Reclaiming Asian pride: a San Diego private prenuptial tea-and-cocktail celebration
This is our love story
How It Began
It was springtime in Japan, a year before the Great East Japan Earthquake, the cherry blossoms were in peak bloom, puffing out soft white and pink on either side of the Kashio River. It looked exactly as it sounds.
Of the 20 students in our study abroad cohort, Amy stood out. She was a tomboy with a serious look about her, and she often sat off to the side. For her, there was no joining group photos, enkais (parties) or clubbing, but as her opposite, I ensured 100 percent attendance to all things academic and social which is probably why we were drawn to each other.
Then one day, I had plans to spend time alone without friends which was rare; yet somehow Amy found me at a nearby coffee shop. “Caught you…I think that you’re more introverted than you want people to know” she said. It was so easy from there and we fell into a routine.
On weekdays, we’d take the hour-long walk to campus, often brushing against one another without apology. I would marvel over our assigned readings. She’d smile and say nothing. I was certain that I bored her, but every morning she would be waiting for me by the genkan (entryway). I would tell her about bookstores, gardens, and historic sites and she told me of cafés and teahouses that inspired her to start her own business. The ground was soon covered with cherry blossom petals, a reminder that our time was bookended by a clear beginning and a clear end.
For a long time, I didn’t have a name for how I felt, probably because I’d never felt that way about a woman before. Or maybe I feared that a name would cheapen the experience. A day before the program ended, Amy cut off communication and left without saying goodbye. I remember pulling her shoebox open and finding only dust rising in the sunlight.
After two years of bouncing between trying to understand and trying to forget, Amy contacted me out of the blue. “Want to grab tea?” The audacity, I thought. Grab tea? I grew dizzy but politely accepted. After all, I had been waiting to hear from her again.
Soon after our first date, I received a job offer to return to Japan as an English language teacher. The process to apply had been so rigorous and the benefits so appealing that I would’ve been a fool to turn it down.
As I was boarding the plane, Amy confessed her love for me in an email and told me she was going to visit me that fall and as promised, Amy arrived as soon as the leaves turned. We traveled to Yokohama, Tokyo, and Kyoto where we finally shared our first kiss. From there, we entered into a long-distance relationship. She visited frequently, splitting her time between traveling with me and studying tea.
Goodbye Honeymoon Phase, Hello Reality
After two years, I returned home with too much luggage and reverse culture shock. We relocated to the Bay Area, where we rolled up our sleeves and got to work. I threw myself into my writing and Amy learned all that she could about business, teas, and tea wares.
We moved to San Diego where I’m from to be closer to family (Amy’s family is based in Los Angeles) and so that she could start PARU Tea Bar. She sources teas from Japan, Vietnam, where her family is from, Thailand, and more, and opened a storefront. I secured a job as an editor.
After five years of dating, Amy proposed at the Japanese Friendship Garden in Balboa Park under the sakura. It was a sentimental moment, one that reminded us both of our term abroad. We scheduled our big day for April 2020, a decade after we first met! We found ourselves in a situation with so many other 2020 brides during this unprecedented time in our society and so a month before our scheduled wedding date, we decided to postpone the wedding due to COVID-19.
Prenuptial Celebration Inspired by “In the Mood for Love”
Even with the postponement of our wedding, we decided not to fully hit the pause button on our celebration. As a Leo, Amy prefers to do things in a certain fashion, so she shut down Born and Raised, a local restaurant in San Diego, so that we could have a private prenuptial tea-and-cocktail celebration.
The moody setting of Born and Raised reminds us of Wong Kar-wai’s “In the Mood for Love.” For us, the film in this moment in time symbolizes a reclaiming of Asian pride (Amy is Vietnamese American and I am Filipino American) in difficult times. The tea ceremony was incredibly intimate. Amy personally blended a batch of sakura-cha, or cherry blossom tea, to highlight our first meeting and new beginnings as wife and wife.
Unable to find the perfect pairing, we opted for two: cherry almond dark chocolate bon bons from Deux Cranes and coconut panna cotta with grapefruit gelée by Milly’s Fine Cakes. The whimsical assortment was balanced by timeless rentals from Catalog Atelier and stems from “flower fairy godmother” Tam Ashworth.
Love in the Time of Corona
A week after our intimate prenuptial celebration, we soon realized that our rescheduled date might not work out and decided to get married that weekend in front of the house that I grew up in. My family rolled out a paper aisle and sprinkled it with fresh flower petals, set out beads for the Yugal (wedding cord), and watched excitedly through the screen door. It was the first queer wedding that my uncle officiated in his thirty years as a pastor.
People say that marriage is just a paper. To us, that measly paper means everything.
People say that marriage is just a paper. To us, that measly paper means everything. It means that we’re honoring the LGBTQ+ community members and allies who fought tirelessly for marriage equality. It means that if one of us were to die, we’d lose a wife. Not a secret lover, best friend, or roommate. It’s proof of the kind of love that has been historically buried.
The cherry blossoms will soon make their brief appearance and with that a much-needed glimmer of hope. In some places, they already have. But after they’re gone, we will continue to face this global pandemic with varying but universally felt levels of uncertainty. We will find big and little comfort in knowing that we’ve committed ourselves to something rich and strange—the adventure of being a family. For better or worse, and in the most inconvenient of times.
Photography: Matoli Keely Photography
Creative Direction and Floral Design: Tam Ashworth
Venue: Born and Raised
Tea Ceremony Tea: Paru Tea Bar
Tea Ceremony Desserts: Milly’s Fine Cakes
Tea Ceremony Bon Bons: Deux Cranes
Tea Ceremony Invitations: Evelyn Peele
Tea Ceremony Rentals: Catalog Atelier
Hair and Makeup: Beauty by Stacey
Engagement Ring: Emi Grannis