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Donny’s mini-blog for Tuesday

So my tactic for dealing with the stress of the upcoming nuptials is to try to have as normal of a routine as possible. This means going to the office for a couple of days of work. This way my head stays clear during the day.

However, the problem arises when I get home because this is when I can start doing the bulk of what is on my task list for the wedding…and that can be overwhelming when there are last minute work deadlines to deal with, client calls, and then in the limited hours before sleep, trying to cram in some work for the wedding.

Anyways, as I sit right now in my office done with the few things that were on my to-do list for Tuesday (3 client conference calls, interviewing a job candidate, an editorial deadline for a review article, and a deadline for a research survey), I can finally take a deep breath. And that is when a mix of joy and panic sets in. I’m taking the days on either side of the wedding off, so this is my last day in the office without a ring on my finger. In fact, THIS IS MY LAST DAY IN THE OFFICE WITHOUT A RING ON MY FINGER!!! OMG, I’M GETTING MARRIED. IN THREE DAYS! And then the extra panic starts to set in–the “festivities” actually start on Thursday when the out-of-town guests start arriving in the morning. And THIS IS IN JUST TWO DAYS!!

And suddenly, everything that I had been procrastinating on because of work (haircut, ironing, food shopping, cleaning the fishtank, doing the windows, sweeping the patio, making a wedding disco playlist, WRITING VOWS, etc.) needs to get done in THE ONE DAY WE HAVE LEFT before the out-of-town family arrive en masse at the flat.  ARRGH!

In between obsessively looking at the weather forecast (in not one or two, but on three different sources), I have found some moments of peace by taking time out to obsessively troll Gumtree ads for cute puppies for sale. These darlings below are two of our favorites so far.

So advice or anyone planning a wedding: Every time you get too stressed out from all the wedding work, just take a puppy break.


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The joy of practicalities

So we have had a fairly eventful week in the Wong & Dicken household. First of all, after much hemming and hawing and trying on dozens of suits, we have finally gone back to a nice one that we both liked very much the first time we saw it and tried it on. Our suits fit all the criteria on our checklist: European cloth, design, and construction; can be worn on occasions other than our wedding (otherwise we would have just hired something for the day); festive enough that we don’t look like we just left the office; special enough that we look like grooms rather than guests. Hopefully none of the guests will upstage us by showing up in tailcoats or a tophat (which I did see happen at one wedding we attended).

And NO, we didn’t go for this outfit.

Nope, not that one!
What we did NOT choose for our wedding

So the next step is that I will be taking my wedding suit home to California for my dad to alter. He’s a master tailor with over 50 years of experience working on high end Italian suits, so I think he will do a great job on mine. Plus, it will give him an opportunity to participate in the wedding, albeit indirectly. And for him to have to handle the wedding suit will make it all more “real” to him, if that makes any sense. It’s too bad that Chris can’t join me on this upcoming business trip since it would have been great to be there together, as a couple. (Plus my dad would be able to alter Chris’s suit too). We still need to get our accoutrements for the suits too (ties, shirts, pocket squares, etc), so if anyone has any recommendations (or knows of a good tailor in London who can alter Chris’s suit), please feel free to pass along the details.

Also, after a couple of weeks of waiting, we have learned that our invites are still stuck in customs. They were designed and printed by our talented friend Kiki at Alternate Greetings, but the Royal Mail doesn’t seem to care. Nor do they care that we are working on a deadline. Instead, they are treating the invites like any other business shipment entering the country, which needs to be checked for contraband and for which duties must be levied. With foresight Kiki has mailed out the U.S. invites on our behalf, so at least one portion of the invites are out already. (A slightly scary thought, as this now means the event is on for REAL and there is no turning back!).

And we have also touched base with each of our venues. One venue apparently has come under new management since we made our deposit, and has had a complete turnover of staff! A nightmare scenario, but the new manager was very accommodating, and they were able to find our names in the Big Book (where all the important pub events are listed), so we at least still have the venue. And I checked in with the venue for our drinks reception too, in order to get a few details (that affect where we purchase bubbly)–and have now been informed that we may not be able to bring our own bubbly after all! I have an appointment to speak with the manager next week, so hopefully we’ll get that detail sorted soon. And lastly, we’ve also been in touch with the restaurant, and those of you coming to the wedding will be happy to know that we have now added a dessert course (with a choice of crème brulee or raspberry white chocolate mousse!). Yum. And lastly, we have paid the final deposit for the Council Room at the Islington Town Hall. Again, it’s all real and it’s all happening!

