MANILA, Philippines - To tell the love story of 30-year-old Carisa Aleta and 29-year-old Hahn-Ning Chou, one might have to bring out a world map.
Cari, the daughter of Drs. Carlito and Isabel Aleta, was born in Manila. Hahn, the son of Dr. Liu-Gei and Chyau-Bin Grace Chou, was born in Bangkok.
They first met in Singapore. She studied in London. He studied in the United States. They?ve both lived in seven different cities in seven different countries.
Hahn-Ning proposed in Bangkok. The weddings (yes, two of them) were held in Bangkok and in Manila.
Cari was taking up Legal Management at the Ateneo de Manila University and Hahn was studying engineering at the National Taiwan University when they met through AIESEC, the world?s biggest student organization, in 1997.
Cari said, ?Apparently he had a crush on me but didn?t do anything about it. We remained friends, saw each other again and communicated through ICQ and e-mail. I remember he even called me every now and then but never pursued anything romantic.?
The two became busy with their own lives. Cari took up her Master?s Degree in Development Management at the London School of Economics, Hahn worked in chemical companies and environmental consultancies before taking his Master?s degree in Environmental Chemistry at Yale University. They lost touch. Cari blames herself. ?I was really bad with e-mails. I think he was the last one who wrote before we lost touch. I never wrote him back.?
Seven years later, she sent a mass e-mail to friends, to greet them a happy new year and to give them an update about her life.
Hahn, who was a regional manager for a chemicals company and whose region included the Philippines, wrote Cari back to say that he would get in touch with her once he got to Manila.
Two months later, they met again. ?I was so surprised that we connected on so many levels, including our passion for development issues. We ended up chatting for eight hours that day. I left that meeting thinking, this is a very special guy.?
Hahn obviously thought Cari was special too. ?He said that even when we weren?t in touch, he would think about me every now and then.?
The old friends soon became more than that?and the romance led to a proposal that happened sooner than Cari thought it would. ?We weren?t together for very long before he proposed, but when you reach a certain stage, you just know when the person?s the one for you. I have friends who got married after being together for a couple of months, and I didn?t understand it at first, but when I met Hahn again, I realized what they meant?when you know, you know!?
Hahn fell on one knee at a special restaurant in Bangkok and Cari immediately said yes. ?I was wonderfully surprised. It was the easiest decision I made in my life.?
Hahn had worn a suit that night so he could hide the diamond in his front pocket. It hadn?t been set on a ring yet?he had to make sure he didn?t lose it.
Most brides would balk at the thought of planning two weddings but Cari loved it. ?It was wonderful to be able to experience traditional Thai and Filipino weddings!?
It took them months to set the date of their Thai wedding but planning it was quick. Three weeks before the wedding, Cari and her family went to Bangkok so she could finalize some decisions. She selected the flowers and the traditional Thai clothes that they would wear. But Hahn did most of the planning.
?He had two months to plan everything by himself, with the help of the Peninsula Hotel.?
Cari and Hahn?s Thai wedding was an intimate gathering, attended only by 21 people, all members of their immediate family. It was a traditional Thai ceremony.
?Unlike our church wedding, where the groom waits for the bride at the altar, in Thai weddings, the groom has to ?prove? himself worthy to pass through the gates to meet the bride, who is waiting for him.? Cari said. ?It starts with Hae Khan Mark, a lovely tradition wherein the groom has to pass through several gatekeepers before he can meet the bride. The groom has a ?negotiator? who has to negotiate with the gatekeepers to let the groom through. The gatekeepers are from the bride?s side and they can pretty much ask the groom to do anything.?
Hahn?s brother-in-law was his negotiator while Cari?s two nieces, two nephews, two brothers and their wives were the gatekeepers.
?It was a lot of fun as my nieces asked the groom for money, one brother asked Hahn to sing and my other brother asked Hahn to dance! My nephews gave Hahn the easiest time and didn?t ask for any favor.?
