My Second 23rd Birthday

Last summer, I went to China 21 and three weeks later came home 23.

We tend to do weird things on my birthday. Christmas puzzles, being pelted with Beanie Babies, sight-reading the hymnal, and pool parties where we eat lunch in flower bins because of the wind.

But my 22nd birthday ranks up there as the strangest. Mostly because it never happened.

In Chinese culture (and a lot of other Asian cultures), you’re considered one when you’re born.

I was never 22. I’ll be 23 for two years.

Celebrating my birthday in China was an adventure, as one would expect.

I was amazed by the love and generosity I got from our students in the form of gifts. One student gave me a good luck charm hand-made by her grandmother who can’t make them anymore (she said she’s not sure if the luck works in other countries or not). A few gave me wallets. Another gave me a buddha to hang in my rear view mirror for protection. (I appreciate the sentiment even though the buddha’s still in the wrapper).

Chinese pizza

Pizza topped with cheese, peppers, tomatoes, pineapple, mushrooms, corn, and other various items.

Our college student Chinese friends treated Amber and I to lunch at Pizza Hut–different than an American pizza hut but yummy nevertheless. The pizza was more traditional than the pizza we had a few days earlier. They also brought a delicious fruit and chocolate cake for us to split. Some of the fruits we recognized, some we didn’t. The chocolate was the first sweet thing we’d had in weeks (other than the “gluttonous balls” of sesame-seed covered donut holes at breakfast some days).

I also had my first–and what I hoped to be my last–experience with Chinese birthday candles.

Fruit cake and candle

The most terrifying candle contraption on a cake made of fruit.

Apparently I had failed mention that I’m scared of fire.

That flower candle has approximately eight little candles along the edges you’re supposed to light which then light a big huge candle in the center that throws sparks, the flower sings in an annoying high-pitch, and blooms.

Cool in theory (maybe). Not so cool in execution. I was… er… blessed with two of them. Two more than I ever needed in my life. I saw one in an American store recently and had a PTSD-like reaction recalling the flaming, falling, burned plastic mess that was impossible to blow out and played “Happy Birthday” until we brutally tore out the battery.

The birthday celebration ended with another terrifying candle at a birthday party hosted by my team and celebrated with all of our students.

Everybody wanted pictures of me, with me, of my cake, etc