We have been dating for five months now. Despite working as a medical intern at a busy hospital in New York and training for an upcoming marathon during my spare time, MK and I managed to talk and spend time together whenever we can.
One night as we strolled along the streets of Manhattan, MK said to me, “can I have a private moment with your Dad tomorrow morning?”
“Well, so that I can ask him for your hand in marriage.” MK said after a moment of hesitation.
The honking of city cabs went silent. Pedestrians passing blurred into background. I looked into MK’s chocolate brown eyes, and willed myself to memorize this moment forever.
After the engagement, life clicked into an invisible cogwheel, turning my life toward a brand new direction. Our parents met for the first time at the engagement party generously hosted by Mom and Dad. It was a merry six-course dinner affair that took place in Patricia Yeo’s Sapa in the Flatiron district. Gloriously decorated, Sapa delivered French influenced Asian cuisine that echoed our East West interracial union. At the engagement party, the question of when we were to be married came up. We were moving out to California for my residency training soon, so our stock answer was in one year: after we settled down from the big cross-country move. Mom took down MK’s birth date and time and consulted two independent Bagua experts in Taiwan for the blessed date. According to the mystical ancient Chinese Bagua (八卦), a couple would have great fortune if they were married on a particular date, during a particular hour. The chosen date and hour were derived based on a complicated calculation system that took into account the couple’s birthday, birth time, and the alignment of the stars. A few days after our engagement party, the result was relayed across the Pacific Ocean. Both 八卦 experts independently came up with the same date.
Apparently, this particular date for us happened to fall within three weeks. Not three years or three months, but three weeks. “Well, I suppose if we can find a venue for our wedding on that date that was not already booked years ago, we can just go from there,” Monkey King helpfully suggested. To that end, we immediately crossed off Brooklyn Botanic Garden, Staten Island Chinese Scholar’s Garden, The Central Park Boathouse, Cloisters Castle, Gotham Hall, Wave Hill. Unless it was at somebody’s house, a June wedding in New York was something that was planned at least a year in advance. Throwing a wedding party, it seemed, was just not a spur of the moment sort of thing.
I was an intern doing night float at that time. Night float shift at my hospital started at 6pm and ended at 8am. In truth, we ended up going in around 5:30pm to get ready for the evening rounds where we touched base with our daytime colleagues and familiarized ourselves with our patients that night. We checked their evening labs to make sure that everyone was stabilized and not needing any emergent orders. This would also give us a chance to stop by the emergency room to see if there was any pending admission. Surprises were not welcomed in a hospital. We rarely left the hospital before 8:30am, because we didn’t want to leave any loose ends for the new patients that we admitted overnight. According to New York State Department of Health Code, Section 405, house staffs (residents and interns) were not allowed to work over roughly 80 hours in a week. The running joke was that we were all criminals by being good doctors to our patients.
In short, planning a wedding during my night float month was not going to be easy.
My typical “day” after I signed out at 8:30am was to head over to the gym to train for my upcoming marathon race; followed by a shower, breakfast, and finally, gratefully, deep dreamless sleep until 4pm. When everyone was looking forward to the end of the working day, I woke up to grab a quick bite, and walked into the hospital in my scrubs to start another round of night owl shift. Even though I had little spare time, we did get Saturdays off, and MK and I spent those precious moments together.
“How about the B&B we stayed at in Hudson Valley? Remember they had a wedding gazebo on their ground?” Sure I remember. It was a gorgeous historic site with an expansive ground that was beautifully decorated with flowering trees and plants and a charming gazebo. At that time, both MK and I were too new into our relationship to take it seriously when the owner gave us a tour of the ground upon our arrival just a short two months ago. We merely giggled and nodded when the owner boasted that both of his daughters had gotten married on the ground and that us too, could do that if we wanted, in the future. Only we did not know that the future was destined to happen so soon.
I called the B&B up as courteously late as I could possibly stay awake in the morning. The owner answered with his bright booming voice. After recovering from the initial shock of what I was asking, “You want to get married in three weeks here because of the alignment of your stars…I see.” Yes! They had that date available.
Now that we had a place, what else did we need? I tried to search my foggy, post-call brain. Humm…a party needed music, food and drink! Being that Hudson Valley was home to the famous Culinary Institute of America (CIA), I was put in contact with a local CIA-graduated chef whose locally sourced, creative, seriously delicious meals were out of this world. His team was to provide both the cocktail hors d’oeuvres and dinner. Just going through the extensive mouth-watering menu was enough to make me look forward to this wedding party! Through the caterer, I got in touch with a baker who was to provide the best 3-tier fresh strawberry cream cake for us. Through the caterer, we had our bartender who could make any cocktail drinks one can think of. Zachys Wine and Liquor provided phenomenal wine selection from regional and global sources. What was more, one can return the unopened bottles at the end of an event. I asked our head bartender what to order, and placed the biggest order of alcohol in my life, to be picked up the day before our wedding.
