Letters by Kenny Mah

• • •

A love letter in seven years

• • •

March 31, 2015

Hey you,

This is a love letter seven years in the making.


IN THE FIRST YEAR, We Fall in Love…

My dearest, there is a reason why the first year is called the honeymoon period. For some, it’s the honeymoon hour, for lust at first sight turns into weariness and weirdness. One stops calling the other; another would commence stalking operations. Phone numbers get blocked; restraining orders applied for.

Yet for us, it is as though we couldn’t get enough of each other. By the end of our first week of dating, we are commuting to each other’s apartment. One night at yours, the next evening at mine: the days and weeks would blur and blend happily.

If there were any romance at all, this must have been the time for it, surely? There must have been roses and candlelit dinners; we must have fed each other dark chocolate and sipped champagne. We must have.

Yet all I remember are excursions to all corners of the city… in search of street food. I bring you to my favorite roadside daichow, the auntie watching over our table like an eagle to make sure we finish every morsel (or else!). We hunt down the best roti canai in town; the crispy as a feather sort with a gravy of thick dhal and spicy sambal. There are no flowers, to be honest, only us watching fireworks from the window. These are free yet more fragile.

And love can be freely given too, we realize, yet how fragile as it deepened. To commit is to take a risk. We are so different, you say, I say, everyone else repeats like a choir. Could it last? Who knows? But when we fall in love, when we fall hard, we don’t worry about parachutes; there are none.

Take a leap of faith, a voice inside of us whispers.

We do.


IN THE SECOND YEAR, We Stay Home, and We Go the Distance…

My dearest, after a year of living together, we take a big step. We visit a florist. Will we purchase an elaborate bouquet of rainbow-hued hydrangeas and orchids for each other, or a single perfect stalk of alabaster rose?

You’ve got to be kidding.

Instead we track down the biggest bunch of pussy willow we can find. It’s Chinese New Year soon, and it’s time to decorate our home. You practice your calligraphy with a brush and black ink on squares of red paper. I dig up old festive ornaments from my childhood that I’ve borrowed permanently from my parents; these are the closest to heirlooms, I guess.

There are no romantic walks through verdant parks in rain, be it a light shower or a thunderstorm. We are too practical for that. Instead we brave traffic jams; I drive you to work every day before heading to my office, and I wait for you at the end of the day. Carpooling may not inspire lunatic bouts of lovemaking, but it saves fuel and the forests, no?

You take over the steering wheel when we drive back to our hometowns; you know I get bored driving on the highway. (No traffic, no suicidal/homicidal motorists, no challenge.) I get you addicted to Malaccan-style cendol, brimming with fragrant-sweet gula Melaka; you make me dream of your favorite chee cheong fun> long after we leave Johor Bahru (that sauce, that sauce!).

Along the way, we say stupid things. We tell jokes, lame puns. We make each other laugh. May we make each other laugh always.


IN THE THIRD YEAR, We Watch Men Battle Monsters…

My dearest, we never go to any concerts.

I mean there was that staging of The Winter’s Tale when we visited the Royal Shakespeare Company at Stratford-upon-Avon. (Was it just me or did the library transform into a giant bear midway, right before the intermission?) You could barely keep awake, snoring in unison with the guy next to you. His girlfriend and I shared looks of despair and resignation.

Or that time our friend performed the 1945 Love Theme from Cape No. 7 on the piano live, just for you. I had arranged that while I was in another state, traveling for work. I listened to the performance via the phone. I never saw the look on your face. Were you surprised?

But no, we don’t do concerts. You listen to Faye Wong and Eason Chan; I was more of a Tori Amos and David Bowie kind of guy. We have no common music, it would seem.

Who needs music though? We turn off the lights, snuggle on the sofa and binge watch seasons of Supernatural at home. We debate the accuracy (or inaccuracy) of the mythological monster depictions; we argue over which Winchester brother is hotter. You close your eyes during the scary bits. You don’t see me looking at you.

