At this moment it is midnight on April 5th, 2012 in our native New York. It is officially Melissa’s 34th birthday. We’ve already been celebrating for an hour in our apartment in Buenos Aires because it’s one hour ahead of New York time. Yet it didn’t feel like her birthday until the clock struck 12 in our home time zone.
We met in Albany, New York when we were twenty years old and this is the twenty-eighth combined birthday that Melissa and I have shared. Over the years we have been fortunate to enjoy our special days in amazing locations surrounded by festive friends from around the globe.
Neil’s 24th Birthday in Tajimi, Japan December 2001
When I turned twenty-four we were living in a suburb called Kozoji, Japan and teaching for a large, lecherous language company named NOVA. We had moved to Nippon just two months prior. Still adapting to working full time we had to teach ourselves how to be English instructors.
I had Wednesdays off on my own and would usually take a 45 minute walk to a small nursing college up a mountain. At the college I would play coed games of three on three basketball. For my 24th birthday we celebrated with my basketball buddies in a Japanese izakaya. An izakaya is a bar that looks like a diner which serves small plates of food and assorted hot and cold beverages. My friend Miharu organized it as a surprise party. I thought it was simply an end of year celebration, but when we arrived I learned that the night was mine. I received Japanese candy and hand written cards to go along with small gifts I’d received from work.
Melissa’s 24th Birthday in Kyoto, Japan April 2002
Melissa turned 24 years of maturity a few months later while we were on a bus “road trip” through sections of Japan. Traveling with a seasonal rail pass called the Seishun Juhachi Kippu we were allowed unlimited access on local and rapid trains for a 24-hour period. The pass has space for five stamps each representing one day of travel at 2,300 yen ($28US). Spring had begun and we’d already celebrated Hanami. Hanami parties represent cherry blossom festivals which occur when flowers bloom on the southern islands and make their way north. Infectious revelry culminates under trees covered in delicate pink buds. Japanese delicacies are everywhere and often shared with strangers.
Having already experienced Hanami in Fukuoka, Nagasaki, and Hiroshima, we were happy to be in Kyoto for Melissa’s special day. We explored peaceful parks like Maruyama Koen which may be our favorite on the planet. Concentrating on Kyoto’s eastern Higashiyama district we toured temples, shrines, and even saw some geisha clip-clopping on aged stone walkways. Enjoying the freedom of having quit our jobs with NOVA we didn’t have to rush back north. Instead we belted out songs at a karaoke box and enjoyed the ancient capital of Japan.
Neil’s 25th Birthday in Ena, Japan December 2002
I started the day getting hit by a car driven by an elderly woman who had halted before leaving a parking lot. I was on my bike and kind of fell on her hood, but she was going slow so I wasn’t injured at all. I slid off the hood expecting her to check how I was but the obasan sped away, probably complaining about gaijin (foreigners) taking over the countryside. I figured going to work might be safer. At this point we were teaching small children for a company called Peppy Kid’s Club, which offers a much more fulfilling life for English teachers.
After work I continued north by train on the Japan Railway Chuo line to a town called Ena. A friend picked me up, we borrowed a radio from a local classroom, and headed to our friend Paul’s apartment. Celebrating my birthday with Japanese, Australians, Irish, Canadians, and a few folks from the states we had a relaxing house-party. A teacher from our company named Naomi baked me the greatest cake ever. It was creamy, sweet and pieced together by a collage of fruits. At first it looked too good to eat, then it looked too good to share.
Melissa’s 25th Birthday in London, England April 2003
My 25th birthday was our last work day in Japan. Shortly afterward we embarked on a four month trip through Southeast Asia, Australia, and a tiny bit of Europe. Melissa turned 25 on our last full day before we returned to the USA. In all we had spent eighteen months away including fourteen months in Japan and four more winding slowly home. We spent her birthday visiting our friends, London expats Dino and Leslie.
Quickly breakfasting on ramen noodles we sped to a famous London terminal to meet our pals. We joined them near a famous clock inside Waterloo Station and headed out toward the Thames River. We walked past the London Eye Ferris Wheel which reaches nearly 450 feet into the sky. Melissa opted for a stop at the Globe Theater to trace some Shakespearian history. The original had burned down due to its thatched roof, and the reconstructed version is the only building in the city allowed to possess such a top. We closed out her birthday near one of the famous circus zones, with an Indian dinner.
Melissa’s 29th Birthday in Santorini, Greece April 2007
After four years spent back in New York and New Jersey we struck out on the road for Melissa’s 29th birthday celebration. We were navigating toward our first Easter as full-time teachers in New York and teaching youngsters the art of good English. Deciding to spend the school holiday in Greece we made plans with friends Tim and Julie. We had all studied Greek mythology as sixth graders in NY, and developed a fascination for it. Eager to explore the land of Homer the bard, we flew to Athens.
In Athens we wandered up the hill to the Parthenon and checked out some museums. We also visited a gory market filled with locals flipping bloody lamb carcasses over their shoulders for Easter feasts.
Sandwiched between our explorations of the capital we made time for a stop on volcanic Santorini Island. We had a dream day for Mel’s 29th. Starting out on black beaches, we hitched a ride up a huge hill with a Greek named Adonis. After exploring the archaeological site of Akrotiri we took a long hike and were surprised to hear a fleet of helicopters over our heads. Then we took a bus to a winery. As we waited for a tour we ran into an old neighbor from the dorms where Melissa and I had met. Next we received a behind the scenes tour in the cellars at Boutari Winery. Returning to our hotel with panoramic views on a huge balcony we passed around wine, cheese, and a copy of Edith Hamilton’s Mythology. We traded turns reading myths and before dinner, saw a chaotic scene in the sea. The helicopters we’d seen earlier and dozens of other rescue vehicles were evacuating passengers on a huge cruise ship that became entangled and stranded in the shallow waters of the Aegean Sea.
These birthdays have provided us with amazing memories. We spent my last birthday in Lima. Prior to that I shared two birthday parties (2009 and 2010) with my friend Aileen in Vernon, New Jersey. Packed with revelers including the women from Suburbia Roller Derby, we celebrated hard enough to make up for my absence this past year.