Any lessons from this past week? Probably a “touching of bases” 3 months before the big day should be prioritized on the diaries of anyone planning a wedding. And as we go into the final stretch, I would aim for once monthly touching of bases with each venue and stakeholder. Also, especially if international guests and invites are involved, if I had to do things all over again I would err on the side of caution and have invites printed, delivered, and sent even earlier than the 6-8 weeks recommended by most wedding planners. (Who makes up these rules anyways? And do they apply to all countries and cultures?).

Fingers crossed that everything else will run more smoothly from next week onwards…

Key Events Practicalities

Suits and Bubbles

Just a quick update–we’ve been relatively quiet over the past few weeks. I had a bit of work travel, and Chris went to visit his family. Then we had a lovely long weekend in northern Spain where we attended the Williams College annual European alumni reunion–this year held in San Sebastian. In fact, this is the first weekend that Chris and I had together at home in nearly a month!

What this also means is that Chris and I finally had some time to do a bit more work for the wedding. We are now coming close to a consensus on what to wear. By virtue of being a tailor’s son, and also being the beneficiary of one of my father’s clients who collects suits (and who then discards them whenever he gains a bit of weight), I have a collection of very nice suits — some far nicer than I was aware of. We photographed ourselves wearing pretty much every combination of suits that Chris and I own to see if any of our outfits fit our criteria: A) we want to make sure we look like grooms and not like guests, B) we don’t want to look like we could have just stepped out of the office, and C) and we want to look great and not cheesy (so no top hat with tails, and no shiny suits like what a car salesman might wear or the guys from Miami Vice). I’m not going to let the cat out of the bag, but we’ll be stepping out for a shopping trip sometime soon–and will end up with two variations of the same overall outfit, each accessorized to complement our individual colours and tastes, yet with common themes to show that we are a couple (but not clones of one another). We also found a nice looking shop at Covent Garden with a two-for-one offer on at the moment…so stay tuned.

The other task we have been slowly tackling is to try to find the best bubbly under £10. This is rather fun, but also a bit disconcerting as it has been slim pickings so far with this tight of a price limit. Our drinks reception venue charges £10, so we  have to really watch our spending here. Having champagne instead of cava or prosecco automatically brings us to a minimum £25/bottle (+£10 corkage = £35). But too often, we have had totally un-memorable and forgettable champagne at different weddings and events. Unless you go higher end (Veuve Clicquot and Perrier Jouet are favorites, but not cheap at minimum £35/bottle), most champagnes represent very poor value for money. Meanwhile there are some very nice cavas and proseccos out there that don’t bear the premium attached to the French AOC.

So slowly (well, not so slowly since the stuff goes down so easily!), we have been picking up different bottles on offer at various stores. We’re looking for fine bubbles rather than large rough ones, and ones that “pop” (with forceful bubbles that you can feel on your face as you sip), and most importantly, a nice colour and flavourful memorable finish. Our frontrunner at the moment is Martini Prosecco, which is dry, light, zesty, and refreshing, with nice amount of fine bubbles. On the other side of the spectrum, there is a Chilean Vina Maipo Brut, which Chris wrote in his tasting notes as being “‘somewhat ass’, too astringent, and with an odd mouth feel.” Another one we tried recently was a sparkling sauvignon blanc, which would tick the box for something with a different finish. However, as soon as we unwrapped the foil and saw the artificial resealable cork, we knew it was not something we could serve in good conscience. And our suspicions were verified after the anemic pop of the artificial cork and the lack of vigourous bubbles.

So while we are having fun trying to pick a bubbly for our big day, we do need to also deal with the practicality of ordering large quantities of bubbly–it’s one thing to order 32 bottles, but another to have it stored, and then making sure it is all transported to the reception venue, chilled, and in time for the reception.

If any of you have any particular bubblies you would like to recommend, please let us know! And if you know of any distributors in the greater London area who are able to deliver chilled bottles, by all means please get in touch. In the meantime, we still have a few months of tasting left to do (there are worse chores in life!).


Key Events Practicalities

Yay! We’re not related!

Yesterday we did our first official wedding thing.

Early on Monday morning (well, it was 9.30, but that’s early for us) we journeyed through the melting snow to Islington Town Hall and met a registrar to ‘give notice’.

Giving Notice is the process by which you tell various official bodies that you are who you say you are, and there is no legal reason for you to not get hitched. The registrar we met was a lovely lady called Viktoria who talked us through everything, and answered all our random and ridiculous questions with good humour and grace.

