By the time Dave set the dating website's geographic parameters, he'd already fallen in love - with a country.
The Barrington, N.J., native spent two semesters in Thailand, taking international business and language courses as a Rutgers student in 2002 and 2004, and he planned to return. He was in New Jersey, working at Cannon in May 2009, when dating website Plenty of Fish introduced him and Sasi, who grew up in Udon Thani and was a third-year IT student at Silpakorn University.
They talked through e-mail and video chat for nine months.
"I liked that he's funny, and he was always being nice to me," Sasi said. "I could tell him anything, and be myself with him."
Dave felt the same way. "We were able to say whatever we wanted, and we could both joke around and neither of us would take it too seriously."
As 2009 was ending, Dave decided to leave his marketing job at Cannon and take an extended trip to Thailand.
"In the beginning, we were friends," Sasi said. "When he said he's going to come here, and leave his job, to see me, it started to get romantic."
In January 2010, Dave went to Thailand with his friend Bill - the same guy he'd studied there with in the previous decade. His first stop: a mall in Bangkok, near Sasi's university.
"We met in front of the KFC," Dave said.
"It was so 'I felt safe,' since back then, I wasn't sure if he's not a psycho person," said Sasi.
It never felt strange.
"I fell in love with him the first time I saw him," she said.
"As soon as we met, I had this feeling," said Dave. "There was just something different about Sasi."
For two months, Dave and Bill traveled for a week at a time, coming back to Bangkok for a few days so Dave and Sasi could spend time together. For another two months, Dave stayed in Bangkok so he and Sasi had even more time.
That June, Dave returned to the United States and tried to start a social media network for musicians and music fans. Neither Sasi nor Dave dated anyone else. "We talked for more than two hours every day," she said. A year later, he returned to Thailand. When Sasi was in class or studying, Dave took a financial management course and taught himself how to code to rank better on search engines.
Dave, who is now 31, flew home again in the summer of 2011 and took an Internet marketing job with SI Restoration, then later with the related company Address Our Mess. The couple's relationship returned to Skype and Viber until summer 2012, when Sasi, who is now 27, found an au pair job in Brick, N.J. After six months of travels between Barrington and Brick, Sasi and Dave decided to get married so they could live together without causing Sasi's parents discomfort.
Three years to the day after meeting in front of a chicken restaurant in a mall in Thailand, the couple were married by the mayor of Barrington in a quick courthouse ceremony. Only their parents and siblings knew. Sasi and Dave moved to their current home in Cherry Hill. He continues to work for Address Our Mess, and also CRD Restore, a company that repairs mold, fire and water damage. Sasi is a server at Little Thai Kitchen.
How does forever sound?
As the couple planned what they consider their real wedding in Thailand, Dave planned to uphold another tradition for Sasi.
"He had never proposed to me, and it was a little bit important to me to be proposed to," Sasi said.
The couple traveled to Thailand in early 2014 - a trip that was the only logistical way they could fit in a daylong photo shoot for pictures to show during their wedding reception, as is common in Thailand. A tight schedule meant Dave once again relied on Skype for something important: He asked Sasi's mother, Benjawan, for her blessing to marry her daughter. Blessing received, Dave returned to the photo shoot.
"He came up to me, and I don't know what he said," Sasi remembered. "He was excited, and I was confused. He got down on his knee, and he gave me the ring, and then I said yes."
She hugged him and told herself not to cry for the sake of the pictures.
It was so them
About a year later, back in Udon Thani, Dave and his family and friends began the wedding day with a dancing parade, starting from the place Dave was staying to Sasi's house. As they danced down the street, neighbors who heard the music joined in.
Sasi's childhood home has a series of gates, and one of her best friends was stationed at each of them, refusing to let Dave through until he passed a test. "One asked me to dance, one asked me to sing," he said. "Luckily when I sang she didn't say no. . . . Sasi's little cousin washed my feet to say 'OK, you are clean enough to go into the house.' "
The couple wed in a traditional Thai ceremony. The brahman – their officiant - blessed the couple by splashing water on them, and then blessed their guests in the same way. "If people were laughing, he would throw even more water on them," Dave said. "Everyone was laughing a lot, and we were all soaked." The brahman and some of the 100 guests tied white strings around the couple's wrists for good luck, then headed outside for a feast of many traditional Thai foods.
Later that night, the couple and guests gathered again for a hotel reception.
"When I put the ring on him, I put it on the wrong hand, and everybody was laughing," Sasi said. "It was really funny, and I felt like I am the happiest I've ever been in my life."
Dave and Sasi walked into their evening reception together. "It was so nice to be there with her, holding hands, with all of these people we really like around us," he said. "That was the moment when it really hit me - this is amazing. Five years of us talking about being together finally came together. And here we were."
A bargain: In Thailand, wedding organizers handle planning, flowers, decorations, and just about every aspect other than the food. Sasi and Dave's organizer cost about half the price of others they considered, and did a fantastic job.
The splurge: The reception venue. The couple chose a hotel in the center of town so guests could walk everywhere, including to some American restaurants at a local mall. The convenience factor added about 30 percent to the cost.
Five nights with their families on Samui Island, three nights on their own at the Hua Hin ocean front resort.
Love: BEHIND THE SCENES
Officiants: Mayor Robert Klaus; Barrington, N.J., and Brahman Lub Boonlad, Udon Thani, Thailand.
Venue: Centara Hotel & Convention, Udon Thani.
Food: Centara Hotel & Convention.
Photo: The Queen Studio, Udon Thani.
Music: DJ Tar, Udon Thani
Dress: Alfred Angelo, Cherry Hill.
Wedding planner: Baitong Wedding Planner and Organizer, Roi Et, Thailand.
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