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Published: December 26th 2019
I turned 68 on December 22nd
2019, but the celebration did not happen until two days later. My wife, Thuy, and I travelled by taxi to Binh Duong – an hour away – where some of Thuy’s relatives live. The party was in the house inhabited by her niece, Nhung, and Nhung’s husband, Trung. By day it is a beauty and hairdressing salon, but for a few hours it became the venue for my birthday party. Not just my birthday party, but also Ty’s. He was 29. Ty works in Binh Duong and is one of Thuy’s many nephews (she has 7 sisters, whom I privately call the Pleiades).
The preparations were in full swing by 5pm. A table laden with fresh fruit was put in place. Ty, using an air pump, was blowing up balloons inscribed with ‘Happy Birthday’. Thuy’s eldest sister was working overtime cooking chicken, fish and bo kho (a tasty beef dish). At sunset, tables were laid outside the house, next to the road, with chairs for over 20 people. All the people who attended our party are from An Giang province, which is my wife’s birthplace. Like so many Vietnamese, they have migrated to Ho
Chi Minh City in search of work.
The Vietnamese find cross-dressing very funny, and Trung put on a woman’s wig. I borrowed it for a few minutes, causing much merriment. My sex change has been immortalized in a Facebook photo which, I think, makes me look like a debauched French nobleman from the 18th
century. According to my friends, though, I resemble either a “well past it lady boy
” from Bangkok or a rock star or Buster Keaton or an Afghan hound.
At the beginning of the meal I was presented with my gifts. I stood in front of the fruit-laden table, on which now rested two birthday cakes (banh sinh nhat) – Ty’s with a 29 on it, mine with a 68 – and posed with each person who came forward bearing a gift-wrapped present. I received more presents than I’ve ever received before, which was very touching.
Now the eating began in earnest. Strangely, there was no beer. People were enjoying soft drinks and small glasses of ruou chuoi (banana wine). I love ruou chuoi, and Trung makes the best I’ve ever tasted. I had drunk a large glassful of this potent and delicious alcohol
before the festivities began.
There was karaoke singing during and after the meal and great hilarity when Trung and another man donned dresses and Ty appeared wearing a woman’s wig, skimpy shorts and a red bra
Thuy and I retired to bed early, while the young ones partied on till midnight.
The next day Trung, the master barber, gave me a haircut, and Thuy had her hair done by Nhung. My haircut took all of 5 minutes, whereas Thuy’s more complicated hairdo lasted several hours. Trung presented me with a half-full barrel of banana wine, which I rejected on the grounds that I would probably die of pleasure drinking it. I settled instead for two large bottles of the amber nectar, which I intend to eke out over the coming weeks.
We left in a taxi shortly after noon. Back home, I unwrapped my birthday gifts. People had given me cute models of bald-headed bespectacled Vietnamese boys in a variety of interesting poses. Perhaps this was a tribute to my own hairless bonce and specs. I also received an ao dai figurine, a cyclo model, some deodorant, two coffee cups, a key ring and a pen.
The last four are very practical, but I’m still wondering what to do with the civilization of Vietnamese urchins now inhabiting my writing desk.
This was a splendid occasion, as memorable as my 67th
birthday bash last year. It seems that, in old age, I have become like a child again – receiving a birthday cake and presents galore and having a full-blown party. For all of my adult life, until I got married, my birthday was a non-event, remembered by almost no one except myself. As a youngster, especially when my parents were alive, my birthday was special, and so it has become again. I am immensely grateful to my wife’s family for their hospitality. Roll on December 22nd
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