OUR MOST RO­MAN­TIC LOVE STORY EVER

A hot sum­mer fling led to a walk down the aisle for an Amer­i­can and a Sin­ga­porean. Twice. On two con­ti­nents.

Simply Her (Singapore) - - Front Page - BY SU­NITA SHAH­DAD­PURI

“I knew one thing for sure – when he looked at me, his girl­friend was not on his mind.”

Katrina*, an as­pir­ing actress and opera singer, was at­tend­ing col­lege in her home­town of Nashville, Ten­nessee, in the United States, when she re­ceived a one-year schol­ar­ship to study arts in Italy.

“I was 22 and in my fourth year of uni­ver­sity,” re­calls Katrina. “I had been tak­ing classes in Ital­ian be­cause of my in­ter­est in opera, so when I won the schol­ar­ship, I jumped at the chance.

“My fa­ther had re­cently died un­ex­pect­edly, and I des­per­ately needed to es­cape my grief. My mother was heart­bro­ken when I told her I was leav­ing, but I just had to get away.”

Dur­ing the sum­mer break, Katrina – along with her friend Tra­cie* – had orig­i­nally de­cided to ex­plore West­ern Europe with an un­lim­ited Eu­rail pass. But af­ter see­ing more of Italy, they were smit­ten and de­cided to stay.

MEET­ING A HOT GUY

One day, Katrina found all their valu­ables stolen when she re­turned from ex­plor­ing a church in Florence. Tra­cie had dozed off. “I had left my things with Tra­cie. When I came back from look­ing at art, all of our stuff was gone.”

They had to go to the Amer­i­can em­bassy to ask for new pass­ports, and ask their par­ents to send them money. “Our wal­lets were a lot thin­ner so we de­cided to go to a small town out­side of Rome,” says Katrina.

In the coastal vil­lage of Atrani, they lay on a beach for hours, tak­ing in the stunning view. At one point, two guys walked by them. “They were both good-look­ing. One looked like a hippy and the other was a re­ally buff Chi­nese guy,” says Katrina. “Tra­cie went over to talk to the hippy and they left to­gether.

“There was no­body else on the beach ex­cept the Asian guy and me. We talked, went swim­ming and ended up hav­ing a great time. It was no big deal. I think I’d rather have been in a mu­seum. But there was no deny­ing he was hot!”

Katrina found out his name was Ben*, and that he was Sin­ga­porean. He was cur­rently at law school in Lon­don, and try­ing to pass the Bar.

“He told me about his ex­ploits as a na­tional ath­lete and how he took part in triathlons. He had also been a commando in the army. Im­pres­sive stuff, but I didn’t let my­self get caught up in it, be­cause he had also men­tioned that he had a Sin­ga­porean girl­friend back in Lon­don and that they were prob­a­bly go­ing to get mar­ried.”

DOES HE OR DOESN’T HE?

But the more Ben talked about his girl­friend Stephanie*, the more Katrina felt the pair were not a love match. “He seemed to think that be­cause they had been to­gether for so long, mar­riage was in­evitable. I fig­ured that it could be a fam­ily thing or an Asian tra­di­tion that I didn’t un­der­stand.

“I also ques­tioned why he was trav­el­ling around Europe with­out her. I de­cided it was none of my busi­ness, and all this flir­ta­tion was just for fun. I knew one thing for sure – when he looked at me, his girl­friend was not on his mind.”

Two days later, the four trav­ellers met for din­ner. “We had a great time and later went to a dance club,” re­mem­bers Katrina. “It was fun but I started to feel tired and no­ticed that Ben was yawn­ing too.

“I said to him: ‘Why don’t you walk me back to the hos­tel?’ We had a very ro­man­tic stroll through cob­ble­stone streets, and I won­dered what would hap­pen when we got to the room. Would he kiss me?”

TALK­ING THROUGH THE NIGHT

When they reached the hos­tel late that night, Katrina was sur­prised to find there was a 10pm-6am cur­few. “I didn’t know what to do,” says Katrina. “I was ab­so­lutely ex­hausted! So we went to the beach and talked about our fam­i­lies, child­hood and ev­ery­thing else, un­til the sun came up. We didn’t kiss. It was just two peo­ple mak­ing a con­nec­tion on a beach, in the mid­dle of the night. I’ll never for­get it.”

The next day, Katrina had to head back to Rome, then fly home to Nashville. Her mother had re­placed her air ticket af­ter it was stolen, so she had no choice but to cut her va­ca­tion short.

