Sebastian Fuchs and Denise Sung met by chance in a bar in Hong Kong eight years ago. (Photo: Denise Sung)
(CNN) — When Denise Sung was growing up in Taiwan, she dreamed of meeting a man named Sebastian.
It all started when he read William Shakespeare's play "Twelfth Night," a romantic comedy in which one of the protagonists is named Sebastian. Young Denise was swept up in Shakespeare's story of shipwrecks, mistaken identities, and romance, and the play stuck with her, but mostly it was because of Sebastian's name.
"I thought, 'Sebastian is such a beautiful name,'" Denise tells CNN Travel. "I fell in love with that name."
At the time, Denise had never met anyone named Sebastian. And then he spent his entire teenage years and half of his 20s without finding the name in real life.
Until, at the age of 26, Denise Sung met Sebastian Fuchs.
Denise had spent her adult life living all over the world, hopping from Taiwan to the United States, from Australia to China. The result was close friends spread all over the world, and in the summer of 2015, one of them (a good friend from Denise's college days in Sydney) was getting married in Hong Kong and asked her to be one of his bridesmaids.
"I would always tell my friends, 'We're just a flight away. If you really want to catch up, if there's any major event in your life, I'm literally a plane ticket away. I can always be there for you,'" Denise says.
So, true to her word, Denise booked a flight to Hong Kong for her friend's wedding. When he arrived, he plunged into the festivities and then, at the last minute, decided to extend his trip to the following weekend so he could spend more time with his friends.
One night after the wedding, Denise and two of her friends went to Hong Kong's Lan Kwai Fong district.
"LKF is a party neighborhood," Denise explains. "You go there any day of the week and there's always something going on: there are bars, restaurants, it's right in the centre of Hong Kong, so you don't miss it. Especially when you're young, that's where you go."
Denise and her friends spent the night going in and out of bars before ending up in one called shisha.
"If you ask me what the bar was called, I don't really remember," Denise says, laughing. "There was a lot of alcohol."
At the shisha bar, Denise and her friends were sitting in a corner, deep in conversation. The bar was quite small and the various groups were piled together, so when two guys at a nearby table turned around and started talking to Denise and her group, it wasn't a surprise.
They explained that they were from Germany and were vacationing in Hong Kong. Then they introduced themselves and that was the moment Denise met Sebastian.
"That's my favorite name," Denise exclaimed, without thinking.
Denise and Sebastian hit it off right away when they met by chance one night. (Photo: Denise Sung)
In 2015, Sebastian was doing a postdoc in Switzerland. He was vacationing in Hong Kong with a friend from his PhD days in Frankfurt, Germany. The day he met Denise turned out to be his 31st birthday.
"We celebrated my birthday in a bar and then we met Denise and two of her friends," Sebastian tells CNN Travel.
Sebastian and his friend immediately got along with Denise and her friends. They talked about their experiences in Hong Kong and how they had gotten there. Sebastian's friend led the conversation – "he's a very quiet and outgoing person – but while Sebastian was calmer, for Denise he was magnetic.
"There was certainly attraction at first sight," he says.
"I can say without a doubt that Denise also made a very good first impression on me," agrees Sebastian.
But back then, Sebastian was looking first and foremost for "stability" in a relationship.
- They fell in love and met in South America. But a note taped to a door brought them back together
And while Denise liked him right away, it didn't occur to him that she might be the person who would offer it to him, simply "for the fact that we met so far from home," he says.
As for Denise, she was a romantic who firmly believed "that there is the next big love around the corner."
"When I was in my 20s I was quite outgoing, I was always going out and I loved meeting new people," Denise adds.
But before she met Sebastian, Denise felt like she'd never really had a "meaningful" romantic relationship. And immediately, something about him seemed different.
Even that first night, for Denise, meeting Sebastian felt a bit like fate: she had no intention of being in Hong Kong that weekend and it turned out he didn't either. Sebastian and his friend had originally planned to go to Bangkok, Thailand, but changed their plans at the last minute. Denise also thought that the fact that they met on Sebastian's birthday was "really cool." Of course, there was the whole name thing.
And that wasn't all, Sebastian and his friend were staying in the same hotel as Denise.
"Of all the hotels in Hong Kong, Sebastian and I booked into the same hotel," says Denise.
He couldn't help but feel like they had been "put in the same place at the same time," against all odds.
Sebastian is a more logical thinker than Denise. But he still got carried away with the excitement of the night and found himself acting out of place. When Denise asked him if he wanted to smoke a cigarette, he said yes.
"Up until that point, I had never smoked in my life," he reveals. "After that point, I didn't smoke a cigarette again either. But at the time, for some reason, I couldn't bring myself to say no."
Staying in touch
Sebastian and Denise kept in touch after that first meeting. (Photo: Denise Sung)
Sebastian and Denise left Hong Kong with each other's contact details saved, but with no plans to see each other again.
Without really thinking about it, or making any conscious effort, they kept in touch: "just texting and talking constantly," Denise describes.
