China is full of surprises. More than chicken feet and duck tongues, and babies wearing split pants sans diapers, and fuchsia peach tree blossoms.
After a 24-hour layover in L.A., Matt arrived in Shanghai on Friday evening. I could barely sleep and standing here, waiting for him at the International Arrivals gate, I was hopping from foot to foot and holding my hands in front of me, elbows winged out like a Von Trapp daughter ready to burst into song. I had to keep myself occupied, so I took this picture of a woman who had been waiting for her Somebody longer than I had.
I meant to watch her long enough to see who she was meeting, but when I saw Matt’s head bobbing through the crowd, I jumped and waved and ran to the end of the gated-off walkway and completely forgot about her. But I’m sure Somebody loved the flowers.
We didn’t quite make the 7pm shuttle back to Hangzhou, so we celebrated Matt’s safe arrival with his first Tsing-Tao. Look how Chinese he already is!
On Saturday, he was up around 5:30am; I thought he was just adjusting to the new time (at 13 hours ahead of St. Paul, it was 4:30pm back home). He was definitely ready to go do some exploring by the time I rolled out of bed, and the day was perfect for it- a rare blue sky and warm sun, even at 7:30am. I suggested we walk down by the lake; I live just north of West Lake, so I asked if he’d rather go east (busy shops, lots of restaurants) or west (scenic, quieter causeway). He said definitely west.
We grabbed a steamed bun breakfast from my favorite street vendors and headed down. On the way, I pointed to Baochu Pagoda, which sits atop a hill overlooking the north end of the lake, and commented that we should climb to it on our way back. Once we made it down to the shoreline, Matt was a little taken aback by the amount of people and tour groups milling around. By Western standards, it really is crazy-packed down there most of the time, and if it’s your first day in China and you’ve only had about 4 hours of jet-lagged quasi-sleep, a crowd that large might make your brain explode.
So as we looked up at the relatively uncluttered sightseeing cliff at the foot of Baochu Pagoda, I completely understood why Matt wanted to climb to it right then instead of waiting. So up we went.
We took some pictures and strolled around a bit, and Matt pointed to a quiet little spot under some leafy trees where we could look out over the whole city, so we headed that way. And then he said, “Oh hey, you dropped this,” and put what I thought was my Vilas keychain into my hand, upside-down.
Sidebar: Before I left for China, Vilas was wearing her original dog tag, which had my phone number on it. Since I planned to disconnect my phone until July, Matt got her a new tag with his number on it and suggested that I keep her old one on my keychain in China. I’ve loved having it and often keep my thumb on it when my keys are in my pocket.
So when Matt placed a small and brassy circle in my hand, I thought my Vilas keychain had fallen off of my keys, and I was so relieved he’d found it. And then I turned it over.
Things get a bit foggy here. Matt says I was shrieking (probably true) but all I remember is my pounding heart and shallow breathing, and crying and smothering Matt in his bended-knee pose, holding onto him like I might fall off the hill into the lake. And suddenly there was a ring on my finger.
I could barely speak. The moment was so perfect. We’d had plenty of Future Talks, and before Matt came to China, I had decided that I was going to tell him that I was ready, whenever he was, to have The Marriage Talk. To change our future into our present. And it was okay if he wasn’t ready because I knew that someday he would be, but I wanted to tell him, and I had total peace in my heart about this conversation. I knew that however it ended, we’d still have a killer time together in China. It was like he read my mind. He just knew.
And then the ring. Agates have been pretty special to me since I was little. My favorite place in the whole world is Little Girl’s Point in Michigan, on Lake Superior, and one of my favorite things to do there is sit on the beach and comb it for agates. My great-great grandparents were original settlers of Little Girl’s Point, and my great-grandparents owned a little store called The Agate Shop there. My great-grandma, Francis Oman, would find beautiful stones on the beach and with my great-grandpa, Stanley Oman, would make jewelry out of them. One of their daughters, my Grandma Nelson, taught me how to sit on the beach and slowly pass my hand through thin layers of the rock beach and search for striped and swirled and lake-polished agates.
I loved it- still love it. I can spend hours looking for them. I even brought a few handfuls of them to China, to give to my students. They’re created out of volcanic heat and years and years of pressure and wave-tumbling, and they look pretty plain until they’re ready to break open and show you what’s inside.
And Matt knew that an agate would be the perfect centerpiece to a ring he wanted to design. While I sat there speechless, he told me how he tracked down the stone, and that the diamonds were from a conflict-free mine in Canada, and that he had to put “Jennifer Rose, will you marry me!” on the dog tag because no owners ever need question marks after their dogs’ names.
And here we are. Eventually I stopped crying and now, neither one of us can stop smiling.