Art Was an Easy Topic. Defining Their Relationship Was Not.
By Sadiba Hasan
April 7, 2023 © New York Times
When Robert Hall and Amy Cheng, who bonded over Chinese art, first started dating, only Mr. Hall was aware of the change in their relationship status. Months later, Ms. Cheng finally caught on.
On March 14, Robert Hall and Amy Cheng were married in the middle of a 20-day cruise, during a stop on South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, before fellow passengers and crew members. Credit…Benn Berkeley
For seven months, Robert Laureano Hall and Kwai Yuen Cheng’s relationship operated on a misunderstanding. Mr. Hall thought that they were dating; Ms. Cheng thought they were just friends.
Both admit to being nonconfrontational and shy about their feelings for each other, which led to the miscommunication.
Mr. Hall knew he liked Ms. Cheng, who goes by Amy, shortly after they first met in November 2019. Two years later, in July 2021, he suggested that they “get to know each other more intentionally.” That was his way of asking her out. Ms. Cheng wasn’t sure what he meant, but she agreed and assumed they would simply continue to be friends. Only in January 2022 were they finally on the same page about their relationship status.
They first met in 2019 when Ms. Cheng was visiting Taipei, Taiwan in search of art education and community outreach opportunities. A mutual friend suggested that she meet Mr. Hall because both were interested in the intersection of art and faith. At the time, Mr. Hall was working as a curator at Artrue Gallery.
Mr. Hall, 40, grew up in West Palm Beach, Fla., and moved to Taipei in 2009. He has lived back and forth between Taipei and Hong Kong since 2015. Ms. Cheng, 35, is from Hong Kong.
After connecting on WhatsApp, they made plans to visit the National Palace Museum. There, Ms. Cheng was impressed by his breadth of knowledge on Chinese art.
Ms. Cheng said she had assumed she was the more knowledgeable of the two, but “when we went to the museum, he started to talk all the details from the material, the history of that painting, and what kind of art movement was going on at that time.”
Afterward, they had dinner at a nearby Japanese restaurant, where they bonded over their love for
“We can talk about these kinds of things at a deep level,” Mr. Hall said. “Someone who loves to go to the museum and who is really excited about it — it was really great to have someone to share this with.”
The next day, they went to Artrue Gallery, and afterward, they ate Cuban sandwiches at a restaurant nearby. Mr. Hall was eager to show her “a taste of something related to my hometown,” he said.
Ms. Cheng was only in Taipei for those two days. After she returned to Hong Kong, they kept in touch via WhatsApp. He sent her links that he thought were interesting as a way to start conversations with her, but she thought he just wanted to share random bits of information as a friend with common interests.
In July 2020, he moved to Hong Kong for graduate school at the Education University of Hong Kong. They met about twice a month at different museums and danced around their feelings for each other. He didn’t want to be “too obvious” about his interest in her and ask her out directly, although she did like him as well.
In July 2021, shortly before flying back to Taipei, he finally tried to declare his feelings for her. “What I wanted to express was: ‘Look, I really like you, I think you’re a great person, I want to get to know you better,” he said. “Would it be possible to get to know each other more intentionally over Skype?’” “However,” he added, “I didn’t express that very well.”
Instead, she thought he was suggesting that they develop their friendship further. “The way that he told me was too indirect,” she said. “Later, I always said that he is more Chinese than me.”
Thereafter, they did have weekly Skype calls, but they had different perspectives on what was happening.
He even mentioned in August 2021 that he would one day love to get married on the sub-Antarctic island of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands. It was supposed to be a hint about where their relationship was headed, “but from her perspective, it was just like, ‘OK, that’s an interesting factoid,’” Mr. Hall said.
He returned to Hong Kong in January 2022 and stayed in a quarantine hotel in her neighborhood, Tsuen Wan. After reading stories about people in mainland China and Hong Kong who purchased binoculars to see each other from across the fence, they were inspired to do something similar. He was in the hotel in a high rise on the 30-something floor, and she would stand outside of the building on the street.
“We tried waving, but I was too small,” he said, and there were too many windows. He turned the lights on and off at night so that she would know which room he was in, and eventually, she was able to locate his window by counting tiny boxes from the street. They would talk for hours from afar, binoculars in hand.
Still, at this point, Ms. Cheng had not a clue that they were dating. She was waiting for him to say something, but she’s “very patient,” she said. “Like what I did for Chinese painting, it’s a very slow process.”
Later that month, she invited him to her family’s Chinese New Year celebration. She asked him, “What is your role?” He replied, “Boyfriend.”
“All my clouds were cleared,” Ms. Cheng said.
That day, they talked about what date should count as their anniversary date. He said July 2021, which was when he gave her the ambiguous spiel about spending “intentional time” together.
“All the clouds came back,” Ms. Cheng said. “I was like, ‘What?’” So, they debriefed and past miscommunications were revealed. Finally, they were both on the same page.
Mr. Hall graduated with a bachelor’s degree in humanities from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, with a master’s degree in creative media from City University of Hong Kong, and a master’s degree in teaching Chinese as an international language from the Education University of Hong Kong. Ms. Cheng graduated from Hong Kong Baptist University with a bachelor’s degree in visual arts.
He is now a translator for Kris Yao Artech, an architectural firm. Ms. Cheng is an artist and designer for a company she created called Overlapping Creations.
In April 2022, he proposed on Cheung Chau, a small island southwest of Hong Kong Island, at sunset on the coast.
On March 14, in the middle of a 20-day cruise, the couple got married at Grytviken Church during a stop on South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands. James Sinclair, a government officer, officiated. Together, they fulfilled Mr. Hall’s dream of getting married on the exotic island.
A few months before, on Dec. 3, they had an intimate church ceremony at Hong Kong Mandarin Bible Church.
On the morning of the church ceremony, Mr. Hall and his groomsmen went to pick up Ms. Cheng in her hotel suite, but her bridesmaids made them participate in a Chinese wedding tradition, which includes a series of challenges to prove that Mr. Hall was “worthy of the bride,” he said.
Mr. Hall and his groomsmen bribed the bridesmaids with red envelopes full of money. They also dressed up in tutus and enacted a penguin dance as a precursor to the couple’s legal wedding in South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, which is inhabited by several species of penguin.
For the final challenge, he announced his love for her in a formal declaration, which was “the most direct” he’s ever been, Ms. Cheng said.
“From that first day we met, your smile and your beauty moved me,” he said to Ms. Cheng. “In the three years we’ve known each other, I’ve seen your thoughtfulness and your heart for God.”