A 10-year delay to prom

I have always envied American kids because they get to have dances and proms and homecoming where girls get to wear gorgeous gowns. Too bad the tradition did not extend to college unless you belong to a sorority, which I was obvious too nerdy to be a part of. During my college years, more than once I’ve gone to the party section of Macy’s to try on different dresses and make my ex compliment me without making any purchase, of course. Being able to wear a full length gown is one of the very few reasons I still fancy a wedding.

I cherish every opportunity to play Barbie. I have a few knee high length cocktail dresses but I always feel overdress when I wear them to weddings. The dress code to weddings in Hong Kong is super relaxed. It’s not uncommon to spot a guest in jeans. Bridezillas also hate it when female guests look too pretty because their insecure hearts cannot tolerate anyone outshining their beauty.

Little did I know my hidden desire to wear a beautiful full length gown and be the center of attention could actually materialize 10 years post high school at my company’s annual staff dinner!

Months ago HR invited me to be the master of ceremony of the annual staff party. I had no idea why they picked me among 300 employees in the Hong Kong office. I was very reluctant to accept because it was never my intention to standout in this company I’ve grown to love so much. I just wanted to save up enough for my PhD during my short tenure here. I didn’t need to impress the management with my fluency and public speaking skills (which I’m very proud of) since I’m not looking for a promotion. I asked them to talk to my supervisor in hopes she would say no, but she agreed!

It is our company tradition that the MCs should be dressed up for the occasion. Since I was not too excited about my extra responsibility, I just ordered one online. It was not my favorite design. I only chose it to match the color scheme of our theme this year. When it finally arrived a week prior to the event, I wasn’t impressed by the look of it, and it was way too loose even for my far from skinny figure. My mom had to take it to a tailor for alteration, and I couldn’t pick it up until two days before the party. When I finally tried it on, I almost cried in despair! It was at least two sizes too small after alternation! My mom had to send a SOS to her former colleague who knew how to do gown alternation. I was ready to rush to buy a emergency dress the next day in case they couldn’t fix it. After an hour of emergency rescue, I was able to squeeze into the dress.

Fast forward to the big day. My MC partner was my cubicle mate, who is a smart looking young British born Chinese with an English accent. He is over six feet, so we actually looked pretty cute together, but I was concerned about his performance because he had never done this kind of thing before, and he’s a very stiff guy. Oh, did I mention he is an accountant!? I don’t think they are renowned for being fun. We were both pretty busy in the past weeks, so we didn’t get to work on our lines until the day before the party.

His nervousness got to me that afternoon when we finally rehearsed on stage at the ballroom of a five-star hotel. I thought I was pretty used to speaking in front of a big crowd given my lecturing experience, but knowing the chairman would be attending the dinner for the first time in 20 years was nerve-racking. Most important of all, I didn’t want to embarrassed my beloved department and boss!

After our first rehearsal I was already exhausted. I took a break with doing my makeup and hair when my partner ran his lines next to me in the makeup room. My colleague also came down from the office to help me zip the dress. I had a suitcase full of supplies, hair products and cosmetics. Who knew wardrobe malfunctions like missing a earring and a body shimmer disaster could still happen? As I joked about my colleague acting like a maid of honor to a bride, my partner realized he had to cut open the buttonholes of his new tux shirt and was indeed in grave need of a best man!

It was already 5:30 pm, 2.5 hours before the event was scheduled to start, when we were ready. We ran our lines for a few more times on stage and even I grew more nervous by the minutes. We comforted each other and agreed once we got through the opening, everything would be fine because we’d be more at ease. As the guests began to arrive, everyone complimented my style. My dress actually looked quite nice after I’ve got my makeup and hair done. They also joked about how it was like attending our wedding cuz we were the only two to be so dressed up. Shortly before the program started, I went up to my boss and told her I hope I wouldn’t embarrass our team. She told me to just do my best.

When it was time to walk up the stage, I almost pulled a Jennifer Lawrence stun because I kept stepping on my own dress. Fortunately I was holding my partner’s arm. I was quite nervous at the very beginning. I was sweating a lot with the spotlight directly on me. I slurred a little bit, but it was all right. As the night went on and we were done with the formal tasks like toasting and the speech by the president, I got more and more comfortable. I made a lot of signature jokes, and people seemed to be having a good time. I also helped my partners when he missed his lines.

After the 3-hour event was over, I immediately ran to my team. They were so supportive and sat at one of the front tables. The first thing I said was. “I hope I didn’t embarrassed us!” My boss said I did an excellent job. She needed to drink some honey cuz I made her laugh so hard. She and my colleagues gave me big heartfelt hugs. I was actually very hungry since we barely had time to eat during breaks, we returned to our seats and started devouring the leftovers. Many senior management members came to us and told us and the HR guy in-charge it was much better than last year’s event. They said the atmosphere was very great, and they thanked me for doing this even though I’m leaving the company soon.

I must have made my boss really proud because everyone now knows she has such a competent player in her team. She wrote an email to everyone that night and thank the party planning committee (and me and my partner!) for the great party. The HR head even singled me out and said I made it better!

That night really fulfilled my fantasy of being prom queen. I’m not a high schooler anymore, but it’s better late than never! I got to look gorgeous and impress everyone. What a wonderful night!

This party is one of the best memories of my time at this company. Like taking this job, I didn’t want to/was afraid to do it at first, but I did it anyway because I didn’t have much to lose. It will cement my faith to take more risks in the future. My PhD will be full of unknowns, moving to a new country, adapting to yet another new accent, making new friends. It will be even more challenging than taking a new job and planning a party, but I think my lessons learned in this company will help me along the way, and I’m just so glad I was able to contribute before I leave.



About Nicky

Nicky English is a journalist, an educator, a podcaster, a couch potato, a dreamer, and a child at heart. Learning is her passion, so is the English language, which she believes is the tool to unlock the door of knowledge. Born in Hong Kong, she received intensive writing training at The University of Iowa, where she double-majored in journalism and political science. Apart from the Hawkeye State, she’s lived in Chicago and Philadelphia. When she was a guest student at Georgetown University, she fell in love with Washington, D.C. She also has a Master of Arts in Communication. A little side note—she cannot imagine a world without her Mac and iDevices. Like many crazy ones, she hopes to change the world one day at a time.
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