In spring 2008, Liana and her friend Alisa had just finished a two-week international business seminar in Shanghai as part of Columbia University's MBA program. With the school part behind them, Liana's sister Erika and friend Christina, and Alisa's husband, Alastair, and his friend Aaron joined them in China for some sight-seeing.
The group was smooshed around a table in a cozy room of an opulent karaoke bar when Aaron began belting out his Guns 'N Roses repertoire.
"He caught my eye that day," Liana remembered.
A few days later in Bejing, Aaron, who is now 33, and Liana, 35, talked mostly to each other as the group climbed an especially steep section of the Great Wall of China.
Between huffs and puffs, and discussing how best to avoid falling off the wall, the two shared some pretty intense conversation. Liana spoke about her father, Kevin, who had recently died. And Aaron spoke of his desire to leave his corporate job and start his own business.
After Beijing, Aaron and his group and Liana and hers were heading to different cities. Their last night together was St. Patrick's Day, and they found an Irish Pub of the sort one finds in Philadelphia - where Aaron was born and raised - or New York - where Liana had moved after growing up in Bergen County, N.J.
Aaron and Alastair were goofing off on the dance floor when Liana cut in. She and Aaron had their first kiss. Liana told Aaron her e-mail address.
The day the groups parted, Aaron sent Liana a message, asking her to meet for dinner once they were back in the States.
He never heard back.
Soon after returning to Philadelphia, Aaron tore his Achilles tendon playing squash and required surgery. Other than work, he was mostly housebound and frequently groggy on pain medicine for two months. Aaron got his walking cast just before the big 30th birthday bash Alisa threw for Alastair in Nantucket over Memorial Day weekend.
Liana sent Aaron an e-mail: "Are you going to Alastair's party? It would be nice to see you."
Hearing from the woman who never answered his e-mail did not help Aaron's grumpy mood. He told her not to expect him.
But Liana spotted Aaron on the ferry ride to the island. Alisa had persuaded him to come.
They sat together, and Liana helped him whenever the cast made moving himself and his things difficult. "She was very caring," Aaron said.
The day after Alastair's birthday dinner, Aaron and Liana spent hours talking on the beach.
She told him she was disappointed that after their connection in China, he never contacted her.
They figured out that because Aaron had misspelled her last name, which is part of her e-mail address, she never got his note.
Their first real date was drinks and dinner in New York City. Their second was a July 4 trip to Bermuda.
Aaron started his own real estate finance development company, Citizen & Company, based in Philadelphia.
Liana is a management consultant for Ernst & Young, and works in different locations for weeks at a time. There was Nebraska and D.C., and then, for 19 months, London. The couple would get together every weekend when she was Stateside, either in Philadelphia or New York. Even when in London, they saw each other every other weekend, sometimes here, sometimes in London - from where they would travel to France, Spain, Morocco and Turkey.
How does forever sound?
In the midst of all that traveling, Liana's lease in New York expired. Signing a new one seemed financially wasteful. Liana lived in London, but her couch and assorted other possessions moved into Aaron's Rittenhouse Square apartment.
Both Liana and Aaron love his building, but he knew his one-bedroom would never be big enough for a family. When the two-bedroom across the hall became available, he asked Liana if she'd like to buy it together, so they could make one larger home.
"I was surprised he would want to own something together without being married," Liana said. But she knew they would marry one day, and the apartment would be long gone by then. She said yes.
Liana didn't know Aaron had already sought the blessing of her mother, Inja, at a dinner with her sister, Heidi.
In July 2011, Liana arrived from London and really needed to put down her things and freshen up. But Aaron met her in the hallway. OK, he said, she could do what she needed to do, but please hurry back to the hall!
Aaron had signed a contract on the second apartment. When Liana returned to the hallway, he was in the threshold of the new place, on one knee. "Will you marry me?" he asked.
"Seriously?" said Liana in her shock.
"I think you're supposed to say yes," he said. She did.
It was so them
The two Columbia University alums were married in the chapel on Columbia's campus, with the university chaplain officiating. She was assisted in the ceremony by the pastor at Liana's Presbyterian church and by the University rabbi, so that the faiths of both the bride and groom were represented.
The reception for 130 was held at the Carlyle, with music provided by a band that frequently played at Aaron's fraternity events. They played a mix of contemporary and "old New York" songs, including a hefty helping of big-band tunes.
The wedding made official something that really already happened: The blending of two families. "Culturally, we come from very different backgrounds," Aaron said. He's Jewish, she's Korean. "But there has been this easy integration between both of our families." Liana's mother and sisters and Aaron's parents, Richard and Joanne, and sister Elisabeth and her family "get along in a very positive way - and also sometimes in that bickering way of families," Aaron said.
Waiting for the chapel doors to open for the walk down the aisle, Liana had her mother's hand in a vise grip. Since she had been out of town for work, Aaron took on the wedding planning, and Liana said that made the coming wedding seem rather abstract. But it all felt very, very real in that moment. "Take a deep breath! Take a deep breath," her mother told her.
And then the doors opened, and Liana broke into a smile. Aaron hugged Inja and walked her to her seat. Then he came back to Liana and took her hand, which he held for the whole ceremony. "Just like that, I was fine," she said.
Aaron, on the other hand, was fully expecting to feel nervous and jittery. "But when I saw her when the doors opened, it just felt very natural," he said.
A bargain: The band. Because they remembered Aaron and his friends from when he booked them for fraternity events, they gave the couple a special price.
The splurge: Liana said many Koreans consider drinking Johnny Walker Blue Label the height of luxury, so the couple had it served at the bar. It cost about five times as much per bottle as regular old Johnny Walker, Aaron said.
Two weeks in Asia, including time in Japan, Vietnam, and Thailand.
BEHIND THE SCENES
Chaplain Jewelnel Davis of St. Paul's Chapel at Columbia University, New York City
St. Paul's Chapel at Columbia University and the Carlyle Hotel, New York
The Carlyle, New York
Kateryn Silva Photography, Philadelphia
The Lester Lanin Orchestra,
L'Olivier, New York
Vera Wang, New York
The Printery, Oyster Bay, N.Y.