER do long-distance!”

Note to self: Stop saying shit aloud.

“Would you be willing do long-distance for a year?” I asked shyly, wanting him to scream YES YES! ANYTHING TO BE WITH YOU!!!

“Would you?” He turned the table back at me.

I froze as a million conflicting thoughts raced through my brain.

“We don’t have to decide now.” He reached for my hand and held it in his. “I’m leaving for Guilin tomorrow, so let’s discuss when I come back.”

And just like that, he was gone for a week, leaving me in my own head.

Overwhelmed with emotions, I decided to seek advice from my most rational friend.

To: Ana S (Toronto)

From: Kat W (Shanghai)

Subject: HELP!!!! HE SAID I LOVE U AND NOW WE MIGHT BREAK UP!!!

Chapter 66- It’s all just Stats!

“Life is like a box of chocolate, you never know what you’re gonna get.”

No offense Mrs. Gump, but have you looked in the box? There’s usually a pamphlet that decribes the different kinds of chocolate available, along with a picture.

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Although it’s true that some of the chocolates look similar from the outside. The square one could be a Coconut cream or a Strawberry Cream.

I have the bad habit of taking a bite out of all the chocolates. If it’s something I like, I eat the whole thing. If not, I put it back in the box. I’m an only child and my parents don’t like Russell Stover anyway.

Same thing in life. Sometimes we know ahead of time the range of all possible outcomes. But that doesn’t make it any easier. So all you can do is take a risk, pop the whole thing in your mouth, and pray that it’s a Hazelnut Nougat, and not, God forbid, a Chocolate Cherry.

But no putting it back in the box.

Johan’s potential acceptance to the University of Toronto is a much smaller box of chocolate. It’s either a yes or no with a 50/50 chance.

In Stats101, we learned that “Conditional Probability” is the probability of an event based on another event that has occurred. Our future together varies depending on his acceptance into U of T, and can be described as such.

decision treeSince the possible outcomes are finite, this is also known as a “discrete probability distribution”. When you make a Tree, it all becomes so simple! Trees are the answer to all life’s problems…

If he gets accepted, then it’s easy. We both go back to Toronto and live happily ever after! So if the probability of A(Accepted) is 50%, and the probability of B(Be together) is then 100%, then P(A and B)  =  P(A) · P(B|A) =50%x100%=50%!

50% chance. Not bad odds.

If he gets rejected… Well…I’m going back to Toronto, does that mean we have to break up? But I don’t want to break up!!! I mean we could try long distance but how often does that work out? Sure, Wesley and Mary got married after 7 years apart. But Lisa and Luke broke up after half, Nelson and Mike lasted 2 but eventually parted, etc etc. So then should we even bother? What’s the probability of a successful long distance? 1 out of 100? 1/1000? Wait, is my formula even correct? What was I trying to find out again???

Tell me what to do Tree! Tell me!!! *Shakes Tree madly*lisa_simpson_screaming_300x400

*Breaks down in a puddle on floor*

So that Saturday morning, we made the decision not to make any decisions. We would eat first and check results later. We chatted as if the only decision that mattered was Thai or Indian. However, at the back of my mind, a voice was chanting “Please get in please get in please get in.”

When the bill came, both of us knew the inevitable was no longer avoidable. We walked back in silence.

As Johan turned on the computer, I felt like I was gonna throw up.

“Yep, there’s the email from U of T.” He said solemnly.

“I can’t look.” I said and ran out of the room.

“Hmm…” Johan made an inconclusive noise.

“So???” I ran back in, practically screaming.

“There’s supposed to be a letter, but they forgot the attachment!” He looked annoyed.

“Goddamn U of T! Why must they prolong our suffering!!!” Now I just wanted the results regardless.

Then we had to wait for Johan to call the university. The lady apologized and promised to send the PDF again. Johan was calm and courteous. I wanted to scream at the person for her incompetence.

“Did she say if you got in???” I asked.

“No.”

“Did it sound like you got in from her tone?” I demanded some more.

“She sounded neutral.”

“Is that good or bad???”

“I don’t know.”

Those ten minutes were the longest of my life. I paced the room and chewed my nails while Johan just sat there.

