A hot summer fling led to a walk down the aisle for an American and a Singaporean. Twice. On two continents. By Sunita Shahdadpuri
Katrina*, an aspiring actress and opera singer, was attending college in her hometown of Nashville, Tennessee, in the United States, when she received a one-year scholarship to study arts in Italy.
"I was 22 and in my fourth year of university," recalls Katrina. "I had been taking classes in Italian because of my interest in opera, so when I won the scholarship, I jumped at the chance.
"My father had recently died unexpectedly, and I desperately needed to escape my grief. My mother was heartbroken when I told her I was leaving, but I just had to get away."
During the summer break, Katrina - along with her friend Tracie* - had originally decided to explore Western Europe with an unlimited Eurail pass. But after seeing more of Italy, they were smitten and decided to stay.
MEETING A HOT GUY
One day, Katrina found all their valuables stolen when she returned from exploring a church in Florence. Tracie had dozed off. "I had left my things with Tracie. When I came back from looking at art, all of our stuff was gone."
They had to go to the American embassy to ask for new passports, and ask their parents to send them money. "Our wallets were a lot thinner so we decided to go to a small town outside of Rome," says Katrina.
In the coastal village of Atrani, they lay on a beach for hours, taking in the stunning view. At one point, two guys walked by them. "They were both good-looking. One looked like a hippy and the other was a really buff Chinese guy," says Katrina. "Tracie went over to talk to the hippy and they left together.
"There was nobody else on the beach except the Asian guy and me. We talked, went swimming and ended up having a great time. It was no big deal. I think I'd rather have been in a museum. But there was no denying he was hot!"
Katrina found out his name was Ben*, and that he was Singaporean. He was currently at law school in London, and trying to pass the Bar.
"He told me about his exploits as a national athlete and how he took part in triathlons. He had also been a commando in the army. Impressive stuff, but I didn't let myself get caught up in it, because he had also mentioned that he had a Singaporean girlfriend back in London and that they were probably going to get married."
DOES HE OR DOESN'T HE?
But the more Ben talked about his girlfriend Stephanie*, the more Katrina felt the pair were not a love match. "He seemed to think that because they had been together for so long, marriage was inevitable. I figured that it could be a family thing or an Asian tradition that I didn't understand.
"I also questioned why he was travelling around Europe without her. I decided it was none of my business, and all this flirtation was just for fun. I knew one thing for sure - when he looked at me, his girlfriend was not on his mind."
Two days later, the four travellers met for dinner. "We had a great time and later went to a dance club," remembers Katrina. "It was fun but I started to feel tired and noticed that Ben was yawning too.
"I said to him: 'Why don't you walk me back to the hostel?' We had a very romantic stroll through cobblestone streets, and I wondered what would happen when we got to the room. Would he kiss me?"
TALKING THROUGH THE NIGHT
When they reached the hostel late that night, Katrina was surprised to find there was a 10pm-6am curfew. "I didn't know what to do," says Katrina. "I was absolutely exhausted! So we went to the beach and talked about our families, childhood and everything else, until the sun came up. We didn't kiss. It was just two people making a connection on a beach, in the middle of the night. I'll never forget it."
The next day, Katrina had to head back to Rome, then fly home to Nashville. Her mother had replaced her air ticket after it was stolen, so she had no choice but to cut her vacation short.
She wondered if she would ever see Ben again. Later that morning, he ran into her at the hostel and asked where she was going.
"I told him I had to leave today, but before that, I was making a stop at the famous ruins of Pompeii nearby. I had always wanted to go there and didn't know if I would ever make it back to Italy again," says Katrina.