Today is the second time me and my hubby have celebrated his birthday together, the first time here in China. I have a really nice memory of this day last year: we had been dating just a few months and I had no idea what to buy him (he’s that kind of man, if he needs something he’ll get it, has little need for gifts, very practical). So I bought a massive helium balloon and tried to make the most inventive meal I could with his favourite food, sweet potatoes. I made a delicious vegan chocolate cake and I relished drinking Schloer together, how great it was to find a boyfriend who like me had no interest in drinking. It went down really well, and despite my initial childish concerns that having a birthday so close to Christmas must suck a little (despite him not celebrating Christmas as he grew up), actually a birthday with a Christmas tree in the background is just beautiful.
So when my birthday rolled around, I thought I’d demonstrated perfectly well how I expect such occasions to be handled. We had not long arrived back in his hometown on Dalian, China and he had asked me what I wanted to do. I said he didn’t need make a special effort and we could just stay at home and relax. However, I guess I was telling a little fib and was hoping to be spoiled somewhat. True to my request, we pretty much did nothing that day, no present, no flowers, no chocolates, no romance… although he did give me a birthday card, the only greeting card I have received from him to this day!
I have come to the conclusion that this is a mix of both cultural reasons and general man reasons. Growing up I don’t think Chinese children get as much of a fuss as we do in the West. I’ve read that traditionally birthday and age milestones were only really celebrated by young babies and the older generation – which makes sense as reaching 70/80/90 and so on is really an achievement worth celebrating – and even usually only involving family. Probably following influence from the West, birthdays are celebrated more and more by people of all ages, but I gather presents are less important, with gift-giving reserved for Spring Festival, and symbolic gestures related to longevity are more common, like eating noodles that day. Birthday parties and presents for the happiness of the birthday child are still not that common, although birthday cakes are becoming popular.
The other reason I didn’t get quite the pampering I’d have liked is men will be men, and my hubby is not particularly sentimental/romantic. Oh well.
I have Chinese (girl)friends who demand ‘spontaneity’ and ‘romance’ from their other half on their birthdays, although when you think about it, there is little that spontaneous or romantic about roses and big teddy bears (too clichéd). After all, how can men live up to the expectations set for them in romantic comedy movies, especially Chinese teenage romantic comedy movies, which can be extra cheesy and over-sentimental to say the least!
Nevertheless, I love making people feel special on their birthday as I have always felt, so I will continue throwing everything I can at my husband’s birthdays – besides, it’s not just him who gets to eat the yummy (vegan) cake!
If you’re reading this, honey, (since R is the only one of my loved ones who knows this blog exists and may occasionally be popping in) 生日快乐!