my birthday party

On Saturday May 12, I had my birthday party at a friend’s cottage in an enchanted village by a wild section of the Great Wall.

It wasn’t all that promising when the day started: it was drizzling with a grey sky. And the weather forecast suggested more showers to come. So what? When it rained the night before, a friend called and asked if we would still head out to the cottage if it rained, I said we would still celebrate if it rained knives.

Most of us met up at 798 and set off together while others bravely made their own ways, following the rough instructions I’ve given to them. Funny enough, our car was the one that got lost and had a nice de tour around scenic county of Huairou, even though I’ve been there many times. Somehow, we all made it!

As the day progressed, it grew more cheerful. By the time we made it to the quiet little village with loud cheering, the sun was grinning at us broadly with a vast blue sky. Only 90 minutes drive north of Beijing, it feels like another world.

I only lost my temper once when old Wei, the landlord of my friend tried to hijack the guests (who had arrived before me) to a restaurant run by a relative of his, half hour’s walk down the road, while I had booked lunch at the only restaurant in the village run by a
middle-aged Wei (most of the villagers share the same family name) and the two Weis are not the best friends. I told old Wei that it was my party and I wanted to do whatever I was pleased. And I certainly didn’t want to be part of the village politics.

The house of the Middle-aged Wei has a terrace over-looking the beautiful valley. There, his wife served organic vegetables, stirred fried eggs and tomato and fatty pork. Then I cut a massive cheese cake kindly brought by friends. We – about forty of us – sang “happy birthday” in English, Chinese, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Celtic, Polish, Swedish and American!

After the food, the more energetic lots went up to conquer the Great Wall right behind the village and the rest stayed and relaxed in the warming sun. My girls set off to explore and returned some hours later triumphantly in a tractor!

In the late afternoon, the remaining guests sat around the front porch of the friends’ house, drinking wine, chatting, watching the sun slowly slipping behind the mountains. The peace reigned save the gentle music of Chopin played by a Chinese friend in his car. (he’s an expert on Polish culture.)

My heart was filled with a sweet contentment. I received bouquets from florists also hand-picked from the mountain and even a bunch of green tulips kindly brought by friends who stopped over at Amsterdam airport. I hoarded plenty of gifts. Apart from the usual books and notebooks and bottles of perfume, I had some interesting ones, an amazing Swedish vase, a lamp made from Himalayan salt, a thoughtful guidebook to New York City, and a home-made creamy cheese with mango shavings (another one) – simply the best cheese cake I ever tasted.

I always throw a big birthday party, usually at my own cottage by the Ming Tomb. It’s just an excuse to spend some time with friends and have some fun with friends.

A day packed with sun, fun, laughter, good food and great friends, what more can one expect?


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