Here is a picture of Donny signing a piece of paper that confirmed he hasn’t been married before and also confirming that we are not related:


Actually, the whole thing started off all a bit ‘Green Card’ as the registrar asked me a few questions about Donny. I managed date of birth alright, but when it came to occupation I came a bit unstuck:

“Something market researchy… Heading up diabetes…. stuff?”

I got there in the end.

Now that’s done the next job is to try and get some venues pinned down for the whole thing. The idea of an ‘Islington Wedding Crawl’ around three different venues sounded great in theory but that means of course it is three times the administrative headache compared to just going to a single venue for the day – and who knew that it would be so hard to find a home for 100 people for an evening do in Islington?

Time to get on the phone again…

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Parental encounters of the third kind

SCENE: Weekly Sunday night call home. Chris is in bed already. I am still on the couch, with a glass of scotch for both encouragement and premeditated consolation. We were watching Close Encounters of the Third Kind earlier. The Superbowl is now on in the background. I have already listened to 1.5 hours of extended Asian family drama, including sibling issues, squabbles about money, and 40-year old grudges that used to be brought up once every few months, but which seem to be brought up every other week now (and almost always involve some tears of anger, regret, and anguish)…
ME: So you’ve spent so much time talking about dad’s family today, what about your own family?
MOM: What do you mean? I’ve already told you about my mom and dad, and how bitter and difficult their lives were, and how hard they had to work…
ME: Well, your son is part of your family too. And your son has some news for you. Chris and I have decided on the date of our wedding.
MOM: As I said last time, congratulations to you and to Chris.
ME: (after a pregnant pause). So are you going to come?
MOM: You know I don’t like to fly. I couldn’t handle such a long journey. But if you want, you should talk to your dad and he can decide for himself if he will go or not. All I want is for you and Chris to be happy.
ME: So that means you won’t come? It was just last year that you were saying that you and Auntie [her sister] wanted to visit me in London and then go to Paris.
MOM: But that was last year, and we never said when we were going to do it. It was going to be after I retire, but now…now I still have to work and your aunt has a bad back and can’t travel…
ME: So is it that you really are afraid to fly, or is that you just don’t want Auntie to find out why you are going to London, if you end up going without her?
MOM: (Long silence). [Busted!!]
ME: Well I don’t really care if you come or not. It’s your decision. But I would like you to come. You say you only want me to be happy. Well, it would make me very happy if you came. This is probably the most important day in my life, and I want my mother and father there with me. I want my brother and sister-in-law there with me. I want the family to be whole together, even if it’s just for one day, for the most important day. That would make me happy.
MOM: So what would you like for a gift? I’ll send you a gift.
ME: No, I don’t want a gift. And I don’t want your money either. I just want you to be there, to see me happy, and to be happy with me.
MOM: (More awkward silence).
ME: Well we’ve been on the phone over an hour and a half already and it’s really late now. Think about the wedding. Whether you come or not will be totally up to you. But it would really make me happy if you and dad did come.
ME: Stay happy. I love you.
MOM: I love you too.
ME: *sigh*
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Days and confused…

So it has been difficult to select a date for our wedding. You naturally want to be inclusive. And you instinctively want to be practical. And yet you want to please as many people as you can. But at some point, you just have to let go and accept the fact that the one all-inclusive-date-that-fits-100-peoples’-schedules does not exist. And so you have to make sacrifices, and take chances, and eventually just commit to a date that you think will work for the greatest number of people.

It seemed easy at first. We found a venue we liked (Islington town hall) and a restaurant we liked (to be announced), with the seating capacity we were looking for. So you’d think that it would be a simple matter of marrying together the available dates from both places to see what we are left with. With the help of a lovely lady named Viktoria, who is the friend of a friend who works as a registrar at Islington town hall, we were able to get a list of times for dates we were interested in. And the restaurant had previously told us that they didn’t yet have many wedding bookings. Ace.

We had started off by blocking out a series of dates that we knew would not work. This included bank holidays, upcoming trips that we already knew about, other friends’ weddings and celebrations, the Greenbelt festival that a lot of friends go to every year, Chris’ band concerts, and of course the Olympics (during which London would be crowded, hotel rooms would be scarce, and transportation would be chaotic). Then there were two other criteria we wanted to consider: school holidays and peak summer flight fares. And this is where we started running into trouble.

Oddly, both Chris and I have quite a few friends on the invite list who are schoolteachers, and their needs are very similar to those of parents with school-aged children (even if they dont have children of their own). So one key issue we had to consider was that the school holidays are different between the US and UK. Whereas the school season starts up in earnest at the very beginning of September in both countries (Labor Day is the typical last hurrah before school starts in the US, while the August bank holiday serves that purpose in the UK and students are back to school the first Tuesday in September), the academic year doesn’t end until July 20th in the UK, whereas it ends a full month earlier on June 22 in the east coast of the U.S.

