This time last year, I was standing in a "meh" sort of bar in Shanghai with Manfriend and his buddy.
"I just don't get it," Manfriend insisted, "I never usually lose!" His pal shrugged. I guess he was OK with defeat. I stood there, the 3-0 foosball victor, smiling over my drink. What could I say? My dad taught me well.
Back in our hostel, Manfriend and I were exhausted from traveling all day and staying out all evening.
And so ended our anniversary.
Now, don't get me wrong: This was only Day One of an eight-day trip. We'd later venture to Nanjing, Hong Kong and Macau, and have a whole hell of a lot of fun.
But as expats, we'd stumbled across our first experience struggling for romance abroad.
In my failed relationships years ago, anniversaries were long days waiting for an overpriced dinner, moderately enjoyed in a clearance-rack dress I bought for the occasion. Hardly "special," but that's just what you did.
Overseas, it seems folks do much of the same. Others opt for what floats their own love boats — day trips, hikes, long walks in nearby parks.
For Manfriend and me, though, it's been a little more complicated.
See, our anniversary happens to fall smack-dab on China's National Week, celebrated by millions in a mass migration that rocks the country's economy and transportation system. So while I just want a special day with my guy, the whole country's looking for their own Kodak moments — and that's a shitload of people to compete with for a dinner reservation.
So we signed up for Vietnam. "Let's avoid the mayhem," we thought. "We'll trek and sail and have a grand time!"
... And then bureaucracy bitch-slapped me, leaving me without a key document I'd need for such a trip.
Out a plane ticket and out of ideas, I settled in for some deep disappointment. The first year in a low-budget bar, this year on the couch. Woo ...
And yet, anniversary No. 2 is at its end and I'm smitten as hell, embarrassed at my quick-draw negativity.
In fact, it seems that escape we were looking for was here all along.
Rather than jostle through security lines, we strolled under blue skies. No cramped trains, just cozy blankets on the couch. We laughed over delicious (and cheap) vegetarian food, those overpriced drinks in Shanghai long forgotten.
And at the start of another year together, we planned a week that's filled with adventure, familiar fun and a couple of firsts for good measure.
Attitude adjustments can be a godsend, especially for the overly anxious gal abroad. This time, I'm just glad sparks could still fly — all from the comfort of our home away from home.