subtle asian traits

bubble tea and barnes & noble

There’s always the slight concern before meeting someone you started talking to online that the person is secretly an axe murderer and you’re going to meet an unfortunate end very soon.

This thought crossed my mind on the subway ride to meet said person in the city, but I had taken some precautions: I’d agreed to meet the guy in a public place, my friend knew where I was going, and, most importantly, one of her high school friends was friends with him on Facebook, so I had some confirmation that he was not, in fact, an axe murderer.

Although I would like to say that I don’t make a habit of meeting virtual strangers for bubble tea, lately I have thrown caution to the wind and met a handful of guys from Tinder for this exact purpose—potentially because I’m recently single and potentially because I’ve read too many books and am thus always on the lookout for my next meet-cute.

I did not, however, meet this particular guy on Tinder. I first became aware of his existence last semester after my friend tagged me in a Subtle Asian Traits post about how boba actually means breasts, to which I commented something like “I hate the west coast” (a sentiment that stems from both the post and, possibly, lingering resentment over my ex, but eh).

To my astonishment, this guy liked my comment, friend requested me, and then sent me a message that went something like, “I know this is a super random add, but I laughed when I read your comment. It’s something I would say hahahaha.”

By this point, I was internally screaming, because like, this isn’t even the Subtle Asian Dating page?? But curiosity moved me to check out his profile. His picture was pretty standard—and, okay, his smile was cute. His wall seemed normal enough, and his message was at least somewhat self-aware. However, he hailed from Singapore and was going to school in Cali. My confusion increased. If this guy was trying to slide into DMs, he could have picked someone closer by. Also, my comment wasn’t even that funny.

Perhaps against better judgement, I responded to his message, and we had a sporadic, surprisingly-expansive-but-not-in-depth conversation about the Subtle Asian Traits meme page, music, our respective majors (he’s computer engineering—yikes, do I attract a type?—and I’m English), and our parents.

Flashforward to winter break: I was scrolling through my Facebook feed when I saw that Subtle Asian Traits boy was visiting a friend in NYC. “Angry reacts only,” his post said. In a rare moment of NYC pride, I sad-reacted instead. A few hours later, he messaged me and asked if I wanted to hang out in the city.

Cue more internal screaming. But, because I’m trying to do this new throw-caution-to-the-wind thing, I hazarded a yes, and we arranged to get bubble tea in K-Town.

My parents definitely think that meeting someone from online will end badly, so I scheduled the meet-up for a day I was already going into the city for lunch with someone I had worked with during a previous internship. (Networking, wow. I can make good decisions too.) I told my parents that I was going to a nearby Barnes & Noble after the meal to read a graphic novel that I was very eager to finish but too cheap to buy—not technically a lie because I’d hoped to do so anyway after I’d hopefully survived this bubble tea experience—so I had the whole afternoon before me.

The Gong Cha where we agreed to meet was standing room only, with a capacity that maxed out after we entered. It was too warm and too crowded, and I could feel myself start to sweat as I tried to decide which of the many drink options I wanted, but conversation flowed surprisingly well as we waited for our orders. We talked about break and school, NYC and Singapore. He gallantly paid for my drink, and by then, I had decided that he was just a guy with slightly dubious social networking practices.

Our small talk continued as we left the confines of the tea shop to walk aimlessly around the neighborhood. I learned that he’d only recently started college because he’d served two years of mandatory military service, and he was both concerned for as well as somewhat appalled by the freshmen. I supposedly impressed him by correctly guessing what his dad did as a hydrographer (#BrownClassof2020), and he made me laugh with the line “I left my axe at home, actually.”

He had mentioned over Messenger in an earlier conversation that he enjoyed reading and was down to go to a bookstore—which may have (definitely) influenced my final decision to meet him. A boy who likes books? What a concept. So when he asked if we should head somewhere in particular, I divulged my initial plan of going to Barnes & Noble and reading my graphic novel. (The day was going well, but I had my priorities.)

We ended up sitting on a corner of the second floor of the Barnes & Noble in Union Square, each reading our respective books. On our way there, we talked about our favorite genres and recent reads. He had picked up a lot of nonfiction lately (you can’t win ‘em all I guess) and preferred sci-fi over fantasy.

“The only fantasy series I really liked was Lord of the Rings,” he said, which, of course, prompted me to give him my hot take that LOTR really isn’t that great—it’s even, dare I say, quite boring.

“I laughed maybe once while reading the whole thing.” (I know the world building is extremely complex, but like, does anything interesting actually happen? Debatable.)

The whole experience was surreal. We read for maybe an hour—the graphic novel was great by the way, 10/10 would recommend—and then we just started talking about random topics: food, family, summer plans. “I know this sounds fake,” he said, “but I’m going to my cousin Colin’s wedding this summer” in an accent exactly like Henry Golding’s from Crazy Rich Asians. My laughter was probably too loud considering our surroundings.

If anyone had told my younger self that one day she’d be sitting on the floor of a bookstore laughing with a cute boy, she would’ve been downright giddy that her life was turning out like the stories she’d always read. Now, I’m a bit more realistic and a bit more skeptical. Though this experience may sound like an elaborate meet-cute, I didn’t and still don’t expect it to amount to much. We’ve returned to our respective coasts and may never see each other again. We message or snap only occasionally, and even then it’s mostly just exchanging memes.

Rather than entertain swooping romantic notions, I’ve come away with the unexpected realization that some risks—granted, somewhat-well-thought-out ones that minimize the likelihood of axe murder—may result in bizarrely positive experiences. I don’t consider myself a very daring person, but I think I can count this day as a thrilling and memorable adventure: I got to meet someone from another corner of the world, learn about a different set of life experiences, and gain a new friend.

Also, he claimed he would mail me one of his favorite books, and that’s definitely a plus, too. I’ll let you know if I ever get it.