Some of you may have seen the photos on Facebook and Instagram, and I am here to confirm that the rumors are true: Chris and I got engaged on Valentines Day in Temecula Wine Country, California.
It seems like just yesterday I was blowing up on Huffington Post for my article about how my love life was a disaster. Being a single foreign lady is not easy in China, and my singledom stretched on and on in a drought that lasted FIVE YEARS.
Funnily enough, Chris actually read that article I wrote about how Travel is Ruining my Love Life and thought, “I’d date her.” Ask and you shall receive!
My Travel Blog Romance Story
I casually mention Chris all the time on Adventures Around Asia, but I never go into personal details. I’ve never actually written about how we met, how we started dating, or where our relationship was headed.
The most you all get is through my monthly recaps or personal travel stories, like that time Chris broke his arm in Sumatra by falling off a dive boat.
If you’ve been reading along, you’ll know that Chris eventually moved to Beijing, got kicked out of his apartment, and found a new one in the Beijing Zoo area. You’ll also know that a few months later I was kicked out of my apartment, and I moved in with him.
You might know that we lived with Chris’ brother Dom, his partner Bronte and their two-year-old son Elliot who is the cutest boy on Earth. You’ll remember that we showed Chris’ parents around Beijing and almost immediately took my parents on a two-week adventure tour around China.
More recently, we stayed with Chris’ family in rural Australia for over a month, met up with Chris’ mom in Vegas of all places, and are now staying with my family in California.
But, what about the details? How did we meet? How did we start dating???
Well, I’m here to fill you in.
How We Met: TBEX Bangkok
Yes, Chris and I met in the most stereotypical way any travel blogging couple can meet: at a travel blogging conference.
TBEX is the biggest, baddest travel blogging conference out there, and they host in different cities around the world multiple times a year. I’d been dying to go to TBEX for about a year by the time I finally found a conference I could actually affordably get to from China: Bangkok, Thailand. (Seriously, you don’t want to know how much it costs to fly from Ningbo to Athens.)
As a bright-eyed blogger new to the professional travel blogging sphere, I was super excited. Not only was I pumped to network, learn new tricks, meet brands and hang out with my blogger friends, I was also not-so-secretly hoping to meet a travel blogging man of my dreams.
What can I say? Being single for multiple years will do that to you.
The TBEX After Party
Fast-forward to my very last night in Bangkok: The final TBEX post-party had ended very early because they only had enough alcohol for each blogger to have one, maybe two beers. I definitely wasn’t ready to head back to my hostel, so I jumped at the chance to go out drinking in Soi 4 with a few other bloggers.
After about two hours of drinking alcohol out of buckets, our small group had turned into a giant party of approximately 30 people. I was sitting next to my travel blogging girlfriends and a guy I had met the first night.
I have to say, this male blogger was extremely intoxicated and a bit too touchy-feely. A few bloggers raised their eyebrows, suggesting that maybe the two of us might become an item. Unfortunately for him, he was a bit too far gone for me to take him seriously.
At some point in the night, this blogger urged Chris to come over and meet the new love of his life: me.
He explained that I was living in China, and urged Chris to come meet the woman he was in love with. In case you were curious, said blogger has absolutely no memory of this conversation.
Since Chris had previously lived in China and was planning on moving back to Nanjing, he came over to my section of the table to meet me. We chatted for about 20 minutes, mainly about how awesome China is, which was a breath of fresh air after meeting so many bloggers that either: A) didn’t like China, B) had no desire to go, or C) thought it was weird I had lived there for so long.
Who doesn’t like to gush about a country they basically framed their entire blog around?
After a quick chat, Chris returned to his end of the table and that was that. A few days later he friended me on Facebook and I completely forgot he existed.
How We Started Chatting
One random day I was scrolling through my Facebook feed and happened to see a photo of the world’s smallest apartment with the caption: “I moved back to Nanjing!”
It was a full 6-months after the conference, but I still remembered briefly chatting with Chris at that TBEX after party. I left a quick comment on his status telling him to let me know if he was ever in Beijing.
Somehow we started talking on Facebook messenger. To be honest, both of us were too lazy to spend the hours it would take to scroll back through our Facebook messages and see who originally messaged who and why.
