Its the year 2,556. And this isn't some sci fi story I’m getting ready to tell. It’s about my actual birthday. As in just a couple days ago. And yes, in the year 2556 BE.
That’s BE, or Buddhist Era, for those interested. And it’s real.
Here in Cambodia April 13-15 of 2012 AD marked the end of 2555 BE and the start of 2556 BE, and like their northern neighbor’s Chinese calendar, it is now the year of the Dragon.
All of that is super interesting, though it overshadowed my birthday a little bit. See, it’s one of the biggest holidays of the whole year in Cambodia. In Thailand, too, for those who find this random trivia interesting. Everyone goes home as fast as they can to their families in the provinces to celebrate. With their families, they visit the temples, dance, have big meals, play traditional Cambodian games, and enjoy life together for a few days. Sure sounds like a lot of fun.
But for those of us who were left in the big city of Phnom Penh, we found ourselves in a ghost town since very few of the faces we see day to day in the city actually call this place home. They all had families to go to. Businesses were closed, schools were out, restaurants were closed, even the markets shut down for three whole days. Some places were closed even longer than that!
We had to get creative to make my birthday special. Because the kids, they need my birthday to be special, you know. Yeah, the kids. Of course. Oh, who am I trying to fool? I’m a great big sucker for birthdays! Life is something to celebrate and I’m all about the birthdays even though this year it hit me pretty hard that the whole “age is just a number” thing is a big fat lie and that number keeps going up and I keep getting older. Oh well. I wanted to celebrate!
We started by going to a coffee shop for breakfast. And yes, I ordered decaf (see this if you don’t know why I’d do that!). I was pretty proud of myself for having the perseverance to do that even on my birthday. Plus, it helped that we were at the one and only coffee shop in Cambodia that sells decaf coffee. Everywhere else they look at you like you are crazy if you ask for no caffeine. First off, if their English isn't good, they don’t know the word 'caffeine' or 'decaf'. Then, if they do, they think it’s crazy that you’d want to drink coffee with no caffeine. What’s the point? Ah, First World problems...
Anyway, I enjoyed a white mocha latte while the kids had breakfast.
Then we went to church and heard a great message by one of my favorite pastors in Cambodia, who was visiting our church that day. It was a nice birthday surprise!
After the service, we wanted to go out to lunch, but like I said, nothing was open. I wasn’t about to cook my own lunch on my birthday, so we decided to try one of the fancy hotels. Surely they’d have restaurants open even on the holiday, right? We figured a good place to start was the big casino here in town, NagaWorld. I mean, when does a casino EVER close, right? We were right. They were open, but quite a few of the restaurants, including the Italian one I wanted to try, had opened up for a combined Sunday brunch that was apparently a weekly thing. I wasn’t up for that much food or the expensive (even for USA) price tag. One of the restaurants there had a dim sum special though, and we’d been before and knew it was really good, so we had all-you-can-eat dim sum. It was fun but they made some mistakes and brought us way more food than we ordered. My mean husband insisted that we all keep eating and not leave one piece of food uneaten so I was stuffed so full when we left that I had trouble climbing in the tuk tuk to get home! Happy birthday to me!
When we got back to the apartment, we decided to go for a swim to work off all those dumplings from lunch. Our apartment has been promising us that a new pool would open in our building since we moved in and we’ve been patiently waiting. And by patiently I mean asking every single day since July if its open yet and whining when they say no. Yes, that kind of patiently. Well, on April 1 it finally opened and we have been swimming every day since. April happens to be the hottest month of the year in Cambodia so we are happy it did finally open. After lots of splashing and a little swimming (anyone with kids know what I mean?), we decided we were ready for birthday cake.
Of course, with so many places closed, we didn’t have a cake. But we did have a plan. Stephen suggested a different hotel and I found a chocolate shop there that advertised fine desserts. We each ordered what we wanted and then we all shared, too. We even brought a candle with us and the kids sang “Happy Birthday to Mommy” before I made a wish.
It turned out to be one of the best birthdays I’ve ever had. With my men, both the big one and the little ones, by my side, how could it not be? And it’s a really great start to 2556BE, too!
Oh, and my present? Well, it was special ordered for me, and I get to pick it up in a couple days. It comes with a fantastically funny story of its own. Stay tuned.