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Friday, 30 May 2014

My 27th Anniversary of My Birth!

Well, this post is about two months late, but it has been a busy two months. Plus, I was relying on others for picture and video and, well, they have been busy too. So, without anymore ado, here is my reflections on the 27th anniversary of my birth!

I take the anniversary of my birth pretty seriously. I always have, and I trust that I always will. My family's home lies far from the nearest town and I always had to deal with the disappointment that friends could not and would not make the journey to come over and enjoy an afternoon of fun and games.

But not on my birthday! No, on the anniversary of my birth, I could plan the event well in advance, and the especial nature of the occasion gave a greater guarantee that my friends could visit. My birthday was the one day a year where my friends could be present and being able to spend time with them and family was always the greatest gift of all!

As I grew older, the ease with which to visit my friends also grew, but so too did the importance of my birthday. Situated on April 5th, the day was always in and around the time of exams and final projects in university. While it was not always convenient, my birthday became a great time to relax, celebrate, and enjoy the year's accomplishments.

I have had some excellent birthdays in the past. I recall one from my youth wherein I was given peanut butter as a present. My friend's mom was so embarrassed but my mom reassured her saying that it was a thoughtful gift, one which would definitely be appreciated. I remember birthday parties in university full of amazing friends, and surprising gifts, many Superman themed. Two years ago, I had to postpone my party for a month because of terrible assignment timing, but I combined it with a going away party, as I was moving out west afterward. The attire was formal, the apartment was decorated with balloons and pictures, and there was cake as far as the eye could see. Last year, my family was able to spend the day with me on my birthday which marked the first time in years that they had been able to do so, as now the tables had turned and my friends lived closer to me than my family.

This year, I wasn't sure what I wanted to do. I wanted to celebrate, of course, but I wasn't sure how I felt. I had been missing people back home and had been pushing people away who were here, with me. In the last few months, I have begun to become a lot closer, making friends, and spending time with people outside of school and assignments. But, we had a deadline every week for almost 2 months and my birthday was right in the middle of that.

I had to postpone my party again. I wanted to just ignore the day entirely and pretend that it wasn't anything special, but a few close friends urged me to take a break. Realizing it wouldn't be so bad to get away, and that I did require some mental diversion, I took them up on their advice. I went to see Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which was made possible by a theatre which will play movies in their original language, while subtitling in French. (Remember, I'm in France as I write this). I enjoyed the movie but it made me miss a few special friends back home, those who have read the comics and could "nerd out" on the nuances of the film. Still, my friends here enjoyed it well enough.
Dinner that evening, where I received a few gifts, and enjoyed good company and conversation.

While it was a nice night, it was not nearly enough. I turned 27! I am living in France! I have had one amazing year, going from acceptance into the International Space University, travelling to many countries, and having so many excellent experiences. How was I going to celebrate?

Well, after putting it off for 3 weeks due to deadlines and busy schedules, I was finally able to have the big day! I took the entire day off of work and responsibility and enjoyed each and every moment of my day, taking the chance to be myself, and to not hold back.

I woke up early to find that my best friend in the entire world had received a gift I mailed to him. I accidentally put the wrong address on the parcel, that of his next door neighbour, so while I knew the parcel had made it to his building, I was waiting for news that he had actually received it.

The above is a die-cast metal/plastic Halo Warthog car and two figurines from the very popular video game franchise: Halo. My friend and I had played through the first 3 games together, and in many ways, the games are symbolic of our friendship. We have a synergy, a way about us, that comes naturally, and was never planned. In the game, he always drives, and I always shoot, and I prefer punching aliens in the face, while he more cleverly enjoys covering my back, sniping from afar. In real life, we've always tackled problems together, and never once did we have to think and/or assign tasks. It just works, works well, and we've enjoyed it. I love playing these games with him not just because they are fun, but because they emphasize a friendship that is rare and special to me.

Well, wasn't I talking about my birthday? Yeah, so on the day of my birthday party, my friend received his gift from me, haha. After grabbing some well-needed supplies, I came back to find a present for me! It was a wonderful surprise because while my friend told me it was coming, I did not expect it to be delivered on a Saturday!

My friend from the UK had been warning me of this gift for some time. I have many sweaters, "hand-me-downs", gifts, from friends and family, which some of my friends have affectionately called "old-man sweaters" and some have called "ugly sweaters". They are warm, soft, and usually quite silly in their design, so my friend wanted to get me a new one, an "ugly" one, hence the warning.