However it happened, we eventually started chatting on Facebook and switched to Wechat when we realized it was stupid to chat on a forum that was blocked for both of us when we could easily use Chinese Wechat to communicate.
We chatted as friends about China, Nanjing vs. Beijing, our expat lives, and our frustrations with the people we were dating, who just couldn’t seem to commit.
Our Forray into Online Dating
Slowly but surely we started talking every day, and I began to realize how easy it was to talk to Chris. It felt like I could tell him anything and he always knew just what to say.
After a few months of this, I started to like Chris as more than just a friend, and we danced around the idea of dating through causal jokes. But after weeks of joking flirtation, we eventually had to have the big conversation: should Chris come visit me in Beijing for the Chinese National Week holiday?
We decided the answer was yes, and I was super excited to show him around. However, apparently, Chris was a bit more cautions and purposely booked his dates so that he’d only be in town for a few days. I had no idea he’d done this until later, of course.
National Week in Beijing
Having never dated online, I had unusually high expectations for my week with Chris in Beijing. Chris, on the other hand, had experience with online dating and was really nervous he wouldn’t like me in person.
When I arrived at Chris’ hotel room to take him out to dinner, I came in the midst of a disaster.
In addition to blogging, Chris works for a safari company, Shadows of Africa. He plans private, luxury safaris, and works with booking staff in Tanzania to get great deals for his clients.
However, something had gone horribly wrong. One of the expensive, luxury hotels Chris had booked for a client had a 5-night minimum and they were demanding the extra 3-nights of payment… and the safari was just a few days away. No one had told Chris about the nightly minimum, and the client had already paid for the entire safari!
As I arrived, Chris was on an emergency Skype call as his co-workers frantically worked to find a way around this issue, which had cost the company almost $2,000! Talk about chaos.
After almost an hour of damage control, Chris and I were finally able to head out to dinner. While it wasn’t the most ideal second meeting, it was a great way to break the ice!
Fun Fact: Our wedding date is exactly three years and one day from the date we met up in Beijing. No, we did not do this on purpose. Our lives just revolve around Chinese holidays.
Nothing is Perfect
I have to admit, meeting in person after talking online for MONTHS is a weird phenomenon.
Chris definitely had the right approach. He went in with low expectations and was pleasantly surprised. I, on the other hand, had unrealistic expectations and then started freaking out.
I overanalyzed all of my feelings, worried that this wasn’t how I was “supposed to feel”, panicked that our conversations weren’t as smooth as they were online, and cried myself to sleep the second night because I was afraid it wasn’t going to work out.
I honestly want to go back in time and slap myself.
Of course, things would be a teeny bit awkward when we finally met in person. It had been a year since we’d met in Bangkok, and an online relationship is very different from an in-person one. We were also both super nervous, which is to be expected.
The Great Wall Disaster
As is customary, I take every Beijing visitor to the Great Wall. Chris and I wanted to find a new place to explore and settled on Huanghuacheng. We thought Huanghuacheng was the Lakeside Great Wall (it’s not) and looked up directions for how to get there.
We grabbed a public bus into the countryside and realized once we’d hit the juncture point to get to Mutianyu that the online directions are WRONG. Not to mention, it was freezing cold and raining. Perfect weather for some Great Wall hiking…
We eventually grabbed an overpriced driver who brought us in his car to Huanghuacheng and pointed for us to head across the reservoir to a section of the Great Wall.
The two of us hiked our way up to the Wild Great Wall, where we paid a villager the equivalent of $1 to climb a ladder.
This section of the wall was nothing like the pictures I’d seen online, but we kept hiking nonetheless, thinking that eventually, we’d be able to hit the touristy lakeside section I’d seen in all the photos.
The wall was shrouded in mist, and we could barely see anything as we scaled step after step up a neverending stairway into the clouds.
About an hour into hiking, the mist parted and we realized… this was not the right section of wall. The Great Wall kept going up, and up and up, scaling an entire mountain. After the summit, it descended steeply into a small village. There was no way we were going to hike the whole thing, especially if we had to turn around and head back to the car in two hours.
With nowhere concrete to go, the two of us sat down and ate a picnic of oranges in the misty rain, laughing at our Great Wall disaster.
