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We are married!

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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?