The Proposal

It was just another Wednesday, she thought. I wouldn't tell her where we were going, only that she should wear casual clothes and shoes that could get wet. I had something special in the breast pocket of the cowboy shirt I bought in Houston, the pocket snapped shut to make sure nothing fell out. It was the first day of Autumn, both on the calendar and in the way I was finally comfortable outside after a long summer.

The day began well — we met up north for an early lunch at her grandparents' house with her parents and two aunts. I was on that day; every word they said came to me like it was in my own language. I even had a chat with her grandmother, something I'd never really been able to do before because my Hangzhou dialect is about as good as my Swahili. Her folks asked me what we were doing for dinner, and I answered, I can't tell you where we're going, only that she should wear casual clothes and shoes that can get wet.

And it continued well — we went to the computer market to shop for a new computer to give to her mom, both a gift to say thanks, and a new way to communicate once she leaves the country. It's always fun to go on a mission together. I bought an iPhone 4, something I've wanted for weeks now, but haven't been able to get due to my lack of international travel these days.

We left for my house, and it had started to drizzle a little bit. Too small to require an umbrella, but enough to scare most of the people home. Once we got home, we opened the windows and a bottle of Chardonnay to celebrate the first day of Autumn. Time went by quickly, and we had to leave for dinner. Her curiosity wouldn't let up, and despite her questions falling on deaf ears, she pieced together where we were going as soon as we got on bus B支3.

下车后,请走人行道。过马路,请走人行横到。鼓楼到了, the automated voice on the bus said. We had arrive at the drum tower, the place she took me mere days after I first arrived in Hangzhou, the first place I remembered how to get to, the place we had our first date.

We strolled into the noodle shop near the corner, an old favorite of ours. It has become, over the years, the default place to eat dinner when we can't think of anything better. It's cheap, simple, fools me into thinking it's "old China", and their crab meat noodles are easily the best noodles in town. At this point in the evening, I couldn't wipe the smile off of my face. I had a secret — I knew where we were going, and I knew the climax — even if it killed me to keep it from her.

We ate quickly and I escaped to the bathroom to prepare what I had put in my pocket that morning: 200rmb for potential bribes, and the ring I spent so many days searching for.

The rain had gotten a bit heavier, so we had to stay close to each other to fit under the umbrella. She kept guessing where we were going, and I kept trying to throw her off course. Eventually, we made it to the beautiful garden near West Lake. The rain made the colors stronger, and the garden looked like an old Chinese painting. Although there was a little bit of fog rolling through, we could see everything perfectly because everyone had gone home.

I kept thinking about our first date: crab meat noodles near the drum tower, a walk through the garden near West Lake, and a chat while looking out on the lake. I think I like you more than a friend, she said to me, in perfect American language, before our first kiss.

We arrived at the bench we sat on nearly three years prior, and to my surprise, the bench was available! No need for the 200rmb I had prepared. The rain had covered the bench, so I wiped it as dry as I could with my handkerchief. She sat down. Like a gentleman, I put one arm around her, and held up the umbrella with the other.

I think I like you more than a friend, I said. She laughed. I continued, I want to spend the rest of my life with you. I took the ring out of my pocket.

And in the Hangzhou dialect I'd been practicing for weeks, I asked Daisy to marry me, and she said yes.

— Peter