We continued to laugh as we attempted to spot Mongols through the fog, eventually meeting real inner Mongolians on our way off the wall. As we continued down the slippery stone steps of the sub-par Great Wall section, the skies opened up and we were drenched in a matter of minutes.
Eventually, we learned that the section of Great Wall we hiked IS Huanghuacheng, but not the part most people visit. It’s great for a lookout point over the reservoir, but not so great for hiking. Neither of these two sections are the Lakeside Great Wall, which is a 10-minute drive away.
But in the warm car ride back to the bus station, I didn’t care.
The rain, the cold, the poor directions, the car cost, and hiking the wrong section… it was all a recipe for disaster. But despite our failure, I couldn’t stop smiling.
Our Couple Debut: TBEX Philippines
After his trip to Beijing, Chris flew to the Philippines where I’d meet him in a few days for TBEX Manila. Our relationship status was still a bit uncertain at this point, but I figured we’d have the conference weekend to figure things out.
Apparently, Chris was a bit nervous about where we were at and spent most of the first night confiding in his friend Jub about how he wasn’t sure what was going on with us. But when I pulled Chris aside for a sneaky kiss later that night, he stopped worrying quite so much.
TBEX Manila is where our relationship really solidified. Chris was able to meet all of my blogging friends, who only had good things to say about him. I was able to see how much other bloggers really respect him, and we seemed like a great fit together. Everyone thought we’d been dating for months!
However, TBEX Manila came to an end much too quickly and we had a decision to make. Would we be long-distance for the next three months, or would we end things here?
After not having a relationship for a solid five years, the idea of making things “Facebook official” with someone I’d only ever spent just over a week with was a bit of a frightening prospect for me. But we both agreed we didn’t want our relationship to end.
The two of us decided that we wouldn’t see other people while we were apart, and also agreed not to make our relationship super public until we could spend more time with each other in person.
A Quick Christmas Visit
After traveling around the Philippines (jealous) and Tanzania (super jealous), Chris managed to create a quick layover in Beijing on his way home to Australia for Christmas.
I had to somehow pull together a combined Christmas and birthday present for Chris, which is easier said than done. But I was also super excited to see him after all of our time apart.
I managed to find all the ingredients I needed to bake a strawberry cake with cheesecake frosting (which was not easy in China) and created a full day of adventure for his birthday. I took him around Houhai Lake. We visited my favorite cat café and went to a hutong Christmas Market. Finally, we capped the night with dinner at Zhang Mama and alcoholic pie shakes at Rager Pie.
It was this quick trip to Beijing that made us officially announce to everyone that we were indeed a serious couple.
Chris Moves to Beijing
After the Christmas holidays, Chris decided to move up to Beijing so that we could live in the same city. I had a full-time job as a college counselor and his career was location independent, so it only made sense.
However, Chris’ brother Dom, his partner Bronte, and their 1.5-year-old son Elliot were also planning to move back to China and were considering jobs in both Nanjing (where Chris was living) and Beijing. Guess which job Chris convinced his brother to take…
The plan was for Chris and his brother’s family unit to move in together. However, finding an apartment was a bit easier said than done.
Chris Breaks His Arm in Sumatra
Just after Chris’ brother arrived in Beijing, the two of us took off for the Chinese New Year Holiday on a trip to Sumatra, Indonesia. We rode motorbikes around Lake Toba, trekked with orangutans in Bukit Lawang, and went scuba diving on Pulau Weh.
It was an incredible trip, and we had an amazing time. But on the last full day, Chris slipped off the roof of a dive boat and broke his arm. Did I mention he forgot to buy travel insurance? Whoops.
Thankfully Australia has a great socialist healthcare system, and he was able to fly back to Australia and get the surgery done for free.
Beijing Apartment Hunting Chaos
Because Chris was in the hospital on morphine, he put me in charge of helping him and his family find an apartment. Of course, the one day Dom and I both had time off work to do this was the day Beijing decided to snow.
Imagine apartment hunting in your second language in the snow with a screaming toddler and your boyfriend’s family who you’ve only met once or twice. Yeah, I was a bit concerned.
However, it ended up working out and we were able to find a cute place just within our budget.