She won­dered if she would ever see Ben again. Later that morn­ing, he ran into her at the hos­tel and asked where she was go­ing. “I told him I had to leave to­day, but be­fore that, I was mak­ing a stop at the fa­mous ru­ins of Pom­peii nearby. I had al­ways wanted to go there and didn’t know if I would ever make it back to Italy again,” says Katrina.

A TRAIN RIDE… AND A KISS

Ben told her he had al­ways wanted to see Pom­peii too, and asked if she would like some com­pany. As her friend Tra­cie had de­cided to stay on in Europe, Katrina thought it would be nice not to have to see it

alone. And with the sex­ual ten­sion be­tween them get­ting stronger by the minute, she said yes.

“Sud­denly, I was on a train with some­one who was prac­ti­cally a stranger,” says Katrina. “An­other girl’s boyfriend. From Sin­ga­pore! What was I do­ing?”

They ar­rived in Pom­peii and started ex­plor­ing the city. “We were like two kids in a candy store. He shared my pas­sion for an­tiq­uity, art and his­tory. I loved that he loved the same things I did.”

The day felt mag­i­cal. When Katrina turned to look at him, she found him gaz­ing at her se­ri­ously. “He told me: ‘I have to leave you here’. I asked why and he said: ‘Be­cause if I stay here with you, I will fall in love with you’.

“That set my heart on fire and I couldn’t help it, I kissed him. It was our first kiss, right there in the ru­ins of Pom­peii, and it was in­cred­i­ble.”

THIS IS IT

Shortly af­ter Ben re­turned to Lon­don and Katrina to the US, Ben broke up with his girl­friend. He and Katrina started ex­chang­ing e-mails non-stop. “We also loved the ro­mance of hand­writ­ten let­ters. We wrote a let­ter al­most ev­ery day. We were will­ing to leave our fam­i­lies and do any­thing to be to­gether.”

They had only known each other six months when he vis­ited her dur­ing his win­ter hol­i­days. “We had never lived in the same city or coun­try, but when he asked me to marry him on New Year’s Day, I said yes. The only ques­tion was where to live. Nashville? Lon­don? Florence? Sin­ga­pore? We felt like we owned the world, even though nei­ther of us had jobs, or any se­ri­ous ca­reer prospects. All that mat­tered was our love.”

FAM­ILY CON­CERNS

Next was the mat­ter of telling their fam­i­lies. Katrina was des­per­ate for her mum to like Ben, but her mum hadn’t for­given her for go­ing to Europe when she was most needed.

“I could un­der­stand where she was com­ing from. Daddy had died un­ex­pect­edly; I was an only child, and I was hav­ing this in­tense love af­fair with a hot triath­lete commando war­rior from South-east Asia. I had to be re­ally care­ful around Momma. This was not the time to be talk­ing to her about true love.”

Katrina also wor­ried about how Ben’s fam­ily would feel. “What would they say about the fact that he dumped his very re­spectable law-school Asian girl­friend for an artis­tic, prob­a­bly slutty, Amer­i­can girl? That’s not what I was, but I wor­ried that it was what ev­ery­one thought.”

The cou­ple hoped for the best, but also pre­pared them­selves for the firestorm.

They de­cided the best thing was to get mar­ried as soon as pos­si­ble, as Katrina’s con­ser­va­tive fam­ily would not have liked her to go to the other side of the globe to live with a man she had not yet wed.

I DO, I DO

Two wed­dings were planned: an Amer­i­can cer­e­mony in Nashville and later, a Chi­nese cer­e­mony in Sin­ga­pore.

“I had to pre­pare my mother for the news that not only was I get­ting mar­ried, I was buy­ing a one-way ticket to a coun­try she had barely heard of. It was her worst night­mare. But I had to fol­low my heart,” says Katrina.

Only six peo­ple flew from Sin­ga­pore to Ten­nessee to at­tend their wed­ding – Ben’s par­ents, sib­lings, his best man and Stephanie, the ex-girl­friend.

“I was mor­ti­fied to hear she was com­ing,” says Katrina. “I had to re­mem­ber that it was her choice to put her­self through that. I was kind to her but did not try to be friends. It was awk­ward though. I could feel her eyes on me through­out the re­cep­tion. She didn’t know any­one there, so mostly she just sat silently, ob­serv­ing.”

Katrina and Ben have now been mar­ried for 19 years. Af­ter their wed­ding, they lived in Sin­ga­pore for three years, where their first child was born. They now live in the US with their two chil­dren, aged 16 and 12.

“Sud­denly I was on a train with some­one who was prac­ti­cally

a stranger. An­other girl’s boyfriend. From Sin­ga­pore! What was I do­ing?”

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