The sweater was wrapped in Disney Princess wrapping paper, with a lovely note written on the back of a picture of Belle, from Beauty in the Beast which I think is doubly significant since I am in France, and that movie is one of my favourites. A card inside was sealed with an actual seal, stamped with the initial of her name, (impressive touch, I must say), and the sweater was inside.

I didn't think the sweater was ugly, I thought it was fantastic! Superman symbol on the front, Batman on the back! Now I can be both! It is such a wonderfully warm, soft, comfortable sweater, made all the better by the novelty, thoughtfulness, and sheer cool-ness of it! I have worn it since and I enjoy it!

After thanking her, I made my way into the city. Some of my friends currently live in a fabulous apartment right across from the Notre Dame Cathedral of Strasbourg! It is literally a "stone's throw" away and right in the centre of the city. Their hospitality is boundless and they graciously offered to let me use their place as a base of operations for the day. I dropped off my food, and met up with another friend to tour the city.

It had been some time since I took a casual stroll in the city; I hadn't actually even been in the city for some time as it lies outside of my usual route between the school and my home. It was raining slightly, but the streets were busy, and full of people carrying on with their business. We enjoyed seeing some old buildings, and I finally picked up some new books to read!

Jules Verne and Alexandre Dumas are some of my favourite authors, but I've only read their work in English! Verne's science fiction has always been an inspiration to me and I can still hear his narrative style in my mind. I have been wanting to pick up some of their work, writing in their original language, and see if the style, if the voice, was different at all. I picked up "L'Ile Mystérieuse" (Mysterious Island), "Le collier de la Reine" (The Queen's Necklace), and "Le Chateau des Carpathes" (The Carpathian Castle). I have never read any of them, so I was excited to purchase them. I am going to go back and see if they have some of the more popular books because I'd like to read those as well.

After dropping off these and other supplies, I met up with a few more friends and we made our way to le Parc de l'Orangerie. I wore my cloak, and I made little jokes about how I had my beautiful entourage with me, since I was accompanied by beautiful female friends for most of the journey. Meeting up with more friends, receiving another book as a gift (a Batman graphic novel in French!), we finally made it to the park!
All dressed up for my birthday!
The park was very large, and very beautiful. There were flowers everywhere, and people enjoying the sunshine. There was a zoo in the middle of the park and I had the fortune of seeing lynx, flamingo, and storks (the official animal of Strasbourg). After the zoo, we made our way to our destination: the bowling and billiard club!

Bowling seems to be a tradition for me, as I try to convince people to go as often as I have birthdays, at least. I used to bowl when I was younger and I enjoy the game immensely. Most of my friends had only bowled 3-4 times, and I warned them that I had a little more experience than that, having bowled in a championship league, albeit as a young child. Still, we were all ready to have fun.

The bowling facility was quite nice, slightly glow in the dark, and it was a great time! I taught people how to bowl, and we all had our fair share of strikes and spares. One of my friends arrived a little late, and delivered a gift. Shaped like a rocket, it was wrapped in aluminum foil and duct tape and was drawing some very odd looks from the people around us. I unwrapped it to find that it was not a rocket, but a cleverly disguised Lego set and a bottle of Canada Dry ginger ale (my favourite!). We continued bowling for two hours before making our way over to the billiard room.

This was the nicest billiard room I had ever seen. It had a bar, an outside terrace facing a waterfall, and the facility offered a variety of tables from snooker, billiards, and American pool. Having only had experience playing pool, we grabbed a couple of tables and went to it. I played the social butterfly, jumping from table to table, barely playing pool but enjoying the company.

Afterward we went to have dinner at Le Brasseur. Literally meaning, the brewer, there were many such bars/restaurants around the city, but when you said Le Brasseur, everyone knew what you were talking about. I had reserved a table, thanks to the assistance of one of my French-speaking friends, and after the busy day, I was getting hungry. I want to make it known that my knowledge of French is pretty good, but the French, upon hearing even just a single syllable out of place, will pretend everything you said was wrong and incomprehensible. They are very proud of their language and I don't blame them, but sometimes, they make it difficult to share in their culture.
Early on at the restaurant

Anyway, table, reservation, food. We had good timing, as I usually do, as a rock band was setting up just as we were getting our food. They played some French songs that I didn't know, and some classic rock songs which I did. Before I get into that, here's a random fact, as I'm always willing to provide, especially at parties:

Now, I am not a good singer, but I love to sing. I think most of us are like this. I also have this odd inability to hear lyrics. When I'm listening to a song, unless the lyrics are incredibly clear, I just hear the song. I hear the melody, the beat, the rhythm, and I do hear the words, but my mind doesn't break them into syllables, just long, unending sounds. This often results in me just singing the song, sounding like I know the words, but I'm just singing how it sounds, not what is said. I was in fine form this evening, feeling confident and loving the atmosphere.