Unfortunately… this apartment didn’t last long. When the owner discovered everyone in the house was on a 6-month visa, she wasn’t happy.
“How can you live in my house for a year if you’re only on a 6-month visa??!”
Our explanations about the visa process and renewal fell on deaf ears. She insisted that she knew better than to rent to foreigners and told Chris and his family that they needed to move out as soon as possible.
After a lot of hassle and searching, Chris and his family were able to find a decent apartment in the Beijing Zoo area, managed by a company and not a crazy landlord. It was a lateral move in terms of cost and quality. This apartment was much nicer, but the living space was TINY.
But home was home, and the four of them moved into the Beijing Zoo apartment while I stayed in Andingmen.
Getting Kicked Out of My Apartment
A few months later, I learned that my apartment had been sold, and I was expected to move out ASAP. With only a few months left at my job in Beijing, signing another year-long lease was definitely not an option.
Thankfully Chris and I were in a place where we felt comfortable moving in together. So I joined the Beijing Zoo clan and we stuffed a 5th person into the tiny apartment.
For the most part, we had a great time in that apartment, despite the living area being ridiculously small. I became much closer with Chris’ family and became Auntie Chell to Chris’ nephew Elliot.
Trying to Work From Home
In September, I quit my job working as a college counselor and decided to try my hand at working from home. Chris and I now had a new dimension to our relationship: working from home in the same small room.
Let me tell you, it’s pretty hard to work when your bed is RIGHT next to your desk. That was a challenge.
Chris and I were now spending every waking second together, and (for the most part) we never fought. We took breaks to cook together, we encouraged each other not to sleep in, and helped one another get through difficult work issues.
Oh, and proofreading. Lots of proofreading.
Meeting the Parents and a Death in the Family
September was also the month that Chris’ parents AND my parents came and visited China. First, we showed Chris’ parents and foster sister around Beijing. Then we took my parents on a two-week whirlwind tour of China.
Meeting each other’s families was definitely a bit step, and made both of us nervous. We wanted to play good hosts and also make a great impression.
We even planned to have our parents meet while in China, but unfortunately, Chris’ foster brother passed away while his parents were in Shanghai, and they flew back early to attend the funeral. Chris and I were with my parents in Xi’an when the news hit. While the death wasn’t entirely unexpected as he was terminally ill, it did come out of the blue and was very hard for Chris’ entire family.
Our Post-China Adventures
After years of living in China, Chris and I finally left this November. We headed to Japan to spend two weeks hiking the 170 kilometer Kumano Kodo Iseji Pilgrimage Route and then spent a few weeks traveling around Japan.
We spent Christmas with Chris’ family, and I was able to meet not only his immediate family but also a large chunk of his extended family. In the 1.5 months we were in Australia we also met up with a ton of Chris’ childhood and college friends.
We Started Wedding Planning When We Weren’t Even Engaged
As things became more and more serious, Chris and I started talking about getting married. First, we broached the idea of marriage, but once we got to Australia we started talking about a wedding more seriously.
As an international couple, you can’t talk about a wedding without agreeing on which country it will be in. Once we’d decided on Australia for the main wedding, we couldn’t talk about that without deciding on WHERE it would be in Australia.
We decided on the Sydney area because I wanted international guests to be able to easily attend. However, when I quickly checked prices I realized Sydney might not be attainable after all.
Seriously, $9,000 to rent a venue, NOT including food or alcohol?! No way, Jose.
So of course, the two of us started talking about other places that would be easy to get to. We were planning on visiting Bellingen and Coffs Harbour in a week’s time and realized that might be a perfect place.
Since we were already heading to Bellingen, I started looking at venues to get a general idea of what was available. We figured, why not visit a few venues while we were in town. Who knows when we’ll be back in Australia?
But you can’t visit venues without at least having some idea of a budget. Right?
Before we knew it, the two of us basically had a time frame, budget, and venue picked out and we weren’t even engaged. How does that even happen??!
Hurry Up and Propose!
At this point, our engagement was only a matter of getting the perfect ring and finding the right moment.
I knew Chris had ordered the ring online (I may or may not have sent him a few links to ones I liked), and I specifically told him that sooner was better than later.
With half our wedding planned, waiting any longer to get engaged wasn’t really an option. His whole family was already talking about our wedding, and my family and friends had no idea!
