5 years, 5 cities: Celebrating my birthday around the world

Today is my 23rd birthday.

First off, I am one of those people who love their birthdays. Like, I consider it a holiday on equal standing with Christmas and New Year’s, and have a one-month countdown that makes my friends and family roll their eyes every year.

So I love that for the last five years, I’ve found myself living in a different city on every birthday.

Each one has also seen me at very different stages of my life (both expat life, and in general). As I looked through old photos while putting together this post, I found it funny to think about what has changed from year to year – my priorities, my personality, my hair — and what hasn’t.

2008: Dalian

I turned 19 in the northeastern city of Dalian, China. Back then, there were few foreigners in Dalian, so the expat circle was very small and close-knit. On my birthday, almost all of those expats came out to celebrate over a large dongbei-style dinner and drinks (hence the Chinese cakes — I honestly have no better photos of that night).

I had no idea who I was then: I was newly independent and had just discovered what an expat was, and what that life entailed. But thanks to the friends I made there, Dalian taught me to crawl out of my shell. I discovered a whole new side to myself; one that up until then had been stifled in central Pennsylvania.

2009: Shanghai

I turned 20 soon after I returned to Shanghai; this time for an internship. Choosing which internship was probably the hardest decision I had to make that year: a paid position with a magazine in Beijing, or an unpaid one with a popular city blog in Shanghai. Despite the one in Beijing sounding better (proper publication; paid) I went with my gut and chose to stay in Shanghai. That’s when I learned it’s better to trust your instincts and not always follow the money  — staying in Shanghai led to a summer that changed my life in several ways, both professional and personal. Thanks to that decision, 2009 was the year I learned how to be truly self-confident, and to shout that confidence to the world.

2010: Elizabethtown

My 21st was also the day of graduation. The night before, even with two mates visiting all the way from Australia, I actually didn’t get drunk (because I refuse to be hungover on my birthday; I also didn’t feel like looking like a lush in front of my traditional Chinese relatives who had come into town for the occasion). I indulged in a handful of celebratory drinks from friends who insisted on buying me shots; went back to campus and watched the Class of 2010 set a couch on fire; then drank a gallon of water and was in bed by 2. In the morning I graduated with a bachelor’s in political science, packed up my apartment and said good riddance to college. Two weeks later I left home for good and embarked on a brand new adventure in Asia.

2011: Singapore

The best flatmates in the world.

By the time I turned 22, I was completely settled into my expat life in Singapore: I had a proper job, an incredible flat, a serious boyfriend. I also had a large social circle, and the celebrations lasted all weekend; including a chilli crab dinner with my closest friends to a big party on the Saturday night. The owners of a local British pub let me have their place for the night for no charge, and even threw in discounted drink prices all night (and they even made that lovely banner). It was an unforgettably fun party that lasted until 6 am; everyone I knew in Singapore came out to celebrate. I felt so loved after that night — I’d come a long way from the shy, self-doubting expat I was at 19.

2012: Paris

This year I’m turning 23 in Paris. It’s the first birthday that I haven’t planned a party, a dinner, or even drinks to celebrate — this year, I’m doing absolutely nothing. Mike has flown in from Singapore to visit me for a week, and I’m happy just having him around. In fact, I felt perfectly content seeing in midnight with Mexican food, a glass of red wine, and The Inbetweeners Movie. And while I originally planned for us to go on a day trip to Giverny or Epernay, now I can’t be bothered and am looking forward to staying in Paris where I’ll have breakfast in bed, lunch at Angelina, and dinner at Verjus. Oh god, I’m getting old.

 Where do you think I’ll be in 2013?

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  1. Happy Birthday!!!
    Sounds like an awesome birthday. Mine have gotten quite calm as well- welcome to old age ;)

  2. Joyeux anniversaire!

  3. Happy birthday!
    This is a really good idea for a blog post, it’s left me wondering in how many different places I have spent my birthday!

  4. Happy Birthday! You’re not getting old, your priorities are different this year ;)

  5. A very happy birthday to you. Twice as old as you and still love having my birthday in new places. Yes, the food gets more important, but the new places never get less so – hang in there and enjoy every moment. Hang on to the feeling of enjoying breaking new ground!

  6. milsters says:

    Happy birthday, Edna!! Hope you have a fab day :)

    x Milla


  7. Happy Birthday Edna!! It looks like you’ve had some amazing past birthdays! Here’s to many more to come!

    Your birthday plan of hanging around and eating sounds genius!! Enjoy it! Nom, nom, nom….

    I love my birthday too! I turn my birthday into birthweek! ; )

    There are too many exclamation points in this comment….

  8. 생일 축하합니다 saeng-il chuk-ha-hamnida as we say in Korea, Edna! There’s nothing wrong with how you rang in midnight on your birthday – red wine and The Inbetweeners Movie is a great way to do it! You’ll be asleep with some knitting in your lap and a glass of sherry in your hand before your 24th ;)

  9. Happy Birthday! I hope your day is filled with ordinary magic <3 Next year, I predict you will be in Morocco for the big day!

  10. Happy Birthday! My goal is spend every birthday in my 20s in a different country–so far, it’s Las Vegas, France & Australia–can’t wait for it to be Croatia in just a few weeks :) What a fun round-up, hope you have an incredible day :)

  11. Happy Birthday new friend! Personally, I think we get to enjoy birthdays even more as we get older! Enjoy time with your honey on your wonderful day.

  12. Happy birthday! Hope you have a great day and many years of future travelling birthdays!

  13. Happy Birthday – Enjoy Your Special Day!

  14. Oh, happy birthday!! It’s my 25th today (oh god) and this makes me think of all the fun places past birthdays have seen. You definitely have some great memories – especially what those pub owners did! :)

  15. Happy birthday! You’re younger than me yet I guess I need to learn a lot from you. Especially love your experience of following your guts and not the money. I should have done that as well. And where you’re gonna celebrate your birthday in 2013? You’ve been celebrating in Asia, Australia, and Europe. Probably you’d like the idea of celebrating it in another continent :D

  16. Flash of Brilliance says:

    Happy Birthday, sorry I’m late! Great blog post, and I hope your day was awesome.

  17. I’m a bit late, which makes this post even more fun to read, given this:

    “This year I’m turning 23 in Paris. It’s the first birthday that I haven’t planned a party, a dinner, or even drinks to celebrate — this year, I’m doing absolutely nothing.”

    You will remember this one FOREVER!

  18. Happy Birthday! I have to say I admire your sense of adventure and courage to uproot yourself at such a young age to explore the world. I wish I was less risk-averse and had taken a year off to travel following university. I’m sure it would’ve helped me find myself much faster. You’re a very wordly 23-year old! Cheers & enjoy Paris. :-)

  19. roamingtheworld says:

    Happy Belated Birthday! Sometimes keeping the birthday plans simple are the best plans! Similar to you, I love my birthday and often call it Birthday week… Why just celebrate on one day?