By BING PAREL
When God’s hand moves, there is no escaping the inevitable – something that ABS-CBN broadcast journalist Willard Cheng found out for himself.
“You don’t find love, it finds you. It’s got a little bit to do with destiny, fate, and what’s written in the stars.”
This quote by French-Cuban American novelist Anaïs Nin could very well sum up the story of Willard and Kristine Cheng, who actually avoided getting introduced to each other.
It began with an aunt who wanted to introduce Willard to the daughter of her friends – something that did not sit well with the ABS-CBN reporter.
“I did not like the idea of kai shao,” Willard shares, explaining that kai shao is a Hokkien word that describes a common practice among Chinese-Filipinos of introducing two people, hoping love would develop along the way.
As it turned out, Kristine – fondly called Tin by friends – did not like the thought of being kai shao-ed either, so both tried to make sure that such a meeting would not happen. The time came when the families of both Willard and Tin happened to be vacationing in Hong Kong – and even stayed in the same hotel.
“When Tin saw us – with my aunt at the hotel lobby and later in a mall – she told her mom to avoid our group,” Willard narrates.
But when God’s hand moves, things happen and there is no avoiding the inevitable.
Willard vividly remembers the exact spot where it happened. “We were standing by the railing at Times Square mall in Hong Kong. Our family members were shopping and we were each waiting for them by the railing. I happened to chance upon her and wondered who that beautiful lady was,” he narrates.
As it turned out, Tin was also staring at him. A few minutes later, when Willard’s family came out from one of the stores, his aunt saw Tin and her parents. Auntie finally had the chance to do what she had wanted all along – introduce Willard and Kristine to each other. It was a very brief introduction, though, the hi and hello sort, with the aunt saying that Tin also studied in Ateneo and Willard asking what course she took (she finished Business Management), and that was about it.
Where it all started: The Times Square mall in Hong Kong, where Wil and Tin first saw each other
It was only much later that Willard found out that Tin was actually the lady that his aunt had been wanting to introduce.
“Kung alam ko lang!” he laughs, looking back. He then searched for Tin on Facebook, adding her as a friend, liking her posts and sending her the occasional private messages on Messenger. That went on for three years. And then came a historic event in 2015.
“It was during Pope Francis’ visit to University of Santo Tomas when I saw Tin again,” Willard narrates.
He was there as a journalist covering the Pope’s Encounter with the Youth while Tin was with her group, the Filipino Chinese Catholic Youth, who happened to be very near the scaffolding where the reporters were staying.
“Tin saw me and approached to ask for a photo with me,” he shares, obviously elated. Since she has been his crush, he also requested for a photo of both of them using his phone camera and asked her to tag him when she uploads the photo she took on Facebook. She did, of course, giving him the opportunity to PM her again – until he finally invited her to go out.
As an only child with very protective parents, it was actually difficult for Tin to ask her mom for permission to date guys. “That was until Willard came,” Tin discloses.
“Everything became smooth sailing. Madali na magpaalam when there were dates with Willard. Having my parents’ approval is very important to me, so I also took it as a sign that maybe this one will work,” she adds.
It is this filial piety and love of God that makes Tin beautiful inside and out, Willard observes. “For me, Tin’s love of God and her parents has been an outstanding quality from the start. The way she takes care of them and the way she deals with people is very admirable. Mabuting tao. And I believed from the start that she would be a very good mother and role model for my nieces and our future children. From our dates, I could already sense masarap siyang kasama. There was never a dull moment. She laughs at my jokes, which is very important to me,” he admits.
Tin, on the other hand, had this image of Willard as a very serious kind of person because of his work as a journalist. “Before our first date, I actually asked myself if I needed to read the newspaper and read up on current events for our conversations! But it turned out there was no need to. Willard was very spontaneous, casual, and very funny! He actually told me he didn’t like talking about current events and the news outside work,” Tin reveals, adding that she loves Willard’s humility, the way he treats people with kindness and compassion. “He is very gentlemanly, a good man. Most of all, he is God-fearing. It’s a plus that Willard’s guwapo,” Tin, whose graceful charm easily captivates, smiles.
(Willard, indeed, is the quintessential gentleman, the kind who would get you a cup of tea or warm water to help soothe an itchy throat – even if he had just met you. This writer knows that for a fact.)
Both point to that chance encounter at UST during the Pope’s visit as the turning point in their relationship. In his message, Pope Francis said that “God reveals himself through surprises,” encouraging people to be open to “the love that comes to you, the love that surprises us.”
“Because of this, we actually consider Pope Francis as our beloved matchmaker!” Willard says.
