Xing qi er, qi yue shi wu hao: Zhu wo sheng ri kuai le

Well if you can understand mandarin pinyin, the topic of this blog entry is laid out clear. If you cannot understand mandarin pinyin, the title is as follows: Tuesday, July 15: Happy birthday to me.

And what a birthday it was.

I was asked by a few people throughout the course of the day if I had any significantly memorable birthdays. When I turned 17, I was in Wyoming, working at a camp and living in a one-room cabin with two other girls. I went to bed the night before my birthday, and was woken up at midnight by probably 20 people in that one room singing happy birthday to me. They had decorated my bunk bed and all crowded into the room, and I slept through the entirety of it, and they pulled off keeping it a complete surprise.

When I turned 20, I was in Virginia, and it was the day before leaving for China (this was last summer). I was with the group of people I traveled to China with, and we went on a hike that day. One of the guys carried a violin up the mountain we were hiking. We went up to the top of Spy Rock, and here we were on this gigantic rock formation, above all the trees and far from any sign of man made structures. I stood on that mountain barefoot and played the violin. That was a very memorable day that just so happened to be my birthday.

And here I am, in China, and I just turned 21. And it was definitely a birthday worth remembering. I’ll give you a run-down of the events that coincided with my birthday.

The day in and of itself was very normal. I went to work. I had my lunch break. I went back to work. At lunch, however, I was surprised with a birthday cake. And then I was sung to twice: once in English, and once in Chinese. Now, if you’ve never seen a Chinese birthday cake, then allow me to enlighten you. First of all, they are decorated incredibly intricately and are so beautiful. Mine was a two layer cake, and the white icing was mounded on. The top of the cake had pandas and trees and a waterfall flowing down onto the second layer. Here’s a picture to do some more of the talking for me:

(picture to come soon)

So the cake is beautiful. But that’s not the end of the amazingness that was this birthday cake. There is this candle. It is a flower with eight petals. On the tip of each petal are the actual candles (they don’t match the number of candles to your age). When you first put the candle in the cake, the flower is all closed up, and the wicks of all the candles are twisted together. Then you light the wicks. And so they untwist from each other and the petals all fall down to open the flower, and the center of the flower blows out fire for a few seconds. And then the flower plays the tune of Happy Birthday. And then the flower doesn’t stop singing the tune of Happy Birthday. I’ve been told that said flower will keep singing for over 48 hours. I didn’t keep mine long enough to find out, but I did hear it in the trashcan quite a few hours later. I need to get some of those candles to bring home with me.

After I cut that cake up and everyone who was in the dining hall got some, I brought the rest of it over to the Foster Home and shared it with the kids and the nannies. Seeing the kids eat my birthday cake just may have been my favorite part of the day.

After work, a crowd of us piled into an 11 passenger van and drove 5 minutes down the street to a restaurant that I have never eaten at. (Note to reader: after reading that sentence, please do not mistake the word “crowd” for being “11 people.” Yes, the van comfortably seats 11 people. But we, however, fit 19 people into that van. And two more people followed behind on a bike.) I love eating at Chinese restaurants. Not American Chinese restaurants, but the ones here. It’s not a “one-dish-per-person-that’s-all-you-eat” deal. You order many, many dishes for the whole group. And you have a tiny little plate and a tiny little bowl in front of you, and your chopsticks. And then the dishes get put on the lazy-susan that is in the center of the table. And you spin the lazy-susan around and eat to your heart’s content. We had some fun dishes, including one that tasted like potato sticks, and a hot bread that you dip in sweet sauce that is one of my personal favorites. I will miss real Chinese food when I leave this place again. I was sung to again while we were at the restaurant. I think they sang in Chinese that time.

That was only the beginning of the celebrations, as I came to realize soon after. My lovely friend Anna planned some fun times in the courtyard behind our apartment complexes. And she invited all the students from New Day’s English school to join us. Initially, we were tossing a Frisbee around. However, we got yelled at by a Chinese man because there were lots of little kids running around and he said it was dangerous and we would hurt someone. So that was the end of Frisbee. But that was ok, because then we just had fun making fools of ourselves, playing ridiculous games that I don’t think I would do in any other circumstance. Like, remember that game when you get with a group of people and you all put your hands in the center and grab random people’s hands and then you need to untwist yourselves to make a normal circle? Yeah … we did that. There were 27 of us, so we made three groups. And all the people in the courtyard (which was a pretty hopping place) probably were making fun of us. Lots of staring was going on, at least, but it was so much fun.

And there was more cake in the courtyard! My dear roommate Caroline made a chocolate cake. And it was absolutely wonderful. And there was more singing! I forget if it was Chinese or English at this point. And then something that I will always remember (though I was completely embarrassed at the time, due to the fact that I am not a huge fan of individual, specific attention from a large crowd), I somehow ended up in the center of a large circle of the English students. They decided that they would each come up to me and say “Happy Birthday Bekah” in their province’s dialect. There was lots of laughing and smiling and a bit of awkwardness, as I didn’t know how to react to multiple people approaching me and talking to me while everyone else was watching and listening, but it was a beautiful moment for sure.

There was more fun times in the courtyard, including dancing the Electric Slide to some Chinese ballroom dancing music, and then I was tired, so back to the apartment I went. However, I ended up going out again after I got back in. It was a beautiful night, so Caroline and I had some good conversation outside, while being started at and probably talked about by most of the people walking by us. The little kids were especially curious as to why these two foreigners were sitting on a couch on the side of the street. We had one lady approach us and give us her Mary Kay card. A little girl did everything she could to make watch her and her crazy antics, while her grandmother tried to keep her away from us, because she was very much getting right into our faces. And then one of the nannies from New Day came by and sat on the couch with us. Through her little English and our little Chinese, we had a small conversation that led to her inviting us up to her apartment. So, we followed her up, and met her 15-year-old son, and sat in her living room and talked about our ages (I told her that it was my birthday), and favorite foods, and what times we go to bed and wake up, and the personalities of some of the kids at New Day, and the weather, and she taught us a few dance steps. We ended up being there until 11:00. We had kind of run out of things to say in Chinese, and she had run out of things to say in English. I think that simple moments like that make my heart the most happy.

The next day at lunch, around 11:57, I determined that it was still my birthday in the states (for a whole 3 more minutes), so I ate an ice cream bar. And then it was the end of the 36 hours I could call my birthday.

So, as far as memorable birthdays goes, I believe this one tops the list. And when I get home next week, I know that if I hint enough at it (hint, hint, hint), I will have some of my mom’s amazing homemade chocolate cake. Birthdays are not complete without it.