After the food and cake and drinks, I thought about what else one needed for a wedding. I really had no spare time to read up on bridal magazines and books because just getting enough sleep and food and having clean clothes to wear without going insane or depressed as a medical intern was an accomplishment in of itself. Luckily a colleague of mine had a wedding organizer that she bought but did not use, and brought it in for me. Wow! Silly me!! Getting a place and the wedding party were not the only items on my checklist. I needed to send out invitation and one of those self-addressed RSVP envelopes besides an evite, a gown (Duh! Yes, I was pretty sure that I knew that in the back of my mind!), a person to marry us, marriage license, a photographer, flower girl, wedding rings, ring bearer, bridesmaid, groomsman, plates and utensils, centerpiece, chairs, music, makeup and hair, and the list seemed to grow exponentially every time I looked!
Alright, if I can admit twelve sick patients in one night, work them up, keep them stabilized and work out in the gym after sign out in the morning, I could take care of this endless list. My Type A personality poked up her sleepy head from her post-call pillow to remind me. I jotted these items down one by one on my little Palm Pilot (remember those? She really pulled me through some tough spots in the good old days!), and organized a plan to knock each one off my to-do list.
Invitation: I sent out evite invitations for those with emails, but I suppose paper invitation was in order. I headed over to the cute local paper store by Union Square that I must have walked by hundreds of times to choose my stationary. In keeping with the outdoor garden theme, I chose a simple, modern, design. When I inquired about printing the wedding invitation at the paper store, the lady said the proof would be ready in a couple of weeks, and the invitation would be ready in three weeks. HA! I could almost hear the stars bursting out laughing, so pleased with themselves with their practical joke in broad daylight up there. No matter. I typed up what I wanted my invitation to say on my little Palm Pilot to work out the wordings right there and then. Next I walked a few stores down to a Kinkos store where I used to print out color graphs and photos for my research papers and thesis. After hearing what I needed to do, the staff at Kinkos let me borrow their desktop computer to work out my font, size, and spacing. Two hours later, I came home with a stack of wedding invitations. The invitations went out that same afternoon, from the corner mailbox on my way back to work.
Gown: Kleinfeld in Brooklyn had a large selection of bridal gowns. I booked an appointment at the earliest time in the morning that they would take me, so that I could at least get some sleep before my night shift after the appointment. The moment we stepped in to the store, we were ushered into a fitting room. There, I had a helper who discussed what types of gowns I was interested in trying on. She ferried off and came back in no time with two armfuls of beautiful dresses. Growing up, I was not one to dream about weddings and girly things like being a bride. I was groomed to be a physician, so I played with lab sets, Legos, and Chinese abacus. The closest I got to play with a doll was when my mom had a miscarriage while I was in elementary school. I bought her a Barbie doll, thinking that perhaps playing with a doll might cheer her up for losing a baby. She was grateful for my thoughts, however oddly formulated that was, and we soon put that doll away in a closet since neither of us had any interest in playing with dolls.
I stepped on the pedestal, and felt an inexplicable thrill. The power of the white dress, however delayed, was not lost on me. I tried on one gown after another, with Mom and Dad sitting there either nodding or shaking her head. At one point, I nearly fell asleep standing up while waiting for the lady to pin up the extra fabric behind my back. After what felt like forever, and an endless run of no’s, Mom went out to look through the dresses with the lady. They came back with an off-shoulder fitted bodice piece with an A line full-length skirt, a style we haven’t considered before. You see, I had just run the marathon. Because it was a cloudy day, I hadn’t thought to put sunscreen on. The result was dark, peeling skin on my bare shoulders. With that blemish, we hadn’t thought to consider an off shoulder piece. When I put the dress on, everyone nodded like one of those Hawaiian bobbing dolls. The fit just matched me perfectly. Oh well, I suppose I could wear my sunburn as a badge of honor on my wedding day. The good thing about having my wedding day so soon was that I only needed one fitting! There was definitely no time for big weight fluctuations in this short time frame.
Music: since MK was a musician in an indie rock band, I delegated this task to Monkey King. I wanted to have fun at my own party. To me, that meant being able to dance to original songs, not cover bands. One of MK’s good friends who was a kick ass DJ graciously accepted our invitation, charging us a fraction of what a normal DJ would cost. I was guaranteed a fun night of dancing with friends.