“Oh, it’s here!” He shouted and I ran away again.

A few moments passed and still no response, I started walking back into the room nervously.

His back was towards me, and the words on the computer were too small to make out. I had no clue what to expect. Will he have a big smile on his face? Was he waiting to surprise me and sweep me into his arms?

I came to stand next to him and held my breath.

Finally he looked up at me, and said “I didn’t get in.”

Chapter 65- I Love You

The first time that I realized I loved Johan was when I imagined his death.

Twisted I know.

Being an irrational worrier, I have semi-annual nightmares about my parents dying an untimely death. Once from drowning, another time from tuberculosis. Each time I would wake up bawling my eyes out.

But here’s the thing, I would only ever worry about my parents dying, never anybody else.

So a few month ago when the thought of Johan dying flashed by and left me in a panic, I realized: I must love him.

LoveDifferentLanguages

So when Johan whispered to me “I love you.” on that rock, I wanted to say it back. However, having never said it before, I hesitated a tad too long.

There’s no doubt that I love my parents, but I’ve never said “I love you” to them either. It’s just not part of our Asian customs. This may be hard for North Americans to understand, but imagine greeting strangers with kisses. Totally normal if you are French, just plain weird if you’re not!

So instead of replying, I reached up and Frenched him.

Afterwards I tried again, but the words got caught in my throat and the moment was over.

“Are you upset that I didn’t say it back?” I asked after some silence.

“I didn’t say it to get a response.” He stroked my hair.

“It’s just that… I’ve never said it before. It’s kind of a big deal.” I attempted to explain, “If I say it now, it would seem like that I’m only saying it coz you said it….You know???”

Bless him for even trying to follow my logic, but he nodded understandingly.

“It’s ok. I guess the reason I wanted to tell you now it’s because…” He sat up and stared off into a distance.

I sat up as well and listened intently.

“Tomorrow we’ll find out if I get accepted to Toronto.” He was referring to the university and thus the ambiguity of our future together next year depending on whether he gets in. “And I didn’t want the results of that to taint this.”

He continued speaking while looking away. “I’ve been feeling it for awhile, so I decided that the next time I felt it, I would say it.”

“I think I feel it too…”I confessed, “It just may take awhile for me to get used to saying those words.”

“I get it. I’ve ever only said it to my parents.” He smiled and turned to face me.

“What was their reaction?” I was curious because his parents were Asian too.

“They just stood there looking shocked and uncomfortable.” He chuckled.

“Hahaha!” I bursted out laughing. “Sorry…but they didn’t say anything at all?”

“My mom hugged me stiffly and my dad mumbled something under his breath then continued watching TV.”

I laughed some more and was grateful that he understood having grown up in an Asian household. My ex-boyfriend could not understand and was frustrated with me for not saying it back. At the time, I wasn’t sure what distinguished “love” from “like”, and felt wrong saying it if I wasn’t sure. As if those words had certain weight and responsibilities attached to it, not to be used lightly.

I thought maybe I was just being too serious. North Americans say it all the time to family, friends and lovers. “You’ll just know.” was probably a Hollywood invention and perhaps saying “I love you” did not always require such obvious and powerful feelings.  However, I still couldn’t utter those three words to Bob, it just didn’t feel right.

Looking back, I realized I was never in love with him. However, I am in love with Johan. The feeling was palpable. So why couldn’t I say it aloud?

Maybe I AM too Asian.

I may love American television and prefers going Dutch at dinners, but deep down, I am old school Chinese. I’d much rather buy you a giant gold ring than voice my true feelings.

Just kidding, I am also cheap.

Some time later…

When Johan’s brother was in town, we took him to La Cava Bar for free salsa lessons. None of us ever tried salsa before, and most people took refuge at the bar.

Johan and I decided to take the lead and went up to the dance floor first. However, with the both of us having two left feet, we were hardly a sexy sight. After many failed attempts at spinning me, Johan stopped to observe a particularly skilled couple.

“I got it!” He proclaimed and took my hand again.

Just when I thought we would finally get it, he stepped on my foot and our forehead smacked together. We let out a simultaneous “Ow”.

I started laughing uncontrollably at our clumsiness, and without thinking, I said “Oh I love you!”.

