I can hardly be the first to be moved to emotional outbursts and extroverted introspection at reaching the age of 30 years of aliveness. But I’m the first to be me, and so this post comes into being, against all the prescriptions and prohibitions of the Second Law of Thermodynamics and rational self-interest.
Humans are extremely good at seeing causality and assigning structure where there is none, and are very bad at making those causes and patterns anywhere near complex enough when they do exist. I don’t know if my fate was decided at the moment of birth, let alone conception (eww), let alone when a fish decided that walking on land might make a nice change… but if anyone suggested to me 30 years ago, when I was being babyish in a hospital in Israel, that exactly 30 years later I would be doing whatever it is I’m doing in Hong Kong [I should probably write about that more often, say on a blog], I’m sure I would have been extremely shocked and cried my little, pure heart out. And then sicked up on the nearest person to me.
Jews traditionally did not celebrate birthdays. (We do like parties though, so don’t feel scared about inviting us along, even 500 years ago!) As I grew up, we used birthdays as an excuse to have cake (and ideally eat it too) and maybe even get a small present. Occasionally we would throw a relaxed, un-self-conscious party, just because it seemed to be the done thing and we didn’t want to be outcasts or weird.
So I don’t remember many of my birthdays, although I accept that I did indeed live through them. My 18th birthday was extremely exciting, because it became legal for me to buy alcohol, and more importantly, to vote in elections. I was sure I wasn’t a child any more.
A few days before I turned 24, during my first ever trip to China and hence outside Europe, I ate some cheesecake that actually looked like it had grated cheese on it on the train from Shanghai to Nanjing which I almost missed because before taking the train I went back to where I was staying in Shanghai to get my passport because I thought it would be necessary to check in to the hotel in Nanjing which is also why I was sweating to an even greater extent than usual that summer in China due to all the running. Heady stuff. Here is a picture of me at that moment, with my friend Peter who had just saved a plastic plant I’d just been gifted from being lost:
Here is a pictorial approximation of who bought the cake and plastic plant for me (along with the limelight- or even tungsten-light-seeking non-organic plant):
It was one of those annoying moments that stick in the mind because they’re so perfect, so perfect that you don’t want them to ever pass, and yet despite their seeming perfection they still do… And you just know, even as they’re happening, just before they do that passing away, that there will be other certain moments later on in your life when you will compulsively stroke those momentarily perfect moments, stroke them with brain-fingers to relive them and to analyse them and to compare them to the rather more imperfect moments you’re living through, and wonder what it all really means.
For some reason, arbitrary chronological milestones still make us stop and wonder. Maybe we’re just looking for an excuse to stop and wonder.
I didn’t plan to celebrate my 30th birthday especially, and in a way I didn’t. It’s not that I’m against celebrating it, but rather I’m just continuing my personal habit of not taking birthdays too seriously, even when the age is a multiple of 10 (in base 10). But to try impotently but out of a sense of civic duty to get across to you just how awesome life in Hong Kong can be (and probably anywhere, with a little more effort), this is how I spent the evening (in local time) of my 10957th (or so) day of my life on this mostly harmless planet [all courtesy of Leo’s unrivalled sense of which routes to walk and which crazy decisions to make]:
^ Eating Turkish food with the aforementioned and herepictured Leo
^ Appreciating colourful stairs and overabundance of fuses
^ Appreciating the local varieties of Chinglish
^ Drinking good German beer with the entirety of Hong Kong’s German community in a nonetheless very touristy German pub
^ Watching K-Pop videos at a Ladies Night at a nightclub on the third floor of a nondescript building which would have been empty but for one large group of regulars. This photo was taken just before the police came in to check everyone’s ID cards without explaining why for around 30 minutes, while the club’s bouncer didn’t even let us talk to each other in the meantime with even less explanation why.
^ Finding Falun Gong followers and nemeses sitting close to each other at 2am at the Hung Hom MTR station bus terminus, ignoring and hating each other but making sure not to cover anyone else’s banners while putting up their own. Listening to a middle-aged Falun Gong believer (and ex officio Crazy Banner Protector) lecture me in non-standard Mandarin about the evils of Jiang Zemin was as fun and timewarped as letting someone complain to me about Bill Clinton’s proclivities while he was President of the USA. And while they also recommend breathing exercises and cheap plastic amulets. And doing it in Welsh.
I couldn’t really and fairly demand more what I already have in my life: being in Hong Kong for my 30th birthday so that I can have that sort of evening not just on that one day but every evening. I’m sure my baby-self would agree.