To those of you who have been waiting to hear our proposal story, thank you! This week has been a crazy one, and I have wanted to do the event justice when retelling and documenting it. But now, without further ado, I will recount to you in full detail (perhaps more than you had hoped) the story of how I popped the question.
Proposal Day (some might call it “P-Day”) started off very early. Normally I get up around 6:45 a.m., but on P-Day I got up at 5:30. So as to not arouse Tian’s suspicion, I feigned sleeplessness for 15 minutes, got up, and quietly closed the door completely behind me as I left.
Freed from the confines of the bedroom, I quickly and quietly began executing the plan that had been weeks in the making. I posted the blog message that I had pre-written, dressed in the clothes I had pre-positioned on the couch, and grabbed the backpack that I had pre-packed with everything I needed for the day. Finally, on my way out the door, I cleared a spot on our hallway shelf and carefully placed a single rose and hand-written note besides a small bottle of Hugo Boss perfume that I had bought specially for Tian. This was Surprise #1.
By the time Tian woke up, I was long gone from the house. Based on her account, she got up and had started looking around for me when she came across the perfume, note, and rose. Completely surprised, she opened the note, which I had written by hand entirely in Chinese. The first line stated simply (albeit slightly incorrectly), “Today is a special day.” Unbeknownst to her at that point, this message would appear several times throughout the morning. Tian texted me in excitement and asked me where I was. For the time being though, I ignored her message. This was just the beginning.
While Tian was discovering the first gift and getting ready for the day, I was preparing for Surprise #2. Near our bus stop, there is a small breakfast vendor that makes delicious Chinese pancakes called “Jian Bing.” This is one of our favorite street foods to eat, but Tian usually skips it preferring instead to eat at her school’s cafeteria for free. But on P-Day, I intended otherwise and had a secret plan.
To execute my plan, I had enlisted the help of the breakfast vendor earlier in the week. Using my broken Chinese and lots of gestures, I explained that I needed her make a Jian Bing for Tian and deliver it with an attached note as a surprise as she approached the bus stop. I would hide out in the corner of her small store and point Tian out so she would know her. To trick Tian, the woman would carry a picture of Tian and me, so Tian would think that’s how she recognized her. Before I left our first meeting, I confirmed that she was going to be there on Friday morning.
When I arrived at the breakfast vendor’s shop at about 6:45 on Friday morning, however, she was nowhere to be found. Instead an older woman was at the window, and the store was closed. To top it all off, she even had my hideout door locked. I asked her to open the door so I could try to re-explain the plan, but she thought I was a little crazy (maybe true). I was dismayed! My plan had been foiled!
Or had it? Not wanting to give up a key surprise of Tian’s morning, I quickly hatched a plan B. I bought a jian bing at another vendor at the corner and went to look for someone who could deliver it. It couldn’t be someone AT the bus stop because they could leave at any moment, but it had to be someone nearby. We also had to have a good hiding spot with a clear view of the sidewalk. I spotted two young men smoking around the corner of the building with a well-positioned telephone pole for hiding. I went up to them, explained the plan in Chinese again, and got them on board. We were back in business.
Together we waited about ten minutes until Tian appeared walking toward the bus stop. I gave them the signal, and they non-chalantly walked out to the street, called her out by name, and gave her the jian bing, note, and picture. I could tell from my hideout vantage point that she was surprised and excited (later verified). As I had requested the boys didn’t return to my hiding spot. Instead they just boarded the next bus and whisked away, unaware of the important role they played in our lives.
On her bus, Tian opened the second note, as she ate her breakfast snack. Fittingly the first line said, “Today is a special day. Do you believe me now?” After pulling it off even when it was close to falling apart, I was beginning to believe it myself. Surprise #2 had been a complete success!
The journey toward Surprise #3 began right away. Purposefully I let about 10 minutes go by and then boarded the next bus toward school. I had waited the extra time to make sure that Tian got to work and settled in her office. Plus given the unpredictability of the bus system in China, I didn’t want my bus to pass hers or to accidentally let her spot me at the stop. To make extra sure the later did not happen, I even got off at the stop after our normal one and walked an extra five blocks back to school.
As I approached the school, my targeted accomplice was right where I hoped he would be. He was one of the regular gate guards. I approached him and told him about my plan. Not knowing how to say “proposal” in Chinese, I said the word for “anniversary,” which really helped him understand. He took the gift (a special cake from a local bakery that Tian enjoys but often passes by), the note, and her picture. Confident things would work out and not wanting to run into Tian, I quickly left the school grounds and went to work.
Like the other surprises before it, this one went off as planned too. I learned later that he had brought it inside and given it to Tian’s colleague, who then brought it to her. Tian read the note, which among other things, directed her to read the new entry on my blog (you guessed it, Surprise #4) right away.
The blog entry was an integral part of my plan. It was written all in Chinese, which I knew would catch her attention and compel her to read it right away. I also wanted everyone else reading my blog to start to wonder if something was up (because it was). The blog message said basically that I wanted her to meet me at Yuan Ming Yuan park, which is only about 2 blocks away from our schools, after work at 3:30. To keep her thinking about it all day, I gave her a few cryptic hints as to my intentions but nothing obvious.
About two hours later, Surprise #5 walked through Tian’s office door. She had just finished teaching a class and was on the phone. Just as I had hoped, it was the delivery woman from the campus flower store delivering 8 red roses and the fifth note of the day. Tian later said that her colleague and officemate predicted a proposal. Not wanting to be wrong, Tian played it down saying, “Jeff has done things like this before.”
At that point, the day seemed to pass so slowly. Both Tian and I had class, and I had office hours. But at about 3:15, I made an early exit from school and found my way to the gate. Shortly afterwards, I saw Tian walking down the street grinning widely. It was the first time we had seen each other all day yet so much had already transpired.
From there, we entered Yuan Ming Yuan park and walked around together recounting and laughing about the day’s events. It was a beautiful fall afternoon – about 60 degrees and sunny. For those who aren’t familiar, Yuan Ming Yuan is huge and has miles of walking paths around lakes, wooded hills, and famous ruins. I could tell why the emperors of the past had made this location their summer vacation spot. I had taken a gamble when asking Tian to meet there, as neither of us had seen it in person. But it turned out to be just perfect for the occasion.
After a nice walk, we came across a patch of mature willow trees (our favorite type!) whose canopy draped a wooden bench that looked out over a lake into the setting sun. I wish I could say that I planned it this way, but I honestly had no clue that it would be there. But recognizing its beauty, I pulled Tian toward it and we sat down. I shared 88 reasons I loved her, then got down on my knee, and proposed in Chinese. She said yes and we both just took in the moment together.
The number 88 is special to us. Two weeks earlier, Tian and I were working on family vocab. To help me keep all the vocabulary straight, I had created an imaginary indexed family tree. Each family member had a box and number, including “me.” When we got to my fictional spouse’s box, Tian teasingly said that she didn’t like the number (it had a four in it, which sounds like “death” in Chinese) and asked that I change it. Teasing her back, I said that I was touched she cared so much and let her choose the spouse box’s number. She chose 88, a number that carries special meaning in Chinese.
We spent an hour more walking around the park then made our way to an Indian restaurant in our neighborhood for dinner. It was delicious and exactly what we both were looking for, a special way to end what truly was a special day.