Johan took my hand again, spun me around into his arms, this time with no injuries, and dipped me the way you see in movies.

“Welcome to the dark side.” He smiled and bent down to kiss me.

Chapter 64- Decisions and Confessions

“How old are you?” A stranger asked me one night at a party.

“I’m 26.” I responded instinctively. “No wait… I think I might have turned 27.”

Then after some carefully calculations, I realized “Oh noooo, I’m almost 28!”

When I was a child, I couldn’t wait to grow up. More specifically, I wanted to be in my mid-twenties because I imagine those to be the best years. With disposable income, no children and the energy of a young gazelle, I pictured penthouse apartments, swanky cocktail parties and whirl-wind romances.

However, my imaginations were limited to the twenties. Life after that was a complete blank to me. The idea of marriage, babies and pensions were too abstract and far off in the future. Dirty diapers and bills were not fantasies but things my nightmares were made of.

So when this (rude) stranger asked for my age, I was suddenly jerked awake from my daydreams to the realization that I was about to be a REAL adult.

And I still didn’t know how a RRSP works.

—-

“The school wants to know by next month if I’m coming back next year.” I told Johan over dinner one night.

“So… are you?” He asked.

“I was only supposed to be in Shanghai for a year. Now it’s been three.” I still had trouble processing how fast time flies.

“Are you trying to tell me you are not coming back?” He reached out to touch my hand.

I contemplated for awhile then said, “I think I’m at an age when I need to start thinking about the rest of my life.”

Each year that I decided to stay in Shanghai, I vowed it would be my last. My goal was always to gain experience in China, but ultimately go back to Canada. However, as I grew to love Shanghai, I was having a hard time sticking to my original plans.

In China, everything was so vibrant and I was getting used to the cheap cost of living, interesting mix of people and endless possibilities.

However, I was also getting tired of its transient lifestyle and began to build up Canada in my head the way people idealized an ex lover. I fantasized about Toronto’s food, cars that yields to pedestrians, and clean air.

This was also around the time that pollution in Shanghai went over 300 AQI. In Canada it’s probably around 20.Screenshot (1)

I was getting tired of walking outside and not being able to see past 10 feet ahead. I got sick constantly, and holding in my breath did not seem like a long term solution.

One night we decided to have an “End of the world” party when the PM2.5 level went off the charts. I was recovering from my third lung infection, and the school was to shut down due to emergency pollution levels. My internal tug-of-war between Canada and China ended as we ate hotpot with our facemasks on.

“I’ve decided not to return to Shanghai next year.” I broke the news to Johan the next day over the phone.

“I think that’s a good idea.” He said calmly.

“You do?”

“Well since I’m hoping to go to Toronto for school next year, this would be kinda perfect.” He reminded me.

“Any news on that front yet?” I asked tentatively.

“I should get a decision by Saturday.” He replied.

“Wow…”I contemplated what the decision could mean. “Wanna hangout at Pudong this weekned?”

Johan came over on Friday and we ate Chimichangas at a Mexican restaurant then walked around the “Foreigner’s Mall” in search of dessert. We decided to try the shaved ice stall that seemed perpetually empty compared to Cold Stone’s across the street.

“This is horrible…”Johan grimaced after one taste.

“Yeah, I can see why nobody goes there.” I agreed.

“Why are you still eating it then?”

“I don’t know…”I said with self-disgust as I devoured the whole thing.

Johan chuckled and we walked hand in hand to a nearby park. We laid down on a large rock while admiring the view of a an obviously man-made river. It was romantic nonetheless.

After awhile, I felt his stare rotate to me, and I turned to face him.

“You have food on your face.” Johan finally said.

He rubbed off whatever it was, but continued to stare at me as his hands caressed my cheek. His smile faded and his expression changed to something more serious. I feared that he was gonna tell me he had cancer.

After what felt like an eternity, I got the urge to say something, anything to fill the silence. I was just about to make a comment about how the rock was hurting my butt, when Johan finally spoke.

“I love you.”

Chapter 63- The Universally Hated Holiday

Western holidays are HUGE in China. Christmas decorations often span an entire block in Xintiandi, with Santa Claus so big it’s like God looking down from heaven.

