My Dad’s Birthday is two days before my own, on Tuesday this week. He’s celebrating it in Spain with my mum, doing their favourite things – enjoying a cup of chai tea and a glass of homemade mango lassi with their brekkie, sun bathing and reading on the balcony, in silence, mentally digesting a weekend full of long, deep conversations with a couple of friends visiting, taking their usual cliff walk out to the lighthouse at the end of the nature reserve next to their house, dining at their favourite seaside restaurant … Meanwhile, I have a normal day in Singapore: morning stretches with S on the balcony, work, reading German articles (I usually read one German and one Spanish article a day to keep the languages present in my mind, and to, even if just very slightly, get a gist of what’s happening in Europe, but as I’m going to Germany in a month’s time and Merkel won a fourth term on Sunday, it’s time to amp up the amount of rehearsing, I figure), swimming at the gym, meeting two friends from Melbourne for a barre class (which they love but also find tough; the exact combo I love to see in friends that I bring to class, haha) followed by tapas, pisco sours and a bottle of Chardonnay at downstairs Vasco, talking, listening, laughing. Uber home at 9:45 to join my weekly team meeting. After which S and I stay up talking for a few hours, only collapsing exhausted on the bed around 1:30am.
27 September. On one hand, I’m very excited about my birthday tomorrow. Have laid out the presents from my parents and S on the coffee table to behold today and access easily in the morning. I’ll probably end up unwrapping them just after midnight or when I wake up at 4am or whenever the butterflies in my stomach are at their most active. Have planned breakfast with S and friends at Common Man Coffee Roasters, my favourite spot, after a lovely walk across the river at dawn. Lunch time barre class. Skype date with my grandmother from the airport. Late afternoon flight to Bali. Late dinner and drinks with S in Ubud. Ah, what a day ahead! BUT AT THE SAME TIME…. I just want to stay in this day. Keep it. Hold on to it. The last day of my 20s. Wow. Just writing it makes me feel slightly panicky. We both work from home in the morning, with S leaving at 11:30am, saying that maybe he will catch me for a drink later. YES, my last drink as 20-something. Well, actually, I am going for dinner and drinks with a friend tonight, but I’d love a cheeky after work drink with him first. Want to enjoy and be mindful about every single moment today. Every motion. Every blink. Every interaction. Wow. Haha, did I feel similarly at my 10th birthday and my 20th? As if I were crossing this major bridge? A bridge constructed by … what … society. S calls me ageless. He has been that for more than five years. Sweet text messages from friends flowing in already today. Early birthday lunch with a friend, at 40 Hands. Late in the afternoon, another friend sends a beautiful bouquet of flowers via her friend who is a – very talented French! – florist working from her home …. which is … in my street! Her work is absolutely beautiful, and she seems so sweet too – I want to get to know her! We agree to go for dinner next week, haha. I love the world! Just as she leaves, S steps in through the door with the most giant bouquet of hydrangeas, my favourite flower, I’ve ever seen. After enjoying them for a bit, we walk over to the Tippling Club for a delicious cocktail picked from their olfactory menu. Next stop, fish tacos and cocktails at Lucha Loco. Then we kiss goodbye, and I meet my friend for free flow ladies night rosé at Cafe Gavroche. Panic blown over – I LOVE BIRTHDAYS, regardless of the number.
30. Am I where I want to be? Yes; in every sense of those words, there’s no place I’d rather be. As I’ve said so often before: I never had any plans for my life … no expectations. When I think of whether there’s alignment through my development, the answer is a clear yes. I am happy and grateful for and in myself. I feel comfortable in my body and mind. I have wonderful relationships with people around the world, and everyone I love is healthy, safe and happy. I learn new things every day. I have a great, stimulating full-time job in a company I respect – and have had that ever since I graduated from college, actually, since a few months before graduation, to be specific – and enough free time around that job to nurture other passions. I am free to live and travel where and when I want. In the past year, I’ve been to California and India once, Malaysia, Denmark, England, Hong Kong and Australia twice and Indonesia four times, and my parents and close friends have visited me here in Singapore, where I, since my last birthday as well, have moved in with and created a lovely home with my boyfriend. None of it seems busy or forced – all of it feels natural and exciting. A life from which I never need a holiday. That’s all I could ever have dreamed of.
