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My first birthday celebration in Thailand was quite the affair, particularly since I'd emphasized that I didn't want a party and that a low-key dinner at my favorite Mexican restaurant would be perfect.  But Tim and Nadia secretly planned to give me what turned out to be my most memorable birthday ever!

In typical Thai fashion, the birthday celebrant buys all the food and beverages for their own party (one of the reasons I didn't really want a party) but Tim has become very budget-conscious and didn't end up spending a fortune.  (It helps that we can buy alcohol at a discount right now...).  I caught wind that she and Nadia were plotting something so I discreetly gave my wife some extra cash in the weekly food allowance.  Since we'd already put up our Christmas tree (I told her it was my tradition to trim the tree just before my birthday), they didn't have to do a whole lot of extra decorating — some balloons were inflated, furniture slightly rearranged, and our small dining table before a platform for gifts.

I spent some time Saturday afternoon making four mix CD's; I told Tim that I wanted to listen to some of my favorite songs on my birthday as I knew if I didn't have "control" of the stereo system it wouldn't be long before the Thai guests hijacked it with those really awful karaoke VCD's.  Most times when those are played, I'll quickly escape into my "office" as they all have begun to sound essentially alike to me.  I couldn't exactly hide on my birthday, however.  Most of the guests were fairly late arriving so I ended up playing two full discs before anyone even showed up (Doug was the first to get here).  When our various Thai friends began arriving they all congregated on our back stoop where the cooking had commenced so Doug and I were left alone in the living room.  For quite some time, it didn't feel like most of the partygoers even noticed the birthday boy but at least Doug and I got caught up on our various recent activities and trips.

Doug and I ate our dinner on the side patio — ably served by Nadia, Tim, and Jum.  Tim had found some decent beef somewhere and grilled steaks.  After we ate, I insisted that our Thai friends eat on the patio as well (they wanted the farangs to eat first), rather than sitting on the mat on our back stoop.  Opat had to leave early but soon others began arriving.  I kept asking Tim when could I begin opening gifts and it was always, "Wait another five minutes."  Ben and Nid finally arrived after nine and Tim insisted on feeding them before presents could be opened.  Just when I thought we were ready again, Franz and Pen got there so then they had to be fed.

By this time, the stereo had been infiltrated with the Thai karaoke and my farang friends were getting restless.  Our Thai friends had once again scattered to the rear of the house so I finally gathered everyone up and told Tim it was time for the presents.  It all sounds like I was way too over-anxious about the gifts but I felt that I was getting lost in the shuffle and I knew that the farangs at least didn't want to stick around until midnight just to watch someone open a bunch of boxes.  I was in a jovial mood throughout but some of the Thais, in particular, were getting a bit worse for the wear from the drink (not being known for moderation).

Anyway, a cake was brought out decorated with candles (which surprised me immensely as birthday cakes are not exactly a tradition in Thailand and very difficult to find) as a precursor to the gift opening.  The lights were off, the candles were lit, and just as I was about to blow out the candles my cell phone rang.  I answered it to discover my nephew, Spencer, singing "Happy Birthday" which was the definite highlight of the evening for me.  Unfortunately, I couldn't hear him very well at all and an attempt at conversation went nowhere.  Brief greetings with my sister and brother-in-law weren't much better and my guests were becoming restless again so I had to make the call shorter than I wanted.  Lek relit the candles so I could have a "take two" at blowing them out and then odd-shaped slices were passed around.  It was a very strange-tasting cake; Doug joked that it was probably "spicy prawn" as we've seen both potato chips and ice cream in this flavor.

Finally, the gifts...  What can I say?  I received some very nice and thoughtful things.  I knew my guests would be bored watching me open presents from friends/relatives in America that they didn't know so I glossed over those and concentrated on the ones given my attendees.  It was nice to see the thought they all put into getting me something I might enjoy when none of them have known me for very long.  And in most cases, they really "hit the nail on the head."  For example, Ben brought me a pizza (we'd been talking about how difficult it is to get a good pizza here on Phuket).  Jum gave me a tin of butter cookies (she'd gone shopping with Tim and I months ago when I'd mentioned how much I liked those type of cookies).  My neighbor Franz bought me a Morris Mini shirt (it's well known among my friends that these are my favorite cars — I'm always pointing them out when I spot them here).  Other gifts included various teacher resource books (which will come in very handy!) and a few novels, even some Western music DVD's (including some Eric Clapton to help me "educate" Tim before his Bangkok concert next month).

After the gifts were opened, I pretty much turned over the floor to my wife and the ladies happily spent the next couple of hours singing karaoke while the men retired to the side patio so we could continue talking (with the glass doors closed, of course!).

All in all, it was very nice party.  I don't recall the last time I actually had a "real" birthday party (probably back when I was ten or something) and it was a nice chance of pace from my usual "tradition" of lounging on a sofa watching television and having a pizza delivered.  It was a bit strange at times (I felt it was more a party for Tim rather than for myself — but I'm definitely okay with that) but "this is Thailand" as everyone says when something doesn't seem quite "right."  Next up:  Nadia's birthday and we'll probably host something for Christmas as well (New Year's will be on a beach somewhere, I hope)...

The Photos:

Lek lurks behind me as I pose next to the gift table.

The birthday boy and his lovely wife.

(L to R:) Tim, Nadia, Jum, and Opat enjoy their dinner on our side patio.

Enjoying a calm moment on my birthday.

My first Thai birthday cake.  Spicy prawn flavor...Yum!

My nephew back in Kansas is singing me "Happy Birthday" via my cell phone as my guests wait for me to blow the candles out on the cake (for the second time!).

A second try and blowing out candles.  Good thing I'm full of hot air!

(L to R:) Pen, Franz, Ben, and Doug enjoying the very interesting taste of the cake.

Tim did a great job of passing me each gift in turn.

Tim and I trying to figure out what the heck it was that Nadia gave me.  (Still can't figure it out, nor describe it — it
is unusual, however...)

Morris Mini shirt from my Dutch neighbor.

The highlight of the party for Nid, Pen, and Tim was being able to sing Thai karaoke without any grumbling from your's truly.