A Birthday That Lasted 31 Hours

There is a 7-hour difference between the timezone in Singapore and in Germany, i.e. 5pm on the 25th of January in Munich translates to 12am on the 26th of January in Singapore. When the clock struck midnight on the 26th of January in Singapore, I recall to have been in a Zumba class when birthday wishes came rushing in like waves upon a shore – fervent in intention, yet gentle as they crashed into the abyss of my heart.

Fast forward to 5.42am when I awoke on the 26th, I smiled to the Happy Birthdays and cried happy tears to the long e-mails my parents sent me. It was my first birthday I had spent away from my family and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss Mum’s warm daily hugs and Dad’s singing (yes, Dad sings me ‘Happy Birthday’ to wake me up on my birthday haha!) a little more than usual that morning. I was alone in my apartment and apart from the clock’s ticking, my heart’s beating and the trickling of water from somewhere in the building, it was complete silence.

I wished so badly that someone I love would have walked right into the room and let me experience the tangibility of love.

But life goes on and I went to the Gym then to school as per normal that day, during which I remember receiving a hilarious snapchat from Suj and Hannah who posed with bananas haha

As I had lunch at home that day, I facetimed my family and Mum began recounting the day she gave birth to me. It was the funniest thing ever and I couldn’t laugh at the hilarity of the story and of the situation! She told me about how she shared a hospital room with another woman who wouldn’t stop complaining to her husband about ‘having made her pregnant’ because she was in so much pain! My Mum, on the other hand, was left struggling with the urge to burst into laughter. She said that this woman she shared the room with helped her cope with the contractions little me was giving her and for that, she is eternally grateful. 🙂

Soon after, I had to head to the embassy to renew my passport. The sun was brightly shining in the sky, we had 14° outside and everyone was joking about the ‘three-day’ spurt of winter which we had just experienced once again. It has been the warmest winter in years and Munich hasn’t been getting more than three days worth of days in a row during which it snowed!

Apart from the surprising and heartwarming “Happy Birthday!” wishes I’d get from anyone who had read my application form, the THREE hours in the embassy was spent people watching, staring at the info screen and fiddling my thumbs as I waited for my queue number to be called. This was when I realised that: 1. Staring at the info screen which was filled with numbers, then looking down at my queue  number slip before looking back up at the info screen felt a lot like I was playing a game of Bingo, and 2. The fact that I was in the zone for people with surnames which started with any letter between and including S – Z meant that there were many ‘Wongs’ with me. I couldn’t help but feel a sense of comfort having Asian faces in the crowd. Perhaps I truly am an Asian at heart.

I heard another buzz coming from my phone and it was a message from Charlotte. She shared with me a quote from Thomas Chandler who said that to love a person is to learn the song that is in their heart and sing it to them when they have forgotten. Charlotte, like Yi Herng, Miriam, Niki, Alex, Jo, Victoria, Dhan, Ellie, Jasmine, Uma, Hiu, Nic, Wei, Joana, Mehendi and Viv, has the gift of words. She knows what to say and when to say it. She knows the words which go straight into a person’s heart.

That thought took me back to the moment I read what Miriam wrote about “the strange relationships between strangers”. I couldn’t help but think about how none of us knew what the other was going through in life, how near to each other we were in physical proximity but lightyears away in terms of emotional proximity. One of us could have been rejoicing over the birth of a child, while another may have just suffered a death of a loved one. One of us may be on his/ her way home from the last chemotherapy treatment, while another could have just been diagnosed with something terrible. I was, right there and then, in the midst of so many extraordinary people living extraordinary lives and yet I knew nothing about them. They didn’t know it was my birthday and I wouldn’t have known if it was any of theirs too.

“On the late afternoon streets, everyone hurries along, going about their own business.

Who is the person walking in front of you on the rain-drenched sidewalk?

He is covered with an umbrella, and all you can see is a dark coat and the shoes striking the puddles.

And yet this person is the hero of his own life story.

He is the love of someone’s life.

And what he can do may change the world.

Imagine being him for a moment.

And then continue on your own way.”
― Vera Nazarian, The Perpetual Calendar of Inspiration

I wished for courage on my birthday this year. 

The courage to speak to strangers freely and discover the beautiful ways our lives intertwined. It’s been quite a journey. So far, I’ve comforted a woman who had then recently lost her husband, rejoiced with a girl who believed in Veganism as much as I do, learned the tricks to winning a chess game from a professional chess player, helped an elderly man find Cetaphil in a drugstore and shared a run with a guy studying Psychology. And it has only been about a month since I began on this journey of courage.

I cannot wait to see who I’ll meet in the future. Life is endlessly packed with surprises!

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