The past week has been a sweet, sentimental one.
We need those every now and then.
My birthday is November 23, and Ben and Whit made sure I felt special every day leading up to it. I grew out of making a big deal about my birthday a long time ago because it always fell on the American Thanksgiving holiday weekend. After a few attempts at birthday parties school friends could never attend I started to feel like my birthday wasn’t all that special.
My attitude slowly started to change after I became a mother. I started to see my birthday in a new way; as more of a celebration of the journey and love which brought me into the world than an arbitrary celebration of not dying in the past 364 days.
I’m still not interested in grand gestures or big gifts for my birthday, but I do appreciate certain things now.
- Getting a birthday cake. I love birthday cake, but I refuse to make my own. There’s nothing sadder to me than a mom making her own birthday cake. Moms do everything for everyone. How is it fair to also make our own celebratory cake? But that’s just one mom’s opinion.
- I want feel considered. This can happen in a variety of ways: going out to a restaurant I like, being given a gift I would want, having something special done I would enjoy. Too often gift giving becomes about the giver, not the receiver. I don’t want my son to draw me a picture of his stuffed lion because it’s the first thing he thought about, I want him to think about what I would want a picture of.
As long as I’m made to feel considered on my birthday I’m good!
This is easier to do in our home country, of course. We’d be surrounded by friends and family I’d want to be around, restaurants I’d want to eat at, stores I’d want gift cards from, etc.
Ben anticipated that I might feel homesick spending my birthday and American Thanksgiving in a foreign country, so he worked hard to make me feel special every day.
In addition to letting me choose the meals we ate (in or out) every day, Ben also encouraged me to buy a couple of expensive souvenirs I fell in love with, decorated the house with balloons and confetti (then cleaned it up), made me a birthday breakfast, planned a special birthday outing, and let me arrange our next few trips.
Spoiler alert: WE’RE HEADING BACK TO THE UNITED STATES FOR CHRISTMAS!
Our next two trips
We decided a few days ago to look into flights back home since we have a one-month break in our travel itinerary. That was seriously the main reason. We expected flights to be too expensive, so we never really considered making a trip across the world during the holidays.
Wonder of wonder, the flights were actually cheaper in December than other times of the year!
We made the split-second decision to fly round trip from Hong Kong to Utah December 18-January 8. In that amount of time we’ll spend one week in Utah with my family and our business colleagues, one week in Chicago with Ben’s family, and a week in South and North Carolina to see more of my family and our friends.
It’s going to be busy!
But wait… there’s more!
Since we fly out of Hong Kong (flights were a ton cheaper from there than from Bangkok) we have to get there. You can guess what that means: another trip!
We’ve now decided to leave Chiang Mai, Thailand, on December 8 and head into Myanmar (Burma). We’ll spend a week traveling around the major sites of Yangon, Bagan, and Mandalay before heading in to Hong Kong a couple of days before our flight. We have some friends from Korea who will also be in Hong Kong at that time, and we’ll do some fun sight seeing and Christmas shopping together.
When planning pre-Hong Kong trip Ben let me choose anywhere I wanted to go (around the region of SE Asia). I spent a full day researching Laos and Myanmar, Thailand’s neighbors, and chose Myanmar.
Myanmar sounds pretty random, right? There’s actually a reason I’ve been wanting to go.
Ten years ago I studied abroad with a program called Semester at Sea. I spent a semester taking courses on a ship in between sailing to 15 ports around the world. It was an incredible 4 months! Myanmar was on my ship’s original itinerary, until the UN asked tour operators to boycott the country after a group of rebels overthrew the new democratic government. The country has only been off the travel advisory list for a handful of years now, and I’m curious to see what I missed out on 10 years ago.
Loi Krathong Festival
Not only does my birthday fall the day after American Thanksgiving this year, it also happens to be during Thailand’s biggest annual festival: Loi Krathong.
Loi Krathong is a an annual Buddhist holiday celebrating the goddess of water. “Loi” means to float and “Krathong” means candle, so on this holiday people would make lotus-shaped rafts out of banana leaves and float candles, money, and small candies down the rivers of Thailand.
People have now turned Krathongs into an elaborate artform and added penny games, street food, and floating lanterns to the festivities.
Tourists flock to Chiang Mai in droves every November to experience Loi Krathong in the Old City. A wide moat separates the Old City square from the rest of Chiang Mai, and impressive bridges connect the two areas. People float their Krathongs down the moat and cover the bridges to release their paper lanterns.
It’s a big deal.
As soon as people heard we were spending the month of November in Chiang Mai we were asked about our plans for Loi Krathong. Everyone assumed this was the reason we chose to visit, but it actually wasn’t. We love local festivals but the lantern festival was just a happy accident!
After weeks of hearing about this festival I started to wonder if it could ever live up to the hype. So instead of trying to have a traditional Thanksgiving dinner we spent Thursday night at the festival downtown.
The festival was, in a word, UNBELIEVABLE.
We were surrounded by locals and foreigners crowded together in celebration. Floating candles and lanterns makes everyone happy, and it was an amazing feeling to be surrounded by positive vibes. The lanterns are pretty huge and required at least 2-3 people to hold, so we found ourselves helping a lot of people prep theirs. Each successful launch felt like a community effort, and we were collectively wishing for a high, safe passage for every lantern. Some didn’t fill with enough hot air and immediately lowered into the water, others accidentally drifted into nearby trees, and a few even lit the outer paper on fire. Every failed attempt garnered moans from the entire crowd.
I love having low expectations.
Loi Krathong is a two-day event, so guess whose going back for more pretty lanterns for her birthday: THIS GIRL.