We watch documentaries of animals battling other animals, like the knights of the fauna world. You are terrified of snakes and thus are addicted to shows about these slithering serpents. I scold you the next day whenever you have nightmares; you never learn.

The thing is though, I sort of lied when I said we don’t share music in our lives. We do. We sing to each other sometimes – in the shower, in the car, in bed. I’ll make up rubbish songs from thin air and twitter tunelessly; you sing me lullabies till I’m asleep.

There’s always music when we have each other. We don’t need the same tastes or to enjoy the same albums. We can make our own music.


IN THE FOURTH YEAR, We Translate Each Other…

My dearest, we have but two tongues between us. Yet what a cacophony of words can burst forth! We wage linguistic battles in Cantonese, then English, then Mandarin, and then we invent our own words when none in the dictionary would suffice.

(And to think, we were once worried we were too different, that we spoke languages alien to each other.)

We blame each other endlessly for our deteriorating command of language: your Mandarin is faulty; my English is awful. Our friends roll their eyes, and I can see why. Truth is, I’m in love with the way you talk, the way you curse, even, and you can roll your eyes better than any of our friends can.

We have all the words we need at our disposal, but we don’t need them really. Not when a hug and kiss would suffice. A gentle pat on one’s thigh. A quick pinch on the arm. A choice bite on the arm — but let’s not go there…

Long drives are the best time for impromptu language lessons: I’d ask you to explain a Chinese proverb; you’d make me correct your pronunciation of a single word… until you can test your colleagues during lunch later. You are a devil, I say. You just cackle like a villain from a Bond film.

(Wordplay is sexy.)

We are in Paris, Taipei, Easter Island. Some unsuspecting soul asks me if I’m American or if I studied in the States. I grit my teeth and say no. They ask me — they always do — why do I sound like one then? You laugh and laugh and laugh. I stare daggers into you. You are a devil, I say. You just cackle, the best Bond villain ever.

Are words meaningless? Maybe, maybe not. It’s how we make each other feel with or without them that truly matters though. And you make me feel like I matter truly.



My dearest, we have shared so much all these years but let’s be honest — I must have been delusional when I thought we were going to fill a scrapbook with all these precious moments. It’s insanity when we save every train ticket and café business card and city map from every city we visit only to have them collect dust in some neglected corner in our home.

And it is our home. There are shelves after shelves of books and comics. There are spices in glass jars and bottles of coconut oil and fish sauce. There are rolled-up paintings from around the world that we have — okay, that I have — promised to frame and hang up for years. There are dead plants in dusty pots in the balcony. (We share, between us, a grand total of zero green thumbs.)

We have mastered the art of hiding our clutter. We are ingenious and we are crafty. Guests think we are oh so neat and organized. I tell you, we could hoodwink Jean Grey into thinking we are The Tidiest Couple in the World. Truth is, we are messy, but it’s our mess.

The scrapbook I started for our first anniversary? It’s there, somewhere. One day we may dig it out like a time capsule.

In the meantime, we will blackmail each other to allocate one weekend a month (or next month or the next) to sit our asses down and declutter. We will shred some documents and file others. We will recycle and reuse. We will make the world a better place.

But not this weekend, of course. We have a new café to visit, some new coffee to try. We have a Weekend Kitchen photoshoot at home. I’ll cook some imitation of an edible dish and you will photograph its ingredients and the sum of its parts. We will read books and comics in bed, and remember that we need to clean the house right before we fall asleep.

These dreams of ours will come true someday. Till then, we’ll be busy building our home… and our life together.



My dearest, we have traveled the world together: Brussels, Cusco, Easter Island, Hong Kong, London, Melbourne, Munich, Paris, Prague, Salzburg, São Paulo, Taipei, Tokyo, and the list goes on. We have laughed, bickered, supped and drank our way across continents. We are never still.

This year all that changes. You move to Angola to start a new job. How exciting it is, a new continent! How glamorous it is, the expatriate life! Except it isn’t. You tell me you can’t even get fresh bread in Luanda; I send you care packages of sesame oil and peanut butter. You need your company driver with you at all times. At the house, there’s a security guard.