So suddenly, we found ourselves with a much narrower timeframe than we thought, when both countries are on summer break, and that timeframe is sadly punctuated by the Olympics, which will knock 3 weekends out of commission. And of course these times also correlate with peak fare season for the airline industry. I checked out summer fares to London and whereas the inbound trip to London was as cheap as $250 from the east coast of the United States, the flight back was almost triple that price! (In contrast, flying in June or September, while school is in session, could easily knock 40% off of those peak fares.)

Also, for extra flexibility with budgets and negotiating, we wanted some weekday options. For an American guest, a wedding on a weekday versus Saturday would be neither here nor there since they would likely be on vacation anyways while visiting London. Time off can be very difficult for school teachers to get during the academic year, so this was another reason we wanted the flexibility of having the wedding during the summer recess. But this then opens a new can of worms as all our friends who still have to work during the summer would have to take a day off.

And lastly, the other dates we considered were in September and October but the problem there is that anyone with school aged kids, and our schoolteacher friends, would not easily be able to attend.

To make matters more complicated, last week being Chinese lunar new year and all, I started looking into “fortuitous” wedding dates based on the lunar calendar (not that I really believe any of that stuff, but it doesn’t hurt to choose a lucky date if you have options. Friday 13th was another date on our list!). The system is very complicated, but certain dates are earmarked as good dates to get married–although not for everyone because there were exceptions for those born in the year of the dog, rat, dragon, or whatnot. My sign, the ox, wasn’t affected negatively by any of the dates on our short list but Chris’s sign, the dragon, was affected by a couple of dates. I can only imagine Chris’s face when he saw my email talking about these special dates–we were getting stressed out enough just with having to make some choices, all the time realizing that time was ticking (and other people were out there booking venues too!!).

And so at the end, I needed a zen moment. And so I learned to let go.

We got some advice from friends who had gone through the same thing several years ago. And it was good advice–the gist of it was that you cannot expect to please everyone. So the most important thing is to find dates that work for you. And so, there you have it.

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The joys of Islington

So I am happy to announce that we have decided to try to do as much as possible for our wedding in the borough of Islington, where we live. You already saw in a previous post how enthralled Chris and I both were with the main council chamber at Islington Town Hall. And I was personally taken by how friendly and welcoming the staff at the reception at Town Hall were when we told them we were interesting in having our civil partnership ceremony there. (Islington has a strong history of supporting GLBT rights, including sacking a registrar who refused to perform civil unions after those rights were granted by British law in 2005).

My personal history with Islington goes way back, to the days before I moved to London, when it was still an idea rather than a reality. I still remember sitting down with my company’s CEO with a map of London. He had lived in London for 12 years and still had many connections to the city. So he marked a few places on the map that he thought I should check out as nice places to live. He remarked that Knightsbridge and Belgravia would be far out of my price range, but suggested that I check out Chelsea and South Kensington, Putney and Fulham, Notting Hill and Holland Park. I didn’t realize at the time that these were all prime places to live around central London, and that the salary he was sending me to London on would barely afford me a studio in these areas!! (I should have taken the opportunity to ask for a raise). But ranked #4 on his list was Islington in North London, which I checked out while on a pre-move visit.


I still remember walking over to the Angel along Pentonville Road. I had set off after work one day from the office at Russell Square, passing by Euston Station and Kings Cross-St Pancras Station. And I found myself feeling strangely at home.

Now fast forward a few months: I was in my temporary flat in Bloomsbury after having made the move, and I had been scanning online adverts for affordable one-bedroom flats for hours. I had previously had a bad experience with a housemate in the months before I left Boston, so I was adamant that I would live alone no matter the cost.  I started my search rather pragmatically by drawing a 30 minute walking radius around the office and seeing what I could afford. Naturally most of the area around the office (Covent Garden, Soho, Mayfair) were far out of reach on my salary without doing a house share. But there on my computer screen, I was looking at the perfect flat off Kings Square, on the southern tip of Islington, in an EC1 postcode, just a few minutes walk from the Angel, and within a 25 minute walk from the office. It was the first flat that I saw, and I knew that this was going to be home–and it was where I stayed there for over two years.

So naturally when I realized I was going to stay in London for a while, and it came time to hunt for someplace to buy, I looked primarily in Islington. This time I ended up in the north-east side of the borough, near the Hackney and Haringey border. And this is where Chris and I now call home.

