Chapter 3 – Our Relationship Develops
Our plans for my visit grew over the next several months. At first, my plan was to only visit, and get to know her. Although we had been discussing marriage, at that point I wanted to meet her before making any life-altering decision. But over the next several months of chatting and e-mailing, my feelings grew. In late March, during one of our weekly chats, I told her that when I came to China, after we had met, if she still thought I was the person she wanted, I would ask her to marry me. I think I surprised her – I know I surprised myself. After that, there was never any question as to whether she would accept – her answer was understood to be “Yes.”
In mid-April Winnie purchased her own computer and established her own Internet service from her apartment. Her English language skills had improved enough that we were able to hold our private (without a translator) IM sessions. It was slow going, and Winnie was using a pocket translator a lot the next few months, but we managed. Once she had her own computer, we had daily and sometimes twice daily IM sessions.
It became hectic with the 12 or 13 hours time difference, but I always enjoyed chatting with her. I also knew how difficult and expensive it was for her, and grew to respect her all the more. We attempted voice-chat several times, but between limited language skills and technical problems on Winnie’s side, voice chat’s were not very successful. So we stuck to typing all our correspondence. When our schedules permitted, we’d chat for several hours at a time. Saturday mornings my time was usually the best time for these extended chats.
We were also exchanging snail mail letters, pictures, cards, and small packages. As much as I enjoyed chatting via Yahoo! IM, an actual letter was so much nicer. Knowing I was touching a letter or card Winnie had sent made her seem that much more “real.”
Once it became a given that we would be getting married I researched international marriage and visa issues. I learned that the requirements for family visas were that the couple needed to either be married within 90 days of the person arriving in the US, for fiancee visas, or they needed to marry abroad to gain a spouse visa. At that time (spring of 2003) fiancee visas were advertised as requiring a six month wait, while spouse visas were advertised as about nine months.
As the most common method was for the couple to marry in the US on a fiancee visa, I suggested this to Winnie. She had other ideas. After several lively discussions via IM I agreed to marry in China during my visit. I had misgivings about gaining a visa for Winnie as my spouse, but I also knew she needed to have some security while she waited for her visa to come through. So, we planned on an October wedding in China.
It was during the spring that Winnie adopted her nickname. Her English had improved to the point she was interested in adopting an Anglicized version of her Chinese name “WeiFang.” After a bit of discussion, she settled on Winnie, which she continues to go by.
In June Winnie traveled back to her hometown to be with her family for a weekend – and to announce she was marrying a man “from far away.” I started informing my family and close friends of my intentions. Their reactions were, at best, mixed. I think the most honest reaction was from one brother who, after a few moments of silence asked “is that what you really want to do?” When I said “Yes,” his response was “Well then, congratulations.”
I started to plan out the trip, acquired anew passport, Chinese visa, plane tickets, and scheduled vacation time. I also researched what papers I would need from Winnie to file for her visa. Winnie researched what it would take to get married while I was there. Due to Chinese law on foreign marriages, we’d have to travel to Yulin City for the civil ceremony, about a 3 and one half hour drive from Nanning.
We knew that with only a two week trip everything had to be arranged in advance of my arrival. Winnie made several trips to Yulin City, where we needed to go to marry so she could make arrangements and several trips to her hometown for needed documents. I had to prepare and mail several packets of documents for her to make the wedding arrangements.
Finally, it was time to go. My trip was scheduled for October 10 to 25, 2003, arriving in Nanning City on Sunday, October 12. Our wedding ceremony was arranged for Tuesday, October 14, 2003, in Yulin City. So on a Friday afternoon, October 10, I left work early, drove over to New Orleans, and flew west.