A marriage proposal is supposed to be epic, right? Us guys get one shot to propose, and we better pull it off flawlessly if we don't want to be incessantly teased about how "you had one job!"
Well, hardly anything ever works out the way you envisioned it to. I've heard plenty of personal stories about mishaps, ruined surprises, and the most dreaded "I'll think about it" answer to a poor guy popping the big question in front of his friends.
On top of that, Joanna already knew the ring was coming. Surprising her wasn't going to be easy. I was more nervous than excited. I was up for the challenge, but as you're about to read, as much as I tried to make it right, I was still this close to messing it all up.
After spending the holidays with our own respective families, we met up in Hong Kong on the 8th of February. She flew in from Poland and I from Taiwan. Our plan was to spend a few days on our own before settling down for the next few months in Taiwan. After all, we hadn't seen each other for two months, and we knew we would be heading back to Chinese New Year celebration family chaos.
The short trip would also give me a chance to ask her a quick, simple yet not so simple question.
I bet you weren't expecting me to lead off with a photo of our hotel room. Trust me when I say I was shocked myself. I made a rookie mistake and booked a room that was smaller than Harry Potter's closet. I hadn't looked at the online reviews closely enough, and I only saw that the hotel's location in the Central district was very, ahem, central. And the price wasn't bad at all.
Despite having visited Hong Kong before, albeit 15 years ago, I failed to account for the fact that the room might be a teeny bit tight for two people.
It was pretty ridiculous, actually. We couldn't use the toilet without opening the bathroom door directly next to our bed. So you can imagine how inconvenient each morning came to be. I won't get into all the details. I'll let your imagination go wild here.
The only thing I remember about my last trip to Hong Kong was its density. Everywhere I went, I felt like I didn't have much room to move. Neither Joanna nor I enjoy crowded spaces, so I wanted to make sure that we ventured outward this time around.
But...Wait a minute here. If you're savvy about Hong Kong, you're probably wondering why the heck I booked a trip there in the first place. Couldn't I just have gone to Thailand or something? Not only would I have gotten better value for my money, I wouldn't have had to sleep in a shoebox.
The answer was easy. Joanna hadn't been, and her best flight options from Poland to Taiwan all went through Hong Kong.
The first couple of days went well enough as we checked off the typical tourist destinations. We took the MTR to Causeway Bay and the Star Ferry to Tsim Sha Tsui. We also made our way to the quiet Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery, hidden in plain sight behind a tall post office building.
The monastery actually houses nearly 13,000 golden Buddhas in all shapes and sizes, and we had a great time checking out each and every one of them without having to elbow anyone in the process.
The actual setup was simple enough. My plan was to propose on our last day in Hong Kong, a scheduled day of hiking away from the madness of Central. One of my cousins lives in Shenzhen, just a quick bus ride away. Our Plan A was for me to pop the question during the hike while he captured the big moment.
Joanna was ecstatic about the hike. I told her that my cousin knew the trails well and would be our tour guide for the day. Little did she know that he would also be our official engagement photographer.
The three of us met up at the Tung Chung station on Lantau Island, minutes away from the Hong Kong airport. We then took an hour long bus ride to Ngong Ping. After a quick visit to the Big Buddha with every other tourist in town, we took a left turn and ascended up to Lantau Peak.
When we reached the peak, my cousin and I reassessed the situation. Quite a few people were camped out with snacks and drinks, and there wasn't much room to roam around. We agreed that the timing and location wasn't great, so we went to Plan B.
He suggested that we head to a remote fishing village on the far end of the island. We descended the peak, got onto another bus, and headed for Tai O.
Tai O was charming in its own way. We walked through tiny streets that were filled with all kinds of seafood vendors selling anything from fresh fish to dried oysters to stuff I didn't even recognize.
We then strolled along the water and came upon a pier that was in perfect view of the setting sun. Only a handful of people were hanging out there. We took up a spot towards the end and gazed into the orange hue. The setup couldn't have been more perfect.