I was singing the high notes, the low notes, and everything in the middle. The main singer of the band wasn't the greatest, and I was stealing the show, if I may say so. The highlight was when the band started playing "Knockin' on Heaven's Door". Now, if you've ever heard the band Guns and Roses, and if you've ever heard their cover of this song, you'll know what's coming.

The band really emphasizes the lyrics, stretching everything, adding a lot of extras, and I was championing Axl Rose. I remember seeing some really impressed and surprised looks on my friends' faces as I vibrato'd better than ever before, holding notes past the point of no return. I exaggerate, but it was pretty wonderful. Here is a very short, incomplete sample.
And while not "Knockin' on Heaven's Door", here's another sample of my singing and fooling around:

When I made my initial invitation, I called myself "The King in the North". I was inspired by many things, namely the increasingly popular book/TV series "A Song of Ice of Fire/Game of Thrones", as well as the fact that I wanted to be treated like a king, and Canada is "the true north, strong and free." While the character who bears that name ran into some bad luck, I enjoyed the name and wasn't worried about suffering the same fate.

Once the singing was over, and we had finished our feast, I suggested we move the party back to the Cathedral apartment. When I did so, everyone raised their glass, thanked me for being wonderful, and shouted "The King in the North", making me truly feel like I was in this scene.

Back at the apartment, I quickly threw up some decorations. I did not have the time to decorate before and so I enjoyed throwing streamers around and giving everyone party hats. I also tried something new this year; I typed up 87 facts about myself, (having been born in 1987), and had some of my friends cut them out for me at the party.

Now, what I was planning on doing was going around and dropping my facts on people, "spiking" them with trivia, but I ended up just handing them around. I did it for two reasons: the first, was that I had hidden myself away for the first 6 months of being here and I wanted people to have the chance to know a little more about me. I wanted to let them know that I cared and that I wanted to share with them, even if I rarely do. The second reason was because, it was my birthday, and I was the king, so I wanted to share how awesome I am!

People seemed to really enjoy the idea, saying they wanted to do something similar at their own parties.

I continued getting gifts. I received Russian cookies (which are great, I'm eating one right now!) and alcohol-free Russian wheat beer, which was a very nice thought but I wasn't a fan of the taste. I also received a "Beat Bot", a build your own robot with a speaker!

picture of robot

After, I was told to wear my cloak, sit at the far end of the room, and close my eyes. Very unsure about what I was getting into, I opened my eyes to find this!

My friends had made the joke that I looked like Darth Vadar whilst wearing my cloak I guess they had made good on their threat to buy me the helmet. I tried it on, and slowly rose from the chair. I pushed the button and the speaker made the breathing sounds we all know too well. I inhaled with the helmet to give a better presentation and pushed the button again. That's when I heard, "Ich bin dein Vater!"

The helmet had been bought in Germany, so of course it was in German! We all had a great laugh and we all tried the voice-changing feature, passing it around the party.

Putting the icing on the cake, well, I enjoyed icing, and cake! My friends surprised me with a very chocolate-y cake and sang me "Happy Birthday!" in English, French, Spanish, and Hindi! Calling for a speech, I stood up and I told them the truth, as I always do.

I thanked them for being with me. I thanked them for understanding me and taking the time to celebrate with me. I said that I have many special people in my life, people back home who I miss each and every day, but that I was surrounded by new and just as amazing people. My day had been entirely wonderful, from start to finish, and I had them to thank for most of that. They were truly fantastic, and they reminded me why I was fantastic (this year's theme, by the way), and so I thanked them...

"THE KING IN THE NORTH!" - which they shouted many times!

And that was my day. I partied from dawn's first light until the early morning hours of the next day. I am now 27 years old. I have come a long way in the last year, halfway around the world, and I intend to keep going. I am not entirely sure what lies ahead, after September my plans become vague, but I know I will have amazing friends and family to support me along the way.

And I know that I have what it takes, to balance work, play, fun, responsibility, and to not only achieve your dreams, but exceed them.

As always, thank you, very much, for reading!

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