Thursday, July 30, 2009


Birthdays tend to creep up on me. Yesterday, I turned a year older. And like many of my other birthdays this one caught me unprepared. Before I knew it friends and family were asking what I was doing on my birthday. My email inbox was flooded with birthday greetings posted by well-wishers on my Facebook wall. I didn’t really make plans. There was one thing I knew for sure, I wanted to have a nice dinner with my dear friend, Emmanuel.

I woke up in a room that seems to have been hit by a tornado. I allowed myself the luxury of staying in bed with the August issue of Oprah Magazine. Then my phone rang with my mom greeting me from Manila. She was at the dining table having breakfast with my brother and sister. Soon my dad arrived from his usual game of tennis. The phone was passed from one member of the family to another. I could even hear the dogs. It almost felt like I was home. But when I hang up, the tears rolled down my cheeks.

I then decided to do my usual routine of going for a morning walk. But instead of walking around my neighborhood, I chose to go to the Botanic Gardens. As I put on my running shoes, my dear friend since fourth Grade Rissa called to greet me. We laughed and connected. Then as I was about to finally walk out the door, Emmanuel called to ask “so what are you doing today?” I told him of my plan to head for a walk to the Botanic gardens. He said he would join me and run while I walked. We did not agree on a time or place to meet. I hopped on the bus wearing my scruffy pink tank top, shorts, ten dollars, my bus card, and my atm card. Sitting in the bus, I realized I haven’t had breakfast. I spontaneously hopped off the bus to make a stopover at Cluny Court for a piece of Sticky Bun from my favorite bakery, Simply Bread. The bread was soft and sticky laden with a generous cinnamon caramel glaze on top. I ate this indulgence and washed it down with an ice-cold bottle of water. By the time, I reached the Botanic Gardens I was giddy with excitement on my evolving spontaneous adventure. I’ve decided to put work on hold for this special day, and to do whatever pleased me.

The sunshiny day brought deep blue skies. It made the Botanic Gardens more vibrant than ever. Unlike my usual weekend visits, today there were only expatriate moms pushing the prams and tourists snapping photos. I have been here many times before. But it was as if I were seeing everything with fresh new eyes. Without a camera, I settled on my phone for a few snapshots of the view from the gazebo and the lilies. I sat on the wooden park benches, listening to Lea Salonga sing “Journey” on my MP3 player. Again, the tears flowed uncontrollably.

I got lost in the romance of water lilies in bloom by the Symphony Stage. It reminded me of Monet’s paintings. Snapping a few more photos on my phone, I noticed a buff guy in an electric blue running across the pond. As he ran toward me, I decided to check him out. To my surprise, it was my dear Emmanuel. We sat by the pond catching up on each other’s life. He mentioned just getting a call from Francis, who was unable to work due to an injured foot. It was quickly decided that the three of us have lunch at Great World Mall. Emmanuel wanted me to try on the Cheongsam / Qipao he was buying as a present for me at Great World Mall. My only request for lunch was to eat noodles. Filipinos have subscribed to the Chinese belief that eating noodles on your birthday will ensure long life. While the Phad Thai was delicious, there was an abundance of yummy eye candy, gorgeous men dining in the same food court. Emmanuel showed me the cheong sam he had chosen for me. I was hesitant to wear the traditional Chinese dress thinking it would look like a costume. I was stunned at how it perfectly flattered my figure. He had gone to the store many times, unable to figure out my size. At this point, he had bonded with the storekeeper. When she handed me the present, she said," I now know your size. So when your boyfriend comes back it will be easier." Emmanuel and I smiled, not bothering to correct her.

On such a sweet day and with three of us in no hurry to get anywhere, dessert was imperative. We savored our Pavlova, Lemon Tart, and Chocolate cake in Cedele. Over cups of coffee, we broadened our vocabulary with new words and euphemisms, with Dr. Francis providing a wealth of information on the marvels of the human body.

The only thing I had planned for this day was to go to attend mass on my birthday and to have dinner with Emmanuel. My belated birthday gift to him was for us to indulge in a nice meal together. He deemed it a perfect opportunity to get dressed. At first I made reservations with a famous French restaurant. But in my heart, I knew I wanted to go the Equinox to experience the best view of Singapore. So we settled on a sundowner drinks at the Equinox before diner at Garibaldi, an Italian restaurant. When I arrived looking poised and statuesque in the butterfly printed cheongsam, and black flowing Chinese pants, he smiled pleased at how perfect his present fit me.

Enjoying the energy at the Equinox, we yet again chose to be spontaneous. We cancelled our dinner reservation at Garibaldi. We did not want to rush happy hour drinks, nor end our gazing match with the view. Feeling beautiful and happy we snapped numerous photos amidst the gorgeous setting. Kudos to Lyle, the bartender who happens to Filipino, too, who provided excellent service!

We then walked toward Purvis Street, admiring the regal Raffles Hotel as we passed by. We stopped by Garibaldi to check out the menu, but we were both intrigued by the restaurant across the street. It is called Limon serving an usual combination of Spanish- Thai cuisine. And we were thrilled to discover classy interiors, great service, and good food. The complimentary gazpacho of carrot and cucumber was refreshing. Warm bread with the tomato dipping sauces was addicting. But my favorite was the boiled seafood platter of scallops, shrimps, mussels, and squid in a ginger lemon grass sauce. Tapas were one-for-one. We got the calamares with a strawberry yogurt dip for free. But there was too much batter and the fruity sauce did not work well with the tapas. The paella same mouth feel as we were accustomed to in numerous Spanish restaurants in the Philippines. This seemed more like a jambalaya, with a moist, less robust flavor. Yet, it was abundantly groaning with chorizo, seafood, and even chicken wings. Sipping our cava, we were deliriously happy at how this spontaneous day had perfectly turned out.

Emmanuel is several years my senior, and his birthday was nineteen days before mine. But none of those details have mattered in our friendship. Blissful at this fine day, he said, “This is perfect, Maida. It feels like my birthday too!” He organized a special cake for me. As I blew off the candle and made my wish, the waitress commented "you're boyfriend is so sweet." Again we both smiled. We parted at the MRT station, I gave him a peck on the cheek saying “Happy Birthday” as if it were his birthday too.

Indeed, much can be said about making plans. But some times, it also entails in giving God wiggle room to surprise you.

While birthdays may seem like milestones in getting a year older, Emily Dickinson reminds me otherwise. “We turn not older with years, but newer every day.”

Singapore.2:01pm.July 29, 2009

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