Proposal staycation: She wanted to surprise him, but was surprised instead

Mr Hemandra Tanapalan, proposed to his girlfriend, Ms Cheryl Chua, at The Fullerton Hotel Singapore in Jan 2021. PHOTO: HEMANDRA TANAPALAN

SINGAPORE - Ms Cheryl Chua, 25, had planned a secret birthday celebration for her boyfriend, but she was the one taken by surprise when he proposed during their staycation.

Mr Hemandra Tanapalan, 27, managed to pull off his ambitious plan in just two weeks, thanks to a friend he jokingly calls a "double agent", who shared details of her booking with him.

He had been wanting to "officially make this relationship real" and had been shopping for a ring. So, when he learnt about her plan, he decided it was the best opportunity to turn it into a surprise proposal.

The full-time travel-influencer couple are better known for their wanderlust-inducing Instagram feed at @todayweexplore, which has more than 92,000 followers and allowed them to visit about 20 countries every year since 2018.

Just before the circuit breaker period last year, they decided to pivot to corporate pursuits instead, with Ms Chua helming marketing at an e-commerce start-up and Mr Tanapalan going back to his entrepreneurial roots with a company that invests in, distributes and markets consumer product brands.

The couple checked into a Marina Bay View room at The Fullerton Hotel Singapore on Jan 28 and switched to the more luxurious Governor Suite the next day, which they paid for.

That night, Ms Chua had arranged for dinner outside so that their mutual friends could decorate the room for a surprise birthday celebration.

What she did not know was that they were also there to coordinate the proposal decor in the outdoor area, which was sponsored by a wedding and event company that had contacted Mr Tanapalan at the right time.

When the pair returned to the suite, he played along with the birthday surprise together with their friends. Then, they adjourned for drinks at the expansive verandah, which is flanked by Doric columns reaching more than 6m high and boasts a view of the Fullerton Waterboat House and Anderson Bridge.

Their pals drew the curtains to the verandah, revealing the decor decked out with candles, cushions, photographs and lush bouquets, as well as a circular backdrop with the words, "Will you marry me".

Mr Tanapalan knelt on one knee and took out the ring.

"It was the first time I've seen her cry in a long, long time," he says of the emotional moment.

"We had friends tuning in from around the world," he adds, explaining that they shot live videos for buddies who could not be there because of social distancing rules.

"I was really very surprised," says Ms Chua. "Over the past few months, he did ask about rings and stuff. His friends also did. But he just gave the excuse he was working with a new jewellery brand and wanted my thoughts."

Her fiance credits the team at the Fullerton for its role in making his surprise a success and says an overseas proposal did not cross his mind.

"We prefer to celebrate significant events here. Somehow, when you travel a lot, you feel home is still a lot more comfortable. Also, our friends were around. I think that's more important for us."

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