What do I like about Islington? Our area of Islington, called Highbury, is relatively quiet, yet with good transport links by both tube and bus to central London. One side borders on being lily white with tons of hair salons, and even a fromagerie, yet on the other side we have a wealth of ethnic markets and a multicultural blur of activity, a little bit of craziness, and some edginess, and we are a stone’s throw from Emirates Stadium, home of Arsenal Football Club. We’re also surrounded by three parks within short walking distance (perfect if we ever decide to get a dog), the lovely village atmosphere of Stoke Newington Church street (where Daniel Defoe used to live) is just a stone’s throw away, and the bars, restaurants, and hustle and bustle of Upper Street are just a short bus ride away.

And best of all, two of these “top 10 British pubs” are within stumbling distance! So Islington is where Chris and I have set up shop, and Islington is where we will be inviting everyone to our nuptials (once we have decided on a date and venue–but that’s another story).


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Facebook, privacy, and pressure

Wow, two posts in one day! I haven’t been this inspired in…days.

So now it definitely feels like the pressure is being turned on. Earlier today, Chris and I decided to make our engagement public. We had already told family and close friends. My folks were not exactly excited (but that’s another story). Now it was time for everyone else to learn about the news, and of course the easiest and quickest way to do it was via Facebook. So with one quick push of a button, our friends, the rest of the world, and of course, the databases that Facebook maintains in order to direct advertising towards us, were notified of our upcoming nuptials.

And literally, within seconds, the “likes” and congratulatory comments started filtering in. They came from people from all the different phases of my life–childhood and high school friends from San Francisco, college and grad school classmates from Boston and Williamstown, Massachusetts, and colleagues and friends from both coasts of the Atlantic that we have met along the way. I’m off to bed soon (it is just past midnight), but I am sure there will be dozens more by morning. I was (and still am) feeling a bit overwhelmed. So to those of you who took the time to click “like” or leave a comment–here’s a heartfelt thank you! 

Those of you who know me know that I value my privacy and do not take this type of public exposure lightly. Even this blog is a bit of a departure for me. But I feel very strongly that it is important to be visible, and to serve as a role model for others. And to not hide behind a cloak of anonymity. One of the things that drew me to Chris, was the fact that he does work hard to support causes that he believes in; he and his friends have worked to try to bridge the gap between the Christian world and the GLBT community and to create safe environments for kids trying to navigate between these two sometimes seemingly diametrically opposed worlds. I’m not at all religious, but I can recognize the strong ethic within Chris and the values that they represent. And it is shared values, at the end of the day, that form the foundation of a healthy relationship.

But now that this public announcement via Facebook has been made, I can feel the pressure go up a notch. A wedding ceremony, like any other ritual, essentially has an element of theatre, and the pressure is now upon us to put on a good piece show, albeit only for one day. Good thing for us, Chris is also a published playwright. 🙂

We won’t have Wills and Kate’s resources or army of wedding planners (although I do have William’s hairline), but we’ll do our best.

Plastic Smiles?


Key Events

The Proposal

Night Jungle

As we start to tell people our news, we can’t help but notice that all our male friends tend towards hearty hugs and offers of congratulations, but our female friends tend to go in for squealing and an instant demand for details.

So in order to satisfy the requirement for details, here they are:

I’ve been quite up for the idea of marriage for ages, and I have been dropping the occasional unsubtle hint which had generally been met with horrified looks from Donny and accusations of being a Bridezilla. In honest truth (although Donny probably won’t believe me) I had put the idea out of my mind. Especially as if we did go through the whole process of marriage and then decided to move to the US, our marriage would mean precisely nothing in the eyes of the INS.

But then when we were on holiday in Thailand, something amazing happened.

Let me set the scene:

We were outside our little hut which had a balcony that had a view through the jungle out to the sea, above which the moon had just started to rise. We had just finished off the last of a bottle of duty-free scotch we had brought with us (I hasten to point out this was now the fourth night there) and I was just thinking about turning in when BAM! – Donny gets down on one knee and asks me to marry him.

As you can imagine – my answer was a massive yes!

After the necessary hugs and such two thoughts occurred to me:

First: I really hoped we had a similar idea about what this meant.

As it turns out, we do – phew.

Second: What on earth was Donny’s family going to say?

Yeah… you’ll read about that in the next article.

So currently all we know is we want to get married in London (and maybe also do some sort of thing in the States) and we want it to include just enough standard wedding stuff so people feel comfortable, but enough imagination to actually make it memorable.

And the release of a flock of doves – obviously.

Dawn, as seen from Koh Naka Yai