Her favorite moment during their Thai wedding was the Rot Naam or water-pouring ceremony. ?It was beautiful. Water blessed by a Buddhist monk is poured by each family member on the couple?s hands while they say a wish for us. I loved the fact that our families were participating in the ceremony; it was really personal.?
Wedding in Manila
The couple?s Manila wedding required more preparation. ?It took a year to plan the wedding. We wanted a December wedding so that our family and friends living abroad who usually come to Manila for Christmas would be able to celebrate with us,? Cari said.
Although planning a wedding long-distance was difficult, the couple faced the challenge head on. ?Whenever Hahn would come to Manila for a business trip, I would squeeze in as many appointments as I could with various suppliers. It would be extremely hectic but then afterwards, we?d feel that we accomplished a lot. Though Hahn traveled a lot for work and didn?t have much time, I think that for a guy, he was quite involved in the wedding planning, which was great.?
Their wedding planner Jody Liwanag of Events Experts also made things easier.
The couple faced two big challenges. One, keeping their guest list down to 200 people. They managed to do it. Challenge number two was trying to figure out where to store the wine they had flown in from Portugal. ?I called many wine cellars but they either didn?t rent out storage space, or they simply had no space left to rent! A very helpful stranger suggested that maybe I can store the wine in the climate-controlled room of a moving company, which is what I did.?
Cari and Hahn are big fans of wine. For their reception at their intimate Thai ceremony, they served five types of wine from the Napa Valley?sparkling, two white wines, one rose and one red. For the Manila wedding, they prepared various Portuguese wines, including the rare green wine found only in Portugal.
Rain miraculously stopped a minute before the couple?s 3 p.m. wedding last Dec. 30 at the Nuestra Señora de Gracia Parish in Makati. Fr. Luis Candelaria, SJ led the ceremony.
On her special day, Cari wore a gown by Frankie de Leon. ?I met five designers in total and Frankie was the only one I felt I ?clicked? with. He did great justice to the hard-to-find, reembroidered French Alençon lace which I was extremely lucky to find from a fairy godmother in New York. ? Toto Bagamasbad did her makeup.
Because the couple wanted a vintage and homey atmosphere, the reception was held at the beautiful old house belonging to the family of Doña Narcisa de Leon, owners of the defunct LVN Studios. Built in 1932, the house became the venue of Cari and Hahn?s romantic celebration.
To celebrate the boundaries they had crossed and the cultural differences they had embraced, the tables at the reception were named after different cities. ?The presidential table was named Singapore, where we first met. Other tables were named after cities where we?ve lived or where we spent significant amounts of time while growing up. We?re quite a globe-trotting couple!?
Music and magic
Music made the special day even more magical?the choir Novo Concertante Manila sang at the church while Joe Ladiory played jazz on a grand piano during cocktail hour. ?I chose mostly Ella Fitzgerald songs, since I?m a big fan of hers,? said Cari. The String Minstrels and The Brass Munkeys also played at the reception.
Other elements made the wedding even more memorable. The bride loved the flowers by April and Karen Yu and the wedding cheesecake made by chef Rudolf Ranada who is also the bride?s childhood friend and neighbor. ?He bakes a wonderful muscovado-flavored cheesecake, which was one of our layers. We chose cheesecake because Hahn isn?t fond of cakes?the only cake he really likes is cheesecake.?
Fireworks were lit to celebrate the couple?s union but for Cari and Hahn, the presence of their loved ones was the highlight of their day.
Guests had flown in from all over Asia, Europe and North America. For Cari and Hahn, that made their wedding even more special. ?What really made the Manila wedding a wonderful celebration was that a third of our guests came from afar to be with us. Both Hahn and I had friends from our grade school days who flew in for our wedding. I was also very sentimental because I don?t see my family or my old friends on a regular basis anymore. Our wedding was like a reunion with loved ones. It was truly memorable.?