Birthday Morning. Wake up at 4am. Sweet video from smiling parents – singing birthday songs, first in Danish, then in English (for S), against a beautiful background, our Spanish village and ocean view. Open their gifts – a small wooden bird, nifty leather coasters, a hair band and the sweetest card. Call them for a real-time birthday greeting. Go back to bed. Wake up again at 6am, and this time, S wakes up as well, so I can get a birthday hug and kiss, another birthday song and more gifts: my favourite Australian mag, Peppermint, which I couldn’t find in any of the stores when we were there, and a beautiful white vase from Denmark, which I admired when we were there in June, why he secretly went back to the store during the one hour of the entire trip when I wasn’t with him and bought it, and a gift certificate to my friend Alicia’s beautiful sustainable clothes! We get dressed and walk over to Common Man, in the sunrise, across the river, my best girlfriend calling on the way, and when we get there, three sweet friends join us for a scrumptious breakfast. When we are all seated at the table, S pulls out a handful of homemade Danish flags – another surprise from him! He made them last night, printing out the colourful pieces of paper, gluing them onto wooden sticks and fastening those sticks onto tea candles, knowing that in Denmark, the flag is the birthday symbol. So sweet of him. I also get a beautiful bracelet from one of the girls. When we are full of kale, sourdough bread and coffee, S and I walk over to Warehouse Hotel to work from our favourite spot in the lobby. When I come home after my barre class later in the day, S is waiting in the living room with another surprise – a vegan sticky date cake with a golden candle in it and pieces of fresh mango on the side. After I’ve blown out the candle while making a wish and shared the delicious cake with him, we head to the airport.
Dilemma. We were supposed to go to Bali for a long weekend, but for the first time in 50 years, magma is filling up the tall insides of Mount Agung. We take a seat by the check in counter and weigh the facts and options. All of the news channels proclaim – eruption imminent. They’ve evacuated more than 100,000 people in the danger zone, a radius of 9k from the volcano. Even if the closest we will be is 32k (in Ubud, Thursday and Friday) and around 80k (down by Uluwatu, Saturday and Sunday), and the worst that could happen is an air space full of ash and our Singapore-bound plane on Sunday getting cancelled, in which case we could just work from Bali for however long we’d have to, and our airbnb-host in Ubud says everything is business as usual as of now, and our plane is still going to Bali, we just don’t know… Whether the eruption happens or not, the ambiance on the island will be affected – and if it does erupt, even if we are in security, will we be enjoying our essential oil massage and gentle flow yoga session knowing that 20k away, ancestral lands and animals and people who’ve refused to leave their homes and livelihoods will be destroyed? Well, that poses the question – how can we be comfortable anywhere as there is suffering somewhere on the planet at any given time. That question is too big for me today. We could also go with the intention of helping people in need, mourning, desperate, scared, but wouldn’t we, realistically, be needing help too? What is our intention? Why are we going? Those questions are easy to answer: to share a hopefully nice and enriching experience. The most important things are being together and being as safe as we can be while at the same time being on an adventure. Maybe going to Bali during lava alerts would be a fantastic experience after all. But do we want to risk it? Bali is just 2.5 hours from Singapore – we can always go. In fact, changing our tickets, which we end up doing, is super quick, easy and pain free – we are (planning to be) going in December instead. We have both been to Bali loads of times before and have both loved our experiences there – and would love to share some. In my mind, as much as I want to go with the flow and be open to any impulses we might have there, I already have a clear dreamy image of it – staying in a cosy wooden cabin in the rice paddy fields, going for harmonious yoga sessions at Radiantly Alive, Yoga Barn and Intuitive Flow, eating wholesome organic plant-based locally sourced food and drinking artisanal cocktails, enjoying the pristine beaches, all with my love, communicating with lovely words, kisses, laughs, glances etc through it all… it’s as if it’s already happened. Now, going to Phuket, which we end up doing instead, after two glasses of Prosecco at the airport, because that’s where we originally got tickets for, before realising that it’s rainy season there now, is entirely, purely spontaneous … We don’t know where we will be sleeping or what we will be experiencing. We do know the most important thing – that we will be together and relatively safe. I truly find most experiences with S exciting – and being in an un-volcano-threatening-to-erupt-affected Bali would have been exciting too, so it’s not as if we need to do things like this to feel that we are alive together, but that said… it does feel pretty authentic this trip. It’s my first visit to Thailand too. I am writing this as we are just about to land in Phuket – and no matter where we go from here, it’s a celebration – of life, love and freedom to choose.
Positively Surprised. Phuket in rainy season is pleasantly uncrowded and much sunnier and more charming than I’d ever imagined. Noticing with pleasure how quickly we get through immigration and how smooth the traffic is, we head straight to Surin Beach, which was recommended by a friend, and check into Manathai, which we locate on Google Maps in the taxi. Not too polished, not too shabby, not too stylised, not too tacky – fine little boutique hotel sitting right on the beach. Off-season perks: getting a room-upgrade for no extra cost and enjoying the tranquility of almost having the hotel to ourselves. Beautiful spacious, well-designed room with lots of cool and comfy features. Curl up in a pair of sun beds by the pool and enjoy some fresh pineapple juice and mango with sticky rice, hugging each other and staring at the water for a while before turning in at 10pm. As always, I love arriving somewhere after dark – falling asleep wondering what the world looks like when we wake up. Besides frangipani and palm trees framing the balcony, what I see when I wake up – and throughout the long weekend – is that Phuket is more than tacky tourism, polished resorts and seedy business. We have a lovely time in beautiful nature, meeting only kind people, eating delicious local food, feeling absolute bliss and calm.