A few days after we arrived in Palm Desert, Chris asked my parents for permission to propose (they knew it was coming) and showed them the ring (which I walked in on).
Now it was just a matter of actually getting engaged.
Getting Engaged in Temecula Wine Country
As a Valentines Day Gift, my parents, Chris and I headed to an Airbnb near Wilson’s Creek Winery in Temecula California. We spent the day wine tasting and had plans for a fancy Valentine’s Day dinner at Wilson’s Creek.
After taking a few photos of the sunset, the four of us headed back to our Airbnb. When we got back, Chris asked if I wanted to go and “take some more photos of the sunset”, which was now almost nonexistent.
Knowing something was up, I headed outside and could barely contain myself.
We headed out to the vineyard and, of course, I was shivering uncontrollably because it was absolutely freezing outside. Chris insisted on giving me his coat and asked me to hand him the phone in his jacket pocket.
It was a smooth move, but unfortunately, it was lost on me, because all I heard was “Look in the pocket”.
I grabbed the box, freaked out, and Chris got down on one knee. I might’ve uttered something along the lines of “Oh, No!” Not quite sure why I said that, but that’s okay.
After a very nice speech on Chris’ part, which I heard none of through my mild tears and ecstatic emotions, we were officially engaged.
“What do you think of the ring?” Chris asked.
“I can’t even see it, it’s too dark!” I laughed in response.
The two of us decided to go on a romantic moonlit walk through the vineyard but didn’t get very far because it was pitch black out and we kept tripping over random branches on the ground, so we went inside instead.
That night we had an incredible dinner at Wilson’s with a little too much almond champagne. It was the best day ever, and I couldn’t stop smiling!
Finding the Engagement Spot
The next morning, Chris and I headed outside to take some photos of the place where he proposed. It was actually really easy to find because that row was THE ONLY row full of branches and brambles.
Isn’t it funny how life works out? At least it was easy for us to find the exact spot.
Planning the Wedding
Now that we’re officially engaged, Chris and I (well… mostly just me) are in full-on wedding planning mode. We’ve already booked the venue, created the guest list, and designed save the date postcards.
Most people have been shocked at how fast we move, but that’s what happens when you’ve basically planned half your wedding before you’re even engaged.
Because the wedding planning is 90% long-distance and we have people flying in from all over the world, we also want to make sure we’re booking things WAY in advance so that people have time to save up, get time off work, and buy flights.
Save the Dates are a lot cheaper to ship from the US than they are from Tanzania…
Excited for the New Adventure
Overall, these last few months have been really exciting. Making this next step feels both natural and surprisingly easy.
A part of me wishes I was living in Australia so that I could not be such a weirdly insistent bride (why does no one ever respond to my emails?!). These vendors probably think I’m insane for wanting to book everything so early.
But on the other hand, I’m really lucky to be location independent, because I can easily head down to the area a week or two before the wedding and get everything sorted without having to worry about taking time off work.
We’re Settling Down Without Settling Down
The biggest question I’ve had since I got engaged is: “Where will you be living??!”
The answer: Who knows!
It’s funny, but most people seem to think that because we’re engaged, we’re immediately going to buy a house, settle down and pop out kids.
Nothing about our lifestyle is changing once we get married, and we’ll still continue to work online, live abroad, and travel. Unless… you know, we change our minds.
I do plan on setting up shop in Australia or New Zealand for two years at some point so that I can become a resident (shout out to free healthcare!), but Chris and I have not decided where we’ll end up in the long-term future. I’m also not planning on having a kid for another 4-5 years, so we’ll deal with all that later.
Most people think it’s a bit weird, but Chris and I are excited to settle down without… you know, settling down.
Are You Curious About Long-Distance Weddings?
Do you have any questions about how we’re planning an international or “destination wedding”? Do you have any wedding advice? Let me know in the comments!
I’ll definitely be publishing a few posts in the future about how I planned a destination wedding with international guests, and how I did the wedding planning long-distance. So if you’re curious to know more, definitely let me know!
Hopefully, this post satisfies all of your curiosity about how Chris and I met and the story of how we became engaged. I promise I will share the wedding photos with all of you!