And when they finally tied the knot on May 14, 2016, they chose the Santisimo Rosario Parish in UST, right across the field where Pope Francis had his Encounter with the Youth. The Pope’s words spoke so well about the magical circumstances of their meeting that Wil and Tin showed excerpts of the Pope’s UST speech in a video that was played before their entrance and during the reception, the Pope’s words figuring prominently as the finale in a series of photos that showed each of them in different places and different times, until they came together for the first time in a photo taken during the papal visit.
While newly-married couples go through some kind of adjustment in the early stages, Wil and Tin say there were no major adjustments they had to go through. Willard’s work and the irregular hours was not also an issue, although there was a time during the dating stage that Willard had to stop on the roadside one night, as there was news that he had to break while he was driving Tin home – a situation that she understood very well.
Asked if they know of a movie that would be reminiscent of their love story, Willard shares that “Serendipity” starring John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale resonates with them, because it speaks of the serendipitous nature of their encounter, the instant connection and the love that transcends even if the character played by Kate tried to avoid what was bound to happen.
“We love the movie, the restaurant and the setting which is New York City around Christmastime,” says Willard, and it’s no surprise therefore that the two went to Serendipity restaurant during one of their travels.
Friends know of the couple’s love for traveling, and Willard’s posts with the creative hashtags has become an expectation whenever they travel. In fact, this writer has dubbed him as the king of hashtags.
“Hahaha! I try to come up with and join words or song and movie titles that rhyme with the city where we are visiting. Istanbul becomes #IstanbaySaIstanbul, or #TurkeyligToTheBones,” Willard heartily laughs.
“Thailand becomes #WalangKapanThai or Taiwan becomes #TaiwanAndOnly. Hong Kong is #HKTagalKitangHinintay since we waited for each other for too long!” he continues.
Among the places that they have visited, Vatican City obviously holds a special place. “After our wedding, we had Vatican City as the last stop for our honeymoon and sought the blessing of Pope Francis as newlyweds. It was a very moving and special moment for us to be able to embrace His Holiness and be blessed by him as we began our married life,” Willard shares.
Hong Kong of course is meaningful because that was where they first met; Norway because they saw the beautiful Northern Lights; Japan because of the food; Sydney and Melbourne in Australia because of the coffee; and the US, especially Washington, D.C. where they got to visit the White House.
“Visiting the White House has been on my bucket list and being able to visit it with my First Lady was a dream come true,” Willard shares, adding that they love discovering new places and trying out the local cuisines together.
The COVID-19 pandemic has put whatever travel plans they may have on pause, but it has also brought them even closer as a couple. The quarantine period also became an opportunity for Willard to take up biking again, something that he has not done since 2008.
Tin, on the other hand, rediscovered her great talent for cooking dishes such as adobo and sinigang, with the couple enjoying home-cooked meals together. The situation also gave birth to a new business for Tin.
“It actually started with a post thanking my cousin for giving us a sample of her home-made chili garlic sauce. Then many of my friends started to send messages asking about the product, so I thought there is business potential there, and that a market exists for delicious products that would remind us of home,” Tin narrates.
She began offering her cousin’s chili garlic sauce, and pretty soon, customers started asking if there were also dimsum products, which Tin’s cousin also had. The products expanded to siomai, hakaw, kikiam and just recently, bean curd roll. As word of mouth goes, friends also started recommending Tin’s dimsum products to their friends, posting very good feedback about it.
“The key is to ensure the products’ quality. Our home-made siomai and hakaw have real meat and shrimp. They have no extenders and they have no additives. Our kikiam is also senior-friendly since we use lean meat,” explains Tin, who shares that customers may reach her by sending a private message to her Instagram and Facebook accounts (IG: kristine_chua and Facebook: Kristine Chua-Cheng).
Being a certified food lover, Tin really puts passion in what she does, and finds her business fun and enjoyable to do. “It’s gratifying most especially whenever our friends and customers post their reviews and give positive feedback about our products. It inspires me to continue and do more,” she says.
If there’s anything that this pandemic has made them realize, it’s the fact that things can change in one snap, and things people enjoyed previously can instantly vanish. The pandemic has also strengthened their faith, making them become even more grateful for God’s blessings of good health for them and their loved ones.
“Some friends we had pre-pandemic may no longer be with us. The pandemic certainly reminded us to be more grateful and more appreciative of the time we have with our families and loved ones, and to be mindful of our health,” reflects Willard.
About the Writer
Bing Parel is a Senior Vice President for the Editorial Department of WSP Incorporated, a Filipino-owned communications firm. In her past life, she was a travel magazine writer and associate editor for a glossy, and was also involved in the national campaign of a presidential candidate. She describes herself as a domestic diva on weekends and confesses that one of her frustrations is the inability to solve a Rubik’s Cube despite her teenage son’s patient encouragement and tutorial attempts.