It was ‘like we were in love in another life’

The Buffalo News - - WEDDINGS - By Tammy La Gorce

Chil­dren of diplo­mats are usu­ally ac­cus­tomed to pulling up roots, so jump­ing rather than eas­ing into a re­la­tion­ship can seem prac­ti­cal.

This may help ex­plain why Chris­tine Chang packed her bags to go away for a week­end with Josh Ma­teo be­fore they had gone on a sin­gle date.

“I was so into Josh that even though he could have been a se­rial killer, I didn’t care,” said Chang, the daugh­ter of Wei-ta Chang, a deputy direc­tor-gen­eral of Tai­wan’s For­eign Min­istry and the for­mer con­sular gen­eral to Ham­burg, Ger­many, and Mu­nich. “I knew we were go­ing to have a great time.”

She was rea­son­ably sure his record was homi­cide-free, too, based on his be­hav­ior around col­leagues and his ap­pre­ci­a­tion for baked goods.

Chang and Ma­teo met as of­fice mates at the Bar­bar­ian Group in New York City two months be­fore their get-to-know-you get­away, in the sum­mer of 2012. Chang, 28, had re­cently grad­u­ated from Cor­nell and was work­ing as an in­tern at the mar­ket­ing agency. Ma­teo, 30, was a year into his first job as a de­signer af­ter grad­u­at­ing from the Rochester In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy in 2011.

Both liked com­pany cul­ture enough to mix busi­ness with plea­sure.

“We had a usual crew of half a dozen peo­ple we’d go out to lunch with, and then we’d go out at night as a group of 10 or 20 peo­ple to par­ties,” said Ma­teo, a prod­uct de­signer who re­cently left his job on the cen­tral de­sign team at Spo­tify to ac­cept a de­sign sys­tem lead po­si­tion at Net­flix.

Group cof­fee out­ings also hap­pened reg­u­larly. Af­ter Chang men­tioned her love of the salted choco­late chip cook­ies at the cof­fee roast­ery La Colombe, Ma­teo, who was at­tracted to her easy laugh and wavy-haired beauty, made a prac­tice of buy­ing one for her daily, drop­ping it at her desk.

Chang didn’t as­sume the treats sig­naled a crush. “I thought we were just friends,” she said.

That the cook­ies were a flir­ta­tion de­vice started sink­ing in when, on a Fri­day af­ter­noon in Au­gust, Ma­teo asked Chang to spend the week­end with him in Avalon, New Jersey, at his par­ents’ beach house. To avoid seem­ing creepy, he said she should ask a mu­tual friend, a fel­low in­tern, to come along. She did. But the friend de­clined, cit­ing con­cerns about feel­ing like a third wheel be­cause the pair had ob­vi­ous chem­istry.

So Chang made the de­ci­sion to go alone, which, ac­cord­ing to her older brother, Jochen Chang, was not out of char­ac­ter.

Chang and Ma­teo’s week­end so­journ started with a Grey­hound bus to the Jersey Shore, dur­ing which earned them icy stares from fel­low pas­sen­gers. “We talked the whole bus ride. Ev­ery­one around us wanted to kill us,” Chang said. In Avalon, they kayaked, biked, roamed the beach and watched the Sum­mer Olympics with John and Randee Ma­teo, Ma­teo’s par­ents, and his older sis­ter, Ash­ley.

“I think by the end of that week­end we knew it was a slam dunk,” said Ma­teo, who grew up in Med­ford, New Jersey, and whose par­ents now live in Collingswood, New Jersey.

Six weeks later, though, came a jolt of real life. Chang’s mother, then liv­ing in Ger­many with her father, needed help re­cu­per­at­ing af­ter ma­jor surgery, a re­sult of Crohn’s dis­ease. With her in­tern­ship at Bar­bar­ian near­ing its end and with­out a new job lined up, Chang vol­un­teered to do what she was ac­cus­tomed to do­ing: She up­rooted her­self, this time to help her mother.