Valentine’s Day is no exception.

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Everywhere you go, you’re bombarded with gargantuan hearts and an offensive amount of teddy bears. Restaurants are quick to jump the bandwagon with Valentine’s Day deals that says “Show her how much you love her with the ¥3000 dinner package! It ain’t love unless it’s got a view of the Bund.”

“Hey! My sister is going there this saturday!” Johan pointed at the poster as we passed by Mr. & Mrs. Bund.

“For the first date?” I knew about the new love interest. His sister had asked me to do her hair for the date. “On Valentine’s Day too?” I gasped.

“This guys is whipping out all the good moves all at once…” He said disapprovingly.

“Maybe he just really likes her.” I defended the poor schmuck.

“Yeah, but what’s he gonna do for their second date? Their anniversary? How is he gonna top that?” He said calculatingly.

“But if you don’t get the good stuff at the beginning, then you’ll never get it!” I commented knowledgably. “Everybody knows that a guy try the hardest when he’s trying to get the girl…”

“I don’t believe in that…” He squinted his eyes the way he does whenever he disagrees, “I think a relationship should go on a steady incline rather than reach a peak at the beginning.”

“Is that your way of telling me that you don’t do Valentine’s Day?” I said half-jokingly.

“I don’t believe in Valentine’s Day.” He answered flatly. “People should do nice things for each other because they want to, not because of some arbitrary date.”

“But in the hustle and bustle of daily life, people forget to do nice things for their loved ones.” I made a case for Valentine’s Day. Not that I really care or anything…

“It’s lose-lose situation for a guy.” He was not swayed. “You don’t do anything, you’re in the doghouse. You do something, you will always be one-upped by some guy that makes everybody else look bad.”

I immediately thought of my friend Sage. She always has these beautiful pictures on Facebook of all the sweet things that her husband does for her. Flowers on Mondays, cupcakes just because, wine made by crushing the grapes with his very own foot. They should really come with the hashtag #doesyourmanloveyouthismuch

“Fine…I guess we don’t have to celebrate it.” I said crestfallen.

“Is this a trick? Am I gonna be in trouble later?” He stopped in his tracks and looked me in the eye.

“No.” I decided. “I can’t think of anything I wanna do anyways.”

“Exactly. We don’t need Hallmark telling us what to do.” He kissed me on the cheek.

“Hold up girl!” Is what you must be thinking, or yelling at the screen as you read this. “We’ve been through this! This is exactly like what happened on your birthday! Remember?”

Well, yes and no.

I care about personal events, such as birthdays, graduations, holding off on buying that purse until it became 75% off.

You know… accomplishments.

My family was never big on the likes of Thanksgiving or Mother’s Day. They were white man’s holidays. Not that we ever did anything for Asian holidays either.

Basically, we were just lazy.

And so the logic goes, if I don’t care to celebrate society mandated holidays for my own mother, then I shouldn’t expect anything in return for something as silly such as the day some corporate fat cats decided to put a fat baby in a diaper and equip him with a weapon, all in the name of love.

—-

So I made peace with fact that on Feb 14, I would go to Johan’s, we’d get Sherpas and watch a bootlegged DVD. Probably 300 or 300: Rise of the Empire. Sigh…whatever happened to great American film heroes like Freddie Prince Jr. and classics such as She’s All That?

“Knock. Knock.” I spoke out loud seeing that the door was slightly ajar.

“Wait!” Johan yelled and slammed the door in my face.

“What the…” I jumped back in shock. What the hell was going on??? I tried to peek in through the peep hole.

After a few minutes, Johan opened the door slowly.

“What are you up to?” I eyed him suspiciously.

I walked in and immediately stopped in my tracks.

In place of his normally messy hallway/dinning room was a beautifully laid out table with candles and crystal glasses. That’s when I noticed that he was wearing his formal sweater vest. I felt underdressed.

“Welcome madam.” He said as he pulled out a chair for me. “May I start you off with some champagne?”

“Sure?” I was still a little shocked. “I thought…you didn’t do Valentine’s Day?”

“I had to say something to throw you off.” He winked as he poured the my favorite brand of sparkling wine.

“But I thought guys don’t care for this holiday!”