A whole year passed before Denise and Sebastian met again. In the summer of 2016, Denise and a friend booked a trip to Europe and planned to travel to several destinations. In passing, Sebastian mentioned that he would be in Germany during that period, so Denise decided to include Frankfurt in her itinerary.
While Denise was outgoing by nature, this decision was misplaced, at least as far as her romantic life was concerned.
"When I was in my early 20s, I was always very afraid of putting myself out there and thinking too much. You could say I wasn't very comfortable with myself, always worrying about what people thought of me," she says.
"When I was in my twenties, my mindset really changed. I thought, 'What do I have to lose? I'm really looking forward to meeting this guy.' So I went to Frankfurt."
Denise and Sebastian met in Frankfurt and then traveled to Munich. They also visited Sebastian's hometown, where Denise met her sister.
Spending time together in Germany was easy and fun.
For Denise, it was the fact that Sebastian was "honest and very sincere."
As for Sebastian, he enjoyed showing Denise his home country and seeing her in Germany made their connection seem more real.
"It was definitely very exciting to meet her again, after that vacation, now in my real day-to-day life," he details.
Committing to each other
Denise and Sebastian were sure they wanted to be together, but Sebastian was worried about the long distance at first. (Photo: Denise Sung)
A year later, in the summer of 2017, Sebastian visited Denise in California, where she lived and worked.
That's when Denise told Sebastian that she was committed to him and to making long distance work, in the long run.
Denise struggled to understand this mentality.
"I told my grandmother about you," she said. "And now you're saying this isn't going anywhere? You need to make a decision."
Sebastian didn't want to be with anyone else. He was simply concerned about the reality of cross-continent dating with no end in sight. But Denise assured him that they would make it work.
"I just feel like, maybe because of my upbringing, I'm always in a different country away from someone," Denise relates. "And I do. If you meet someone who is right and meaningful to you, everything else will eventually work out."
Denise's certainty helped calm Sebastian's uncertainty. He agreed that he also wanted to try to make their relationship work. Looking back, Denise is proud of how she handled this moment.
- She broke up with her boyfriend and went to live with a man she had met 3 weeks earlier. This is their love story
"As a proud feminist, I believe that in modern times there is no reason for men to be the ones to start things," she says. "I was pretty sure he liked it. Otherwise, I'd be dating someone else, but I know I wasn't dating anyone else. So I knew this was serious, he is, but I just wasn't sure how it was going to work."
Denise and Sebastian decided that in the future they would make sure to have regularly scheduled meetings. They pledged to see each other at least every two months.
From then on, they met all over the world and grew closer and closer.
"We both love to travel," says Denise. "We would pick a city and spend our time there together. I became an expert at learning how to accumulate airline points."
The long distance was made easier by Sebastian's work, which provided him with many vacation days as well as opportunities to travel to the United States.
"These circumstances helped us see each other a lot, which maybe some people can't do," she explains.
Still, both Sebastian and Denise had friends who were opposed to the situation.
"I would hear, 'How can it be a real relationship if you don't live together?'" recalls Denise. "But it's just people's perspectives. For someone who has never had a long-distance relationship, it's someone who is used to having another person with you 24/7. And they think that's what a relationship should look like."
Pero Denise y Sebastian estaban, como dice Denise, "haciendo sus propias reglas". Ambos tienen una fuerte voluntad y un fuerte sentido de sí mismos que aportaron a su asociación.
"Siempre he pensado: 'Quiero seguir mi propio camino, tomar mis propias decisiones, lo que es correcto para mí'", dice Sebastian.
"Me quiero mucho. Así que en cada decisión que tomo siempre me pongo a mí primero, por ejemplo, qué me hace más feliz, cuál es la forma más saludable para mí, personal y mentalmente”, añade Denise.
Durante este período, tanto Sebastián como Denise dieron pasos adelante en sus respectivas carreras y obtuvieron éxitos que atribuyen, en parte, al apoyo del otro.
"Siempre he pensado: 'Quiero seguir mi propio camino, tomar mis propias decisiones, lo que es bueno para mí'", dice Sebastian.
"Me quiero mucho a mí misma. Por eso, cada decisión que tomo siempre la antepongo a mí misma: lo que me hace más feliz, lo que es más sano para mí, personal y mentalmente", añade Denise.
En este tiempo, tanto Sebastian como Denise avanzaron en sus respectivas carreras y cosecharon éxitos que atribuyen, en parte, al apoyo del otro.
Denise y Sebastian adoptaron la costumbre de encontrarse en todo el mundo. (Foto: Denise Sung)
En 2019, Denise y Sebastian dieron otro paso adelante: Denise presentó a Sebastian a sus padres.
"Vengo de una familia china taiwanesa bastante conservadora y tradicional, así que, culturalmente hablando, mis padres son tradicionales en el sentido de que piensan: 'No me presentes a ninguno de tus novios, a menos que se trate de alguien con quien estés preparada para casarte'", cuenta Denise.
When his parents first met Sebastian, "they adored him," Denise says. It was at the end of 2019. The couple stayed in Asia until 2020 to celebrate the Lunar New Year at the end of January.
