Over the years, birthdays for me have become less and less significant. I’m perfectly happy to let a birthday pass unmarked; less fanfare and less celebration wouldn’t be missed by me. However, this year was certainly significant in one glaring way: it was the first birthday I would celebrate in a different country. It would also be the first birthday with zero of my family or friends. So no matter how it was spent, I was sure it would not simply go by inconspicuously. Even if nothing happened, it would still hold a special place for the mere reason of where I currently am in the world. Luckily for me, I do have friends here who would not allow just “nothing” to happen.
The story actually begins on Thursday, when a man came up to me; he told me that he works in my apartment building and though it took a while to interpret his meaning, I eventually learned that he works in the wedding planning business. (Spoiler alert: sad to say, this post does not end with me getting engaged.) Anyway, we exchanged numbers and on Saturday night, he invited me to his office/apartment which looks like a photo studio exploded with pink. There, I got to meet his fiancé – I should point out that this guy is my age, 24, while his fiancé is 19. Now, I may not be fluent in Mandarin, but I like to think I understand the words for numbers well enough. I don’t know, to each his own. Anyway, I quickly learned that the primary reason for inviting me was to grill me and find out the inside scoop on American wedding traditions and styles, to walk through the entire process from beginning to end. Now because I lack most of the necessary courtship-related vocabulary, I had to act out a lot of the steps in the process, e.g. the proposal, the ceremony, even the bachelor party. I basically danced the thread of an entire engagement in less than three minutes.
Anyway, he and his fiancé expressed a desire to be my “new best friends,” which I attribute almost completely to my exotic American nature… and obviously, my vast knowledge of the wedding industry.
Thankfully, that wasn’t the end of the night’s festivities. A couple of the teachers from my school rescued me – and they brought alcohol! We ended up drinking in one of Xingtai’s many public parks, which I was assured was fine. After we parted, I went back to my apartment until about 3 am, once I was sober again and feeling bored and impulsive. So I went for a bike ride around Xingtai. Don’t you fret none, parents and elderly relatives – I had maybe two beers so I was definitely sober by then. Plus, there was practically no one on the road at that time. And I don’t think the Chinese police give out BUIs – the driving is already erratic enough as it is. All joking aside, it was really quite a beautiful moment, all alone on the road. Freezing cold, but I felt that actually made it poetic, as the day I was born was a record cold day in Ohio. Plus, as fate would have it, my birthday fell on a full moon.
Later that morning, I grabbed lunch with two of my fellow teachers at this awesome Chinese barbecue place called Hao Jiu, Bu Jian, or Long Time, No See. Seriously, this place was wild; it was if the restaurant couldn’t decide on a unified theme. I’ll just let you see for yourself.
That’s right, an Indiana Jones temple-esque theme where the door is a hollowed-out redwood, an Arctic igloo theme with cave paintings, and what appears to be an old steam-powered locomotive (bearing a resemblance to, is that the Hogwarts Express?) repurposed so you can actually dine inside it. Don’t get me wrong, the food was good too: oysters, tons of different meats and vegetables cooked on rotating spits, actual bread. But I think that might have been the coolest restaurant I’ve ever eaten in.
Another part of the restaurant’s atmosphere I enjoyed was finally getting to hear some typical Chinese pop music. Up until now, most of the local music I had encountered was either engineered for children or mumbled snatches of tunes elderly men would sing from their bicycles. And wouldn’t you know it, they played Happy Birthday. But that didn’t strike me as divine providence – they play that in a lot of shops for some reason.
The afternoon continued with some very fun badminton at the gym and then, onto karaoke, where I got to witness more typical Chinese music, specifically, Chinese rap. Finally! And it didn’t disappoint. The best part was getting to witness one of my friends, this tiny, sweet, harmless girl, rap along in Chinese. As for my song selections, American choices were not limited per se, but more the pop classics that might make their way to China. That being said, I went with Celine Dion’s My Heart Will Go On, U2′s With Or Without You, The BeeGees’ I Started A Joke, and Michael Jackson’s Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough. Fans of the movie Rush Hour 2, hopefully your ears perked up at that last one because yes, that is exactly what Chris Tucker sings in a Hong Kong bar. The reaction was much the same as in the movie.
Ultimately, it was a fantastically fun weekend, more than I could’ve hoped for, like a highly-concentrated surge of activity in an otherwise doldrum town (no offense, Xingtai). And I still got a birthday cake out of it!
To close, thank you to those of you who sent birthday wishes. And thank you for continuing to read my blog. That in itself is a wonderful birthday gift.