story | Amanda Leong, Staff Editor
photo | Brandon Lee
Another Valentine’s Day has gone past. You are still single and alone. You buy yourself flowers. As you walk through the path in University Town late at night, you watch couples engage in public displays of affection left, right and center. It’s a charming view, but you also can’t help but wonder: How do people actually manage it? Being in a long-term, committed romantic relationship while still in college?
Many Yale-NUS students have done just that, with a few students even getting engaged or married. This Valentine’s day, I ask Brandon Lee ’20 how he came to meet the love of his life, Tina Tan and eventually, got engaged. Both are 26 this year. Tina Tan is working as a duty manager at Blossom Lounge, Changi Airport Terminal 4, while Brandon is in his junior year. On top of his romantic life, he also managed to manage a hectic school life as former Director of Athletics and former President of Student Government.
How did you fall in love?
Brandon: We met in Officer Cadet School, while I was doing my National Service and she was training to be an Army Intelligence Officer. When she first arrived, I asked her to join my friends and I for lunch. After a few interactions, she stood out to me – it was a feeling. We started having our own private conversations beyond our clique. The other people in the group started to make fun of us. You know, sometimes when people keep on saying that you seem like a couple, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
How do you make time for each other?
Brandon: Because I have so many commitments, a lot of the times she accompanies me for events or to get what I need to buy. The direction of dates is largely structured around my schedule because I have so many commitments, which is really unfair and unreasonable. I’m really appreciative that she is so open and understanding – it’s a large part of the reason why the relationship has worked out.
We don’t do anything fancy on our dates. I’m a very boring and predictable person. Most of the time, she’d come over and watch Netflix. Sometimes, we’d go to church or grocery shopping together.
Whenever we go out, we walk around malls. I like to go three different shops: Courts, Ikea and Challenger. We spend half-an-hour to two hours at these shops walking around, but 95% of the time I don’t buy anything from the shop. This is a date to us because we spend time together.
How did you plan the engagement?
Brandon: It just felt right to settle down at this point of my life so we talked to each other about getting engaged. As Christians, we both prayed it over and felt that it was God’s plan. We also talked to our church leaders and had their blessings.
I knew that I wanted to propose but now I had to decide on the place and time. For many years, she had been telling me that she wanted to visit New York – that’s her dream city. She loves rubbing shoulders with people in crowded places like Chinatown. She likes the feeling of a bustling city. I hate the crowd. I personally hate New York. But this was her day so it didn’t matter.
During the five months I had in Washington DC, I started to consider different proposal ideas. I considered boating at Central Park, but it was closed for the winter. The next thing I thought of was ice skating because it was one of the first few activities that we did as a couple. There are many skating rinks in New York but I found out that the Rockefeller Centre Ice Skating Rink is most iconic. I booked an engagement package, which allowed us to have some time alone while everyone else is cleared out of the ice rink so it can be resurfaced.
The thing is, she didn’t know that I actually asked for her parents’ blessings before I went on semester abroad in Washington. During my five months in DC, I kept throwing her false leads, to throw her off guard. I said that I will propose to her in Singapore on a particular day and she believed it.
How did you propose?
Brandon: When she came to the US to visit me during my semester abroad, we flew to New York on Christmas. On the night of December 26, she was quite annoyed at me because she wanted to see the light show at the Rockefeller Center but I insisted that we go skating. When the session ended, everyone cleared the rink. However, I told her, “let’s stay one more round”. She really wanted to leave because the staff were chasing people out of the ice rink and they were very fierce. She kept dragging me to the exit. I dragged her to stay in the ice skating rink, until I even pulled off her glove! It was quite comical.
So we skated one round, then I asked her, “Do you know what is going to happen?” I think it was at that point that she finally realised that I was going to propose. We skated one more round and brought her to the center of the rink, right in the middle of the fountain under the Christmas tree.
It was really cold outside but I was so nervous that I was perspiring like mad! All the planning and preparation could not possibly prepare me for the actual moment. I fumbled my speech so badly. I only managed to utter 50 percent of my intended speech during the proposal but she didn’t hear a word I said because she was so shocked. What was funny was that throughout the proposal, I was sobbing while she didn’t shed a tear. She later told me she was in a state of shock.
That day was incredible. Tons of people gathered around the rink, just watching us. They were on their feet, just cheering and clapping and applauding. Her favorite song was playing in the background. Just the two of us in a foreign land, not knowing anyone.
I said my speech, got down on one knee and popped the question. Of course, she accepted. After that, we had champagne at the rink side.
Brandon is tearing. “Haha, now I am crying. I’m sorry. I am just so moved. Talking about it just takes me back to that ice-skating rink,” he says sheepishly. “It was our moment.”
Listening to Brandon’s story in the frigid air conditioning of Classroom 19, I felt transported to New York City on 26 December, standing by the Rockefeller Centre ice-skating rink, watching the proposal unfold before my eyes.
Even if you spent this Valentine’s day alone, it is heartwarming to see all the love stories unfolding on campus. Maybe one day, you could be the one sharing your love story on College and Engaged.