Just be­fore she boarded her plane for Ger­many, the cou­ple had what Ma­teo called an open-ended con­ver­sa­tion. “I was like, ‘Ob­vi­ously I feel re­ally deeply for you. Things are so in the air, why don’t we play it by ear,’” he said.

Chang agreed. And then they started talk­ing, via Skype, ev­ery day. Three months later, when her mother was stronger, Chang booked a re­turn ticket to New York, ready to pick up where she had left off with Ma­teo.

“I was so wor­ried that the chem­istry wouldn’t be the same,” she said. “I had told Josh that I wasn’t com­ing back just for him, but I was 100 per­cent com­ing back for him.”

In late 2012, on her L-train trip to re­unite with Ma­teo at the restau­rant Five Leaves in Brook­lyn, Chang was ner­vous. “My heart was pound­ing,” she said. Then “all my doubt went away when I saw him walk­ing down the street. I knew with great clar­ity he was the one I wanted to spend the rest of my life with.”

That mo­ment of clar­ity was held aloft by an in­stinct they shared to let the world spin, ig­nor­ing its bor­ders and bound­aries. Since his first trip abroad to Is­rael as an 8-year-old, Ma­teo has been com­mit­ted to ex­plor­ing, one coun­try at a time. Chang knows the value of that kind of cul­tural curiosity. “It’s made me em­pa­thetic to dif­fer­ent view­points,” she said.

Ma­teo would soon show he could be cul­tur­ally adapt­able, too. When he met Chang’s par­ents for the first time over Memo­rial Day week­end in 2013, while the diplo­mat and his wife were vis­it­ing New York, he at first had trouble con­nect­ing.

“Her fam­ily speaks English, but her dad speaks mostly po­lit­i­cal English,” Ma­teo said. “I hadn’t spo­ken too much with peo­ple who don’t un­der­stand Amer­i­can slang, and I was talk­ing too fast and he wasn’t get­ting what I was say­ing, and he was talk­ing about an old war in Tai­wan and I wasn’t get­ting what he was say­ing.”

Both kept up their ef­forts to com­mu­ni­cate, though, over fried chicken at restau­rant Pies ‘n’ Thighs in Brook­lyn. Ma­teo even got a few laughs in. “My dad is a pretty stoic per­son, but the most I see him laugh is with Josh,” Chang said. “They had a lot of non­ver­bal com­mu­ni­ca­tion go­ing on, but it worked.”

So much so that a lit­tle more than a year later, when Chang and Ma­teo moved into an apart­ment in Wil­liams­burg, Brook­lyn, to­gether with Sully, a res­cue dog they adopted, her par­ents didn’t ob­ject.

“Josh is cute,” said Wei-ta Chang, diminu­tive and, like his daugh­ter, quick to smile. “He doesn’t speak Chi­nese, but he just fol­lows along any­way. He is thought­ful and car­ing.”

On March 8, at the Round­house ho­tel in Bea­con, New York, Chang and Ma­teo were mar­ried by Jochen Chang, who was or­dained by the Universal Life Church.

Be­neath a hup­pah, and be­fore their 115 guests and dozen com­bined at­ten­dants, Chang and Ma­teo read hand­writ­ten vows. “When we first met we jumped right in, like we were in love in another life and found each other again,” Ma­teo said. “I prom­ise to con­tinue to love you more and more ev­ery day.”

“I love your won­der­ful weird­ness,” Chang said. “Ev­ery day I feel per­fect in your eyes.”

Chang closed the cer­e­mony with a twist on the tra­di­tional Jewish break­ing of the glass. For Ma­teo, he said, step­ping on the glass sym­bol­izes good luck. But in Chi­nese, “the more the glass is bro­ken, the more peace will be upon you,” he said, cu­ing Ma­teo to stomp, es­pe­cially hard.

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