Happy Mirthday to Me!

By Hannah Black
For The Bali Times

SILAKARANG ~ Birthdays aren’t a big deal when you have a Balinese husband and family. So when my 28th rolled around the other Sunday, I was determined to do something to mark the day.

I’ve explained to Ongky that birthdays aren’t necessarily about receiving expensive gifts – or any gifts at all – but it is nice to have the day made special in some way. I told him it was especially nice to lie around and read while your husband tidies up and takes care of the baby.

Last year I was disappointed when I awoke to not even a “happy birthday” from Ongky, and discovered as the day went on that he really wasn’t planning any kind of surprise. In turn, he realized as the day went on that he’d better do something before his wife got really, really upset, and he ran out to buy a cake while I took myself for a massage.

It’s not that I want people to parade down the street and shower me with gifts; it’s just hard to go 25 years with birthday celebrations and then completely ignore the date on the 26th and forevermore.

Most Balinese say they don’t celebrate “calendar birthdays” because they have their six-monthly Balinese birthdays. But that means those of us who don’t have Balinese birthdays get left out of all the fun.

However, I’m happy to report that this year Ongky really got it. He didn’t buy me a gift but he did order a cake and he was sweet as pie to me all day. He cleaned the house without any prompting whatsoever; he fixed me an evening gin and tonic to drink in the hammock; and bought nasi goreng for the whole family. It was a simple but lovely and relaxing day.

I’ve noticed birthday parties for kids becoming more popular in the past few years. My niece and nephew are now often invited to friends’ houses, where they wear party hats and eat blinding-fluorescent cake that tastes exactly like what I imagine a cardboard box would.

Just a few days ago an American friend was telling me about a birthday party she tried to throw at her boyfriend’s home in East Java and how it became totally over-managed, resulting in that awkwardness you often find at functions in Indonesia.

I can imagine kids trying to get their heads around the party games and sitting patiently on plastic chairs for their cake. There is definitely none of the wildness I remember from the birthday parties of my youth.

The first year I was with Ongky, he was in Hawaii for his birthday and I had to call to remind him. The time difference made it a bit confusing but even so, he seemed genuinely surprised when I called to say happy birthday.

Last year we were in the UK for Ongky’s 30th birthday and although he said he didn’t want anything, I made it my wifely duty to make a fuss. My mother and I made a fantastic cake featuring the Isle of Man and Bali out of rolled icing, and a volcano spouting shiny red sprinkles. He was amused but I think it was really more for our entertainment than his.

Another big difference here in Indonesia that foreigners should be wary of is the custom of the birthday boy or girl buying food and drinks for everyone else. I have friends that have been shocked to discover the only gift they were receiving at their birthday meal was the bill.

On the anniversary of my birth, I want to be spoiled and not have to worry if I have enough money to buy my friends a meal. The tradition of being taken out and given presents is definitely one I would like to popularise in Bali.

Perhaps while I’m at it, I’ll introduce other indulgent gift-giving holidays, like Christmas, Chanukah and Easter, when that lovely bunny delivers chocolate to us.

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My Compound Life

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