We spend all waking hours — those that overlap, anyway — chatting on FaceTime or texting via WhatsApp. We live and breathe via our iPhones and WiFi connections. We send each other pictures of what we eat daily, an exclusive Instagram for the eyes of one only.

We count the days, the hours, till a flight returning you home. We dread the days, the hours, the minutes, till the flight that will bring you away.

Traveling the world is different when we are apart.

Half a year later, and you are transferred to Assen, a small town in the Netherlands. Life is better; bread can be found. There’s sesame oil, even. Peanut butter too, the good stuff. You take weekend trips to Amsterdam, to Copenhagen, to Stockholm. But still, you are not here, you are not home.

I come to visit; I have a plan. I’m going to ask you to quit your job and come home. But you have your own crafty plan too. One night, while we are reading in bed, you turn to me and nudge my shoulder:

“You know how you’re so good at Googling stuff?”

“I am?”

“Why don’t you, you know, research which countries where we can get married?”


You proceed to tell me all about the spousal benefits your company offers, the tax reduction a married couple would enjoy, and on and on. But this would mean you’d continue to work in Angola, I say. There’s an Ebola crisis going on, I say. It takes me minutes — long ones for you, I guess — before I understand what you are really asking.

“Wait, are you proposing?”

“What? No, of course not. This is a, uhm, discussion.”

The discussion ends up being a negotiation. We could get married, I say, supposing, you quit and returned home. So this is what being adults is all about. No romance, only practical considerations.

Screw romance, I’ll take this any day.


IN THE SEVENTH YEAR, We Take Each Other’s Hands and…

My dearest, I wake you this morning with a kiss on your brow, and my lips against your ear. I hold your hand in mine and softly I whisper, “Get up, you lazy bastard. It’s our wedding day.”

It’s January in Auckland. The Kiwi summer is bright and beautiful, sunny but not sweltering. The skies are blue as the bluest eyes; the few clouds that wander as fluffy as candy floss.

It’s that sort of day, when I get pseudo-poetic over atmospheric conditions.

Our friends, our closest friends, have flown in from around the world — Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Bath, Edinburgh by way of Hong Kong — and not all of them are seasoned travelers. One has renewed his passport just for this. Jetlagged or caffeine-charged, we’ve never seen them happier. Or maybe it’s the way we feel today.

Emma, our photographer, meets us at our hotel room. She gets us to pose with our shiny shoes, to help each other put on our jackets, to stare longingly out of the window. You feel silly, you tell me, as we lean in for a kiss. I mumble, with a grin on my lips as they press against yours, you only have to do this once.

At the lobby, our friends are waiting for us. They take out their smartphones and their cameras and they snap away. We take our iPhones out and do the same. Wedding propriety is lost on us. We just want to have fun.

We walk from the hotel to the ferry terminal. There’s an Ironman triathlon going on. We stop to snap pictures of the sweaty, hunky ones. (We’re getting married, not going blind.)

On Waiheke Island, on a private lawn overlooking the Hauraki Gulf, surrounded by grapevines and olive trees, we stand and listen as best we can as Blake, our earnest celebrant shares our life story with our guests. We laugh at the right parts, and laugh at the wrong parts. We dissolve into giggles as we flub our lines, our vows. It’s okay, everyone understands: here are two people in love, and they want to spend the rest of their lives together.

It’s a love letter seven years in the making.

My best friend hands you my ring. Your best friend hands me yours.

I take you
to be my husband,
to have and to hold
from this day forward,
for better or for worse,
for richer, for poorer,
in sickness and in health,
to love and to cherish;
from this day forward
until death do us part.

We say “I do.” And we are married. Husbands. Seven years of the simple and the mundane. Seven years of the most precious of moments like tying knots in the thread of our lives together.

Happy anniversary, baby. I love you, oh how I do.

Yours always and always,

About | Browse | Connect