It was around this time that Denise and Sebastian first heard rumors of the pandemic. But when they said goodbye in January and flew back to their respective homes, they assumed they could reunite in the U.S. in March, as they had planned.
But just before Sebastian's departure date, U.S. borders were closed.
"He had to cancel his flights. And that's when we didn't know when we'd see each other again," says Denise.
Suddenly, the "just missing a plane ticket" attitude that Denise had grown up with crumbled around her.
"That was the biggest challenge, because this is out of your control," he says.
During the months of separation that followed, Denise thought about her grandparents. They left China during the civil war and went to Taiwan.
"They couldn't go back for 15 years, they couldn't go back to China to visit their acquaintances and family," says Denise. "I remember as a child hearing about this story and I said to my mother, 'How is that possible?'"
Although it was a very different situation, Denise understood for the first time that the possibility of traveling around the world to see Sebastian was not guaranteed.
"It makes you feel like traveling becomes a privilege; Before, we didn't take it as a privilege," he says.
As the pandemic swept across the world and borders closed, Denise and Sebastian kept in touch constantly, with video calls and messages. And, over time, they started talking about marriage.
Prior to 2020, marriage hadn't been on Denise's radar, but the combination of missing Sebastian and realizing that if they had gotten married, they would have been able to get together more easily, made her seriously consider the prospect for the first time.
Denise and Sebastian were separated for almost two years. During that time they oscillated between sadness, anger, frustration and relief that their situation was not worse. They were grateful to be healthy and have stable jobs, and even though they couldn't be together, they had heard stories online of other international couples separated in much worse situations: people who hadn't met their children, people with partners in other countries who were seriously ill.
- This is what the new metro in Quito looks like: lines, stations, schedule, travel prices and what you need to know
But Denise and Sebastian were still struggling with being separated and not knowing what the future would hold.
Denise distracted herself by adopting a rescue dog, a decision she describes as "the best one I've ever made." He made new friends at the dog park, friends who joked that he could have made Sebastian up entirely, since they'd never met him.
Sebastian devoted much of his energy to the work. In his spare time, he played basketball with friends in the area, who helped him forget about missing Denise.
"Things like that helped me a lot to get through it, but I was definitely looking forward to meeting Denise as soon as possible," says Sebastian. "And we tried everything."
Sebastian and Denise finally reunited at the end of 2021 in Mexico.
"It was such a relief to see Denise again," says Sebastian.
They were both thrilled to see each other again. But, according to Denise, it wasn't as dramatic a reunion as you might imagine. On the contrary, it was as if no time had passed, and they easily returned to their dynamic.
"With him, I always feel very happy. There's no roller coaster of emotions," says Denise. "I'm very happy with him and I feel at home when I'm with him. It's very important to me, because I left home very young. But with him, I feel like this is my home."
Sebastian proposed to Denise in Mexico. They were sitting in a beachside cabana when he turned to Denise.
"I want to spend the rest of my life with you," he told her.
Although the couple wanted to tie the knot as soon as possible, they also wanted their loved ones to be there to celebrate with them, so they realized they would have to wait: Denise's parents currently live in China, where pandemic travel restrictions were not lifted until last August.
Once the covid uncertainty dissipated, Denise and Sebastian were finally able to set their wedding date: spring 2024 at the luxury hotel Schlosshotel Kronberg, just outside Frankfurt.
They can't wait to celebrate with family and friends around the world. Denise is particularly excited to introduce Germany to her loved ones.
"I wanted to take this opportunity to show them the country that I will soon call 'my second home,'" he says.
Looking to the future
Denise and Sebastian are planning their next wedding.
(Photo: Denise Sung)
Denise and Sebastian don't know exactly what the future will hold or where they'll settle down, but they're excited about the prospects.
"I want to choose a place that's diverse," Denise says. "If we have children, I want my children to be fluent in all their different cultures: American, German and Chinese."
Denise and Sebastian like to get to know each other's culture. Over the years, they've sometimes encountered great differences in perspective, but they approach these moments with a shared open-mindedness and curiosity.
"Our approach can be very different. But I think that's something we can always learn from each other and understand," Denise says. "We both respect each other's culture equally and have the same curiosity to learn about each other's culture."
"That's something that really unites us and that we have in common," agrees Sebastian. "Cultural difference has never been something that deters me, rather it's something that attracts me."
It's been eight years since Sebastian and Denise crossed paths in the bar in Hong Kong. Today, Sebastian spends more time looking ahead than reflecting on times gone by.
"I don't think about how unlikely it was that we would meet," he says. "I'm just glad it happened and I'm looking forward to the future we have together."
Denise is also excited about that future, but remains impressed by the improbability of their meeting and believes it was meant to happen.
"I believe in the energy of the universe," Denise says. "In Chinese we have a word, 'yuánfèn', which basically means 'destination'. We often use that word when you see people from completely different sides of the world approaching."
"He's from Frankfurt. I grew up in the countryside in Taiwan. We were in different countries. And we met in a third country where we both wouldn't expect to be in that place, at that time. You start to wonder. You wonder, if it's not destiny, what is? And it just so happened that he had my favorite boy's name. Maybe I always knew I'd marry Sebastian."