"Happy Birthday" in Indonesian is "Selamat Ulang Tahun," which translates literally as "Happy Repeat Year," and which I think is cutely inaccurate because birthdays don't mark the repetition of years -- they mark the progression of them. And this is actually one of the greatest things about birthdays -- they give you a chance to reflect on the year that's gone by, and look forward to the year that's ahead of you ... kind of like your own personal New Year that comes with gifts and much reminiscing about when you were just a little tyke running around in diapers and sticking brass letter openers into electrical outlets, as it were (you can ask my parents about THAT story). In any case, this past Monday I turned 23, thereby officially ushering in my mid-twenties (or is this still my early twenties? the line is so fine ...) with a celebratory day that will surely mark the beginning one of the most transformative years of my life.
Wonderfully, my father was visiting me last week -- a huge pre- and post-birthday treat. After his arrival in Jakarta he flew on to Denpasar, Bali, where I met up with him at the airport. From there we took a shuttle up to the small artisan town of Ubud, where we proceeded to spend the next four days wandering around and taking in all the artwork and handicrafts that lined the streets in shops and stalls, dodging macaques in the famed Sacred Monkey Forest, eating incredible Balinese roast duck and black rice pudding (see below and be jealous), and generally splashing around in the sweet sweet wading pool of tourism that is Ubud. My dad got most of his Christmas shopping done, and I got to eat all the Western food I was craving that isn't normally available to me in Jogja, so I'd say all in all, we both came out ahead by the end of the weekend.
It was back to Jogja on Sunday (Monday is a working day, dontchaknow), but I was stressing so much about all the work I had neglected while I was playing in Bali that I kept forgetting Monday was my birthday. My dad didn't let me forget, however, as the first words out of his mouth when my alarm went off on Monday morning were crafted into one of his own special editorialized Dad incarnations of the Happy Birthday song. I had Indonesian class from 8 to 10, and then taught one of my General English sections from 10 to 12:30, the highlight of which was when a couple of my students (who I also have in another class and who knew it was my birthday) began a round of the Indonesian version of Happy Birthday (in English) and the rest of the class joined in. And then everyone wanted to shake my hand, which is apparently how you express good birthday wishes in Indonesia. It was really one of the sweetest moments of my short teaching career (in both the sentimental and awesome senses) and I won't pretend that behind my wild giggling, I might have teared up just a little. But just a little.
After General English I went back into the office to get my materials ready for my two afternoon classes, which I didn't have to teach for another few hours. I'd figured it was a shame that I'd have to be in the office all day on my birthday, but my dad had plans to go explore downtown Jogja and I knew I could use the break to catch up on some work. Back in the office, however, I was immediately accosted by my housemate Queeny, whose response to seeing me was, "Fiona, what are you doing here?! It's your birthday and your dad is visiting! Get the heck outta here!" I tried to explain that I had classes to teach and my dad could occupy himself, but Queeny would have none of it -- she all but physically escorted me out of the office and told me she would take care of everything. Deciding that at least I could take my dad to lunch, I caught him at his hotel and took him to my favorite lotek place (see "Culinary Jackpot of the Week") so he could have the "real warung experience" and some great eats while he was at it. I got back to the office an hour later to discover that Queeny had taken the liberty of canceling not only both of my afternoon classes that day, but also both of my classes on Tuesday, and I was off scott free until Wednesday. Queeny, needless to say, is pretty much a rockstar.
With my afternoon suddenly void of commitments, I went back to my dad's hotel and proceeded to spend the afternoon lounging in the air conditioning (when the coolest you can ever get is sitting in front of the fan, you don't take AC for granted no more) and soaking up all the wonderful birthday messages that had begun rolling in to my email inbox. That evening, my dad took me and Brittany, whose birthday was the day before mine (COSMIC), out to dinner at this funny restaurant called Gajah Wong, which basically has all these different rooms with different music themes (think country room, smooth jazz room, etc.). (NB: Brittany has started going by her middle name, Luna, which is how I will henceforth refer to her.) We opted for the gamelan room (gamelan is a traditional Javenese drum) and spent a lovely hour and half being serenaded by a live gamelan drummer, drinking mango juice and Bintang, and sharing stories of my dad's and my travels in Ubud and Luna's recent trip to Singapore.
(Aww, look at us. Aren't we cute.)
After dinner we stopped by a wayang (shaddow puppet) performance which was being translated into English (wayang shows are always in Javanese, which goes TOTALLY over my head as it bears almost no relation to Indonesian) but Dad was fading fast in the heat, so we left early to go back to the hotel. After mango mousse and an Oreo milkshake at a little Italian restaurant near the hotel (one of my favorite "Western fix" locales) I opened the birthday cards my dad had schlepped from the States, snuggled down under the covers in my hotel bed in our air conditioned hotel room, and called it a (birth)day.
It's a funny thing to celebrate your birthday so far away from family and friends -- it makes you realize that the main thing that makes birthdays special is being surrounded by people who know and love you. Luckily I had my dad and Luna, but in the absence of the rest of the gang, I did get to thinking about my last birthday -- which I celebrated during my last fall midterms week at Princeton by strong-arming as many of my friends as I could manage into ditching the library for a few hours and joining me for dinner at Mexican Village -- and the year that lies between now and my next birthday, for which I could be pretty much anywhere. By the time I turn 24, I will have taught English as a second language to university students in Asia for a full academic year, and will (hopefully) speak pretty decent Indonesian. By the time I turn 24, I will have spent more time away from my family than I ever have before in my life, and I will have survived it. I will have eaten more tempe bakar and nasi goreng than I probably will ever want to eat again in my life. I will have a most likely indelible farmer's tan, and I will also, quite definitively, be in my mid-twenties.
The rest, pretty much, is up in the air. I might still be here in Jogja, or somewhere else in Indonesia, or somewhere else in Asia, or somewhere else in the world. I might be back home in the U.S. of A. To acknowledge that I have no idea what I will be doing or where I will be living when I have my next birthday is kind of exciting -- it means this coming year is going to bring me places I cannot even imagine. I'm pretty sure that means it's not going to be a repeat year, which is fine by me. So, "Selamat Ulang Tahun?" Thanks anyway, Bahasa Indonesia -- I think I'll just take "Selamat Tahun" and leave the rest. Happy year -- that's good enough for me.