Flowers: I knew I wanted fresh flowers as centerpieces. Question was what kind of flower? Since every corner store and grocery store in New York sold flowers, I started paying attention to what flower was in season in June. Peonies! Pink, dark pink, pale pink, white, cream, orange; gorgeous peonies were blooming everywhere. In Chinese tradition, peonies brought good fortune to a family. Well then, peony it was! I used peonies for boutonniere, corsages, bouquet, and centerpieces.
I had time to make one trip up to Hudson Valley to arrange for everything. I called up everyone including the local flower shop, utensil rentals, makeup and hair, and lined them all up for in person interviews in one day. After I signed out my overnight patients in the morning, Mom and Dad picked me up from my lower Eastside apartment and off we went. I tried to nap on the trip up, but kept getting interrupted by phone calls. When we sat down with the rental place, I went with my gut feelings. No decision took more than a minute. I mean, did anyone really remember or care what kind of silverware or glassware one used at a wedding? For that matter, what kind of chair one sat on at a wedding? To me, what made a wedding memorable were the people, the food and how much time I got to spend on the dance floor. I picked low height vase for the centerpieces because I wanted people to be able to see across the table and converse with one another.
“Well, that was easy!” said the vendors, after an hour of lightning speed yes’s and no’s. Nearly all the details of the event including the timetable for deliveries (i.e. flowers to be delivered to the baker for some fresh flower decoration) were decided. I breathed a sigh of relief and crawled into Dad’s car and dropped into a dreamless sleep.
Priest: Through our B&B host, I had names of a priest, a rabbi, and something or another. It was all in a fog. Being a Taiwanese Zen Buddhist, it didn’t really matter to me who married us. Since my mother-in-law was a devout Christian, I decided to get in touch with the priest. He replied to my email right away. Yes! He would be available in three weeks. He emailed me a few versions of his blessings to get the general direction, and we set up a time to have a phone conversation to fine-tune the details. He called promptly at 9am as I stepped in to my apartment. I shook off my clogs and raced to pick up the phone. He turned out to have a very warm and kind baritone voice. Soothing, so very soothing in fact, because before I knew it, I had fallen ASLEEP while the priest was talking. I woke up when I heard, “so what do you think? Hello? Hello?” Blood drained from my brain, “oh humm, I think that sounds good, but could you repeat that last bit please? The signal wasn’t very clear on my end.” I clumsily answered while attempting to stifle a yawn. It wasn’t until 10 minutes before my wedding that I met the good priest in person.
A June wedding set in Hopewell Junction, Hudson Valley took place in a fairy tale setting. I went through the day feeling calm, peaceful and excited. Friends and family gathered. We had a Taiwanese tea ceremony first inside the house with our immediate family. I wore a glorious chi pao that Mom brought in from Taiwan. Dad made his father-of-the-bride speech which brought tears from everyone, even our B&B hostess. Well, all except for Mom who was signaling Dad to stop talking, because she was worried about my mascara. The tea ceremony was followed by a Western ceremony out in the gazebo, led by the good baritoned priest. Fabulous hors d’oeuvres and drinks flowed all afternoon as people mingled and we took the mandatory wedding pictures. At dinner time, I sat down next to my new husband at our little “sweetheart table”, savouring the rack of lamb with rosemary with a wonderful glass of cabernet sauvignon that we picked up the day before. I spent most of the night dancing with MK and good friends as if we were just out in a dance club, except I didn’t have to fight for a space to dance because my dress gave me plenty of room; drinks were available whenever I wanted them; and I knew every single person in that grand ballroom. Yes, the bride had fun at her wedding!
I thought about writing down our experience when we married 10 years ago, but residency training, baby, puppy, board certification, career all kind of got in the way.
As I mentioned, I did not grow up dreaming of a wedding, or a husband for that matter. When I passed the age of thirty, I gave up on the idea of finding the right guy, and somehow that right guy inexplicably landed on my lap. During these past ten years, MK turned out to be more than everything I had hoped for. At our wedding, MK’s best man said to me, “Monki, you have no idea how lucky you are. You’ll see.” And he was absolutely right. We have only dated seven months before our wedding, and I was just going with my gut feelings. I really had no idea how MK was going to behave under pressure, or as the saying goes, in “real life”.
In real life, somehow everything worked out exactly as it should; perhaps exactly as what the stars had aligned and planned for us on the day, at the moment when we were born. All of these were meant to be, if only we knew how to listen to the stars.