“I don’t care…But you do.” He handed me a champagne flute. “And I care about making you happy.”

“Aw…” I kissed him and we clinked glasses.

“Without further ado! Let’s get to tonight’s menu items!” He brought out an artfully arranged plate of rainbow colored veggies surrounding an island of seafood with brown rice.

“This here, is an Asian pear and cashew salad.” He drizzled a spoonful of dressing onto the greens. “Which we shall pair with an Asian sesame vinaigrette.”

“You made everything yourself?” I was in awe.

“Almost burned myself candy coating the cashews.” He said playfully.

He introduced rest of the meal like a professional waiter, and I played along gleefully.

“The hint of mustard compliments the crisp sweetness of the bell pepper and the shrimp is exceptionally succulent! I can almost taste the Mediterranean sea salt and feel the ocean breeze on my face! Pray tell good sir, where did you get your inspiration for such delectable dishes?” I smacked my lips and put on my worst British accent.

He whipped his head around dramatically to make sure no one is listening, and proceeded to whisper in a low voice, “The Food Network.”

The rest of the evening was perfect. The conversation was intoxicating, the laughter was as sparkling and the camera was flashing as I snapped pictures of each dish. Johan was hungry but waited patiently for me to finished Instagraming, #mybaeisbetterthanyours.

We were both slightly tipsy when Johan suddenly remembered “Wait! There’s still dessert!” He ran to the kitchen and brought out a plate of chocolate dipped strawberries.

I immediately reached for my cellphone cam.

“No! Don’t take pictures! These didn’t turn out as well as I wanted…” He poked at them discouragingly. “They look like poo…”

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“Maybe a little bit…” I failed to stifle my laughter and almost fell out of the chair.

He pouted.

I plucked a strawberry from the plate and ate it.

“Looks like poo, but taste like heaven.” I put my arms around him and pecked him on the cheek. “Thank you babe.”

Chapter 62- Games that people play

Being in a committed relationship was…different.

It’s less stressful, since you are both on the same level. You no longer sit on the edge of your seat, wondering if he likes you as much as you like him. Well, maybe still a little bit…

I thought I was a thrill chaser, but turns out I much prefer the comfort of intimacy and familiarity. Those who like the chase may find it boring. No mind games to be played.

Well, that’s not entirely true, there were still games…

Like that time we were both sick for the weekend, so Johan tried to teach me poker.

“Aha! I win! A royal straight!”

“Um…you need 5 cards in a row for a straight.”

“But I’m so close!!!”

“Sorry…rules are rules.”

“This game is BULLSHIT!!!”

“Ok, let’s do something else.”

“Get back here! Double or nothing!!!” I was determined to win back my Jelly Bellies.

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Or the time I had to leave his apartment to pick something up.

“You coming back for dinner?” Johan asked.

“Yeah, I’ll be back in a few hours.”

“K.” He said non-chalantly.

When I got back, there was an envelope on the door with a rose taped to it.

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“What’s this?” I looked around instinctively, thinking maybe someone left it for Johan’s sister.

I ripped it off the door, and saw my name behind the rose. Inside the envelope was a card that said “Will you go on a date with me?” followed by “yes”, “no” and “maybe”.

I was confused but intrigued. I opened the door and there was a trail on the floor, made of masking tape, which led to…his computer.

Not sure, what to do next, I sat down and looked for further instruction in the card again.

Nothing.

So I looked into the envelope. Alas there was another piece of paper, a “Declaration of Romantic Intent”.

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I recognized it from years ago. I thought it was cute and shared it on my WeChat “Moments”. He must have combed through my past posts to find it.

I chuckled as I read; it was hilarious and adorable at the same time. I wish I had to original to share, but I forgot where it is. Maybe all the best, as it was not entirely appropriate.

Then at the end of the declaration, there was a web address. I could tell that he created the site because it contained his name before the .com.

Ohhh, that’s why the computer…So I obediently turned on his laptop and carefully entered the URL.

A website popped up and it said: “I hope you will agree to go out with me. For a hint about the date, please complete the Quiz below.”

I laughed out loud with delight, thoroughly enjoying this game.

Scanning through the quiz, I realized it was actually quite hard.

“When was our first date?”

It depends which counts as a date, I thought to myself.

“What was the song we sang together at karaoke?”

Umm…Jason Mraz?

“What do I like most about you? Smile? Eyes? Boobs?”

I’m gonna go with Smile!

When I finished, I was hesitant to submit, so I doubled checked my answers like I always did in school. After changing a few, I finally hit “Enter.”

Another page popped up and it said “Ding Ding Ding! You Pass!”

Below it was a video. I clicked and a slightly unclear youtube video started playing. It looked like a concert of some kind.

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A pair of arms wrapped around my waist from behind, and I could feel Johan’s warmth. “Recognize the song?” He said as he kissed my cheeks.

“Yeah…it’s Flapper Girl by The Lumineers…” I said slowly, then suddenly gasped, “Are you taking me to their concert???”

“You’re one smart cookie!” He kissed me again.

“Oh my God!” I kissed him back, then realized, “Wait…is this why you kept sending me their songs during Chinese New Year???”

“Yep! I’ve been priming you.” He smiled mischievously.

“You planned it that long ago?” I couldn’t believe he didn’t mention anything until now.

“I saw that they were coming to Shanghai but I wasn’t sure if you knew them, so I had to plant the seed somehow. Good thing you didn’t hate them!”

“Hate them? I love them!!!” I gushed genuinely, “I can’t wait!!!”

“Oh and it’s at Mao Livehouse. The venue is amazing, incredibly intimate, nothing like those big stadium concerts.”

“Ohhhh, can we stand close that we touch their feet?”

“Does that mean you will go out with me?” He continued to smile with his arms wrapped around me.

“Hmm…let me think about it.” I pretended to consider.

“I’ll buy you dinner.” He upped his offer.

“And dessert?”

“Of course.”

“Sold!” I laughed and he kissed me.

“You know, you are pretty sneaky…I had no clue this entire time.” I said in between kisses.

“What can I say? I’m good at mind games….” He grinned widely, “So I’ve decided to use them to woo you instead.”

Consider me Wooed.

Chapter 61- Reunited and it feels so good

Chinese New Year passed by pretty quickly. I was busy with family festivities, and Johan was finishing some last minute preparations for school applications. Oh yeah, did I mention that he’s a do goodder? He wanted to go back to school and get a Masters in Social Work.

We managed to squeeze in a phone call once in awhile, and it was always within earshot of my prying relatives. “Who ya talking to? Your BOYFRIEND???” My 10-year-old niece would scream out. Luckily they don’t understand much English.

We also WeChat messaged each other everyday.

“Listen to “Flapper Girl” by the Lumineers. I’m currently addicted to it.” Johan would share his most random thoughts.

“Omg, all of their songs are good! I downloaded their entire album after that song!” I would reply a day later.

Before I knew it, a month was up and I was back in Shanghai. And there’s one person that I couldn’t wait to see.

“Hey!” Johan called when I landed. “Got back ok?”

“Yep!” I answered excitedly.  I wish he could have picked me up from the airport, but Mr. Do-Goodder had to volunteer at the Crisis hotline. Fine…go help people.

“When do you want to meet up?” He asked.

“Well…it’s still early. When are you done your shift?” I hinted subtly at the fact that I want to meet up NOW!!!!!

“I’m almost done.” He replied.

“Ok! Come over!”

“Now…?” He sounded unsure. “To…PUDONG???”

I’ve asked him to my place before, but he always refused trekking all the way down to Pudong. Saying there’s nothing here anyway. I was almost ready to concede again, but reminded myself to be more assertive. Why was I always the one going out of my way? Why couldn’t he come to me this once? Relationship is a two way street.

“If you don’t want to see me, then fine.” I moped. Ok…slightly manipulative. Hey, I’m new at this!

“I do…it’s just…Pudong…” I could hear him grimace at the thought.

“Well, I really want you to come.” I decided to just be straightforward. It’s not exactly an unreasonable demand, I just got back and I was tired.

“Ok, Ok. I’ll cab there after.”

Ah, ask and you shall receive. I perked up again, and gave him the directions.

Half an hour later, I was picking Johah up at the gate.

“Hey” he greeted me with a kiss that made all the guards stare. “I missed you.”