This was it! My heart started to race. I was finally going to propose to the love of my life.
I had been a bit more lovey-dovey than usual throughout the day. Once we got to the pier, I turned it up a notch. I nervously held Joanna close to me and whispered a bunch of random thoughts into her ear.
"Is't this great? It's such a perfect place to end our day. It's awesome here. I'm so glad we have my cousin here to take photos for us. Otherwise, we'd have to deal with a tripod. This is great."
The perfect moment presented itself as the other tourists left one by one, as if the Red Sea was parting just for us. Pretty soon, the three of us were alone. It was now or never, I thought.
(Editor's Note: Even writing about this moment has my heart pounding out of my chest.)
"Why are you being so weird right now? You're way too romantic. Your cousin's here and I just don't feel comfortable. I feel so awkward right now. He's circling us taking photos. What the heck is going on?"
"We have the perfect sunset here!" I said. "Don't worry about him. He's helping us take photos!"
"No! No! Let's go already! Whatever you're up to, don't!"
Abort! Abort! My mind went into overdrive, thinking a million thoughts, wondering what just happened. Was I really about to call an audible on one of the most important moments of my life?
Yes. Yes I was.
Joanna grabbed my hand and insisted that we leave. I peeked over my shoulder back at the perfect sunset as we walked away. I couldn't believe this was actually happening.
I was abandoning my marriage proposal.
The two hours on the bus and train back to Central felt like forever. After we got back, I tried to at least salvage the night a little bit. We went to grab a beer at the best bar in Hong Kong before calling it a night.
I had failed the biggest moment of my life, and I blamed myself for everything as I replayed the turn of events over and over in my head. I felt defeated, but I soon realized it was my ego talking. My plan didn't work because the need for a perfect proposal photo was what I wanted and what I thought she wanted, not what she really wanted. Once I realized the root of my mistake, everything else made sense.
I would get up the courage to try again the next day.
The next morning, we left Hong Kong and continued our adventures in Macau. Thank goodness our hotel room in Macau was HUGE, not only in comparison to the room in Hong Kong, but actually big. We both breathed a comical sigh of relief.
Skipping Macau's famous casinos, we roamed its historical city streets, dotted with both Chinese and Portuguese influence. We ate at a Portuguese restaurant and marveled at the Ruins of St. Paul's. We came upon another perfect sunset.
I had learned my lesson. Just 'cuz we were blessed with another gorgeous sunset didn't mean that it was the perfect time to propose.
As the sun dipped below the horizon, I told Joanna that we should go back to the hotel room, drop off our stuff, change into nicer clothes, and head out to the other side of Macau. We were only going to be in town for one night, so we might as well see as much of it as possible.
Once we got back, we popped open a couple of drinks and relaxed on the couch. My opportunity came soon thereafter when she got up to use the bathroom. That's when I opened up my backpack, took out the ring box, and hid it under a cushion.
When she came back to the couch and sat down next to me again, I knelt down on one knee in front of her, all smiles. We talked a little bit more about our day before I reached underneath the cushion.
I was no longer nervous. I held her hand as I opened the box and asked her a question.
To which her first reaction was..."WHICH HAND?!?!"
You see, in Poland, engagement rings are worn on the right hand while Americans and Taiwanese wear them on their left hand.
We settled on the left hand. I slipped the ring on her finger while she teared up.
"Wait, did you say yes?"
"The ring is already on my finger!"
"I guess that's a yes!"
"I didn't even know you were on one knee!"
I'm stealth like that.
There were no pictures. No sunset. Just the two of us alone in our hotel room. And that's exactly how the marriage proposal was supposed to play out.
In other words, it was perfect.
We laid on the couch for a little while longer before passing out exhausted from the long weekend. We never did make it out to see the rest of Macau that night, but that was besides the point.
I was going back to Taiwan with my fiancé.
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