Three Days in Phuket. Perfect balance – in the mornings, I have the pool to myself when I go for half or whole hours of meditative laps and low impact under water jumps, squats and lunges. When we head to the hotel’s high-ceilinged, airy restaurant to break our fast with fresh fruit, egg white omelettes and strong coffee and cross the road to enjoy the gorgeous beach, the fact that we see a few families and other couples adds a welcome lively quality to our tranquil nirvana. Sitting or standing in the clean, foamy waves and sensing them come washing over us and the palm-fringed. Gazing out across the blue, blue ocean and up towards the lush green canopies and hills. Smiling at each other, chatting about nothing and everything, being silent together, meditating, scribbling down notes, reading our magazines. On Friday, after the beach, we head up the road to the right from the hotel to get our bearings. Stop at the most luxurious-looking spa we pass, for a classic Thai massage, very acrobatic and soothing. Find a cute white-painted wooden beach-fronted cafe, where we enjoy a lunch of seared tuna steak and tom yum soup. Walk along the beach till we get to Catch Beach Club, where we order an aperol spritz and gaze upon the ocean for hours, sitting in the sand in front of the bar, scattered white clouds on a sunny sky above, feeling the salt water disappear and reappear by our feet. At the end of the afternoon, our slow day rolls on with a tuk tuk trip back to the hotel, walking up the road in the opposite direction to seek out a local-looking street food restaurant. We take a seat on a bamboo bench below neon-bright fluorescent lamp light and share plates of fragrant pad thai, green chicken curry and papaya salad. Fresh coconuts to quench our thirst. Walk back home to watch our latest Netflix addiction, Stranger Things, in the fluffy bed. Find a great yoga studio, Yoga Republic, for morning classes, gentle vinyasa flow on Saturday and hot yang on Sunday. All of our fellow-practitioners seem to be resident expats knowing each other well – a kind and loving community, which we feel very welcomed into for those long, soothing classes. After the Saturday class, we take a taxi into the rainforest – for a delicious local lunch in a treehouse overlooking a lake and misty mountains. It’s raining a bit, so we fish out a bunch of magazines from our bag, lean back, order a coffee and stay at our table until it clears up a short while after our meal and we can trek up past a gibbon rehabilitation centre along a steep path winding its way from the lake and up to where a quaint waterfall comes cascading down, some 300 metres above sea level. Take a small break here, just looking at the water and the beautiful flora surrounding it, before we head back to the coast, to Kamala Beach, for a dip in the ocean and a few sundowner drinks at Cafe del Mar, our new favourite beach bar, which masters a perfect balance between feeling casual, classy, rustic and vibrant simultaneously. Nicely designed but not identikit or soulless. From then on follows a night of duck curry back in Surin, a foot massage at a pink-painted parlour next to our hotel and more Stranger Things in bed. Sunday is pretty similar: yoga, idyllic beach time, drinking many coconuts, sunbathing, swimming in the shallow waves together, going for a wander through the village, stopping at a roadside stall to get fresh pineapple juice, shaken carefully with a pinch of salt and generous amounts of ice, stories, laughter and love from the smiling lady operating the stall, circling back to the beach to watch a few fishermen having luck with their spears, boats rocking quietly in the shallow water, the smoothness of the u-shaped expanse of yellow sand. Check out of our hotel and head back to Cafe del Mar for a late lunch of delicious seafood salad and baked potatoes at the smooth concrete bar overlooking the beach, after which we move to a sun bed next to the bar, between two large palm trees, to just lie there throughout the golden hour and soak in the beauty of it all, the view and sound of the ocean in the soft yellow light distracting us from our cocktails and magazines. Finally, at 6pm, we drive through quaint villages and palm tree plantations to the airport, landing home in bed just a few hours later, completely filled up with relaxed and nourishing impressions from a wonderful birthday weekend.
A Few of My Sweet Birthday Messages:
- I wish you a wonderful day with lots of cake and love and a beautiful memory of the day/night you’re going to have. Make some wishes for the next years, and cherish your achievements and dreams come true of the past. And most of all: dance the present.
- In Russia, when you celebrate someone’s birthday, everyone at the table has to give a little speech telling the ‘newborn’ how great they are and wish them something for the next year. So I’m sitting at the imaginary table, eating vegan cake and going to tell you that you are such an inspiration. Your thirst for life, your ability to appreciate the place you are in right now and really be present there, your adventurous nature, your fearlessness, your hard work, your love for your friends and family, your kindness to doggies and all other animals … all of that makes you a special person. And my wish for your next year is to simply be happy and content, to feel loved every day, to be challenged intellectually, to continue to explore the world, to make new friends and catch up with old ones (those who will come to Singapore with a visit).
- I’m so happy for all the adventures you’re having and the beautiful life that you’ve created. May the fun and lifelong memories continue this year. Thinking of you!!
- Happy birthday to the sweetest, most beautiful, loveliest, smartest, most loving you. I hope your day is filled with delicious things, for the outside as well as for the inside. I look so much forward to seeing you soon! Lots of love and congrats from me.