“I missed you too.” I mumbled, suddenly shy at the sight of him.

“And your hair looks good.” He complimented me and my face turned into a tomato.

“Ok, ok. So tell me what you’ve been up to while I was away!” I changed the subject, not used to such flattery from him.

He told me about the schools he applied to. Mostly Canadian universities but one US school because they offered a double degree in social work and computer science.

“Most of the schools require that you have a Bachelor’s in Social Work, so I’m a bit worried about that. But hopefully I can write a killer essay and they’ll overlook my lack of experience.” He explained his plans to me.

“Why computer science though?” I asked.

“Something to supplement my income. Social work is not exactly a gold mine.”

“Very practical.” I praised, and slightly relieved.

What? I like stuff…

Of course as soon as we got inside, we stopped talking and started pawing at eachother.

Midway through our makeout session, he pulled away and cupped my face with his hands. He stared at me like he was trying to memorize every detail of my face. There was a soft expression on his face, and I wondered if he wanted to say something, but he just kept staring….and staring…

I wasn’t sure what he was looking for, and started to squirm under his gaze.

“Umm…” I felt awkward and finally had to break off our staring contest.

He continued staring for a few more seconds, then said solemnly “I missed you.” Without waiting for my reply, his lips was on mine again, and there was not much talking for rest of the evening.

Chapter 60- A Shanghai Styled Christmas

After our almost breakup but immediate makeup at Costa Coffee, Johan and I had to go our separate ways. Thinking that I might need a distraction post-breakup, I  made plans to go caroling around Shanghai. It was an impulsively conceived idea by some expat friends, with minimal planning and no prior rehearsal.

We were predictably bad and horribly out of sync. Nonetheless the locals cheered us on, and we got filmed by a television crew. I also performed a cringe-worthy solo of Last Christmas on the metro, as a dare. I’m sure there were pointing and laughing. It was glorious.

I needed to leave for Chinese New Year soon, but luckily we managed to squeeze in one more day together.

Johan invited me to celebrate Christmas at his place with his sister and her friend. Instead of turkey, we made Vietnamese Spring rolls. Instead of pie, we bought baked sweet potatoes from the street guy and improvised a casserole. We also watched a bootlegged copy of Enchanted because it was his family’s tradition. They reminisced about their mother’s cooking and we laughed as my rolls kept falling apart. His sister was always civil but cool towards me before and this felt like an acceptance into the family.

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Right before I had to leave, Johan pulled me into his room and handed me a giant blue box with a big bow on it.

“Oh, ha…is this to make up for my birthday?” I teased.

“No…I got it awhile ago.” He said bashfully. “Before your birthday, I considered getting you a frozen yogurt machine, because that’s all you ever talk about…”

I did? Ok, I may have once chosen froyo machine as one of the items I would bring to a desert island.

“But I didn’t know if that would be too much too soon. Given our relationship status at the time…” He muttered.

Hmm… I guess guys worry about these things too.

“So I talked to my sister, and we decided it’s best if I get you something for Christmas instead.” He continued. “Of course this was before we almost broke up…”

I tried to hide the disappointment knowing I could have had a froyo machine. Instead I smiled and said “Aw, but I didn’t get you anything…”

“Oh, I don’t want anything… Just open it!” His urged as his face lit up with anticipation.

I opened it and…how can I put this nicely?

It was an ugly sweater.

“THANK YOU!!!” I did my best fake enthusiastic squeal followed by a hug to avoid direct eye contact.

“I picked it out myself!” He announced proudly while letting out a sigh of relief. “I thought the ruffles match your jacket!”

“I love it…” I looked at it some more, trying to make that true. So frilly…

I gave him another hug, this time genuinely touched. I suppose guys also have insecurities when it came to relationships. I never knew he put so much thought into my birthday. Just bad execution I guess.

“So, I’ll call you once a week?” He referred to our plans while I’m gone for a month.

“And we’ll text over Wechat everyday.” I confirmed.

We hugged again at the door and held on for a few seconds too long, both reluctant to let go. This would have been the first time we were apart and a month felt like such a long time. As I walked away, I felt myself missing him already and wondered how people in long distance relationships do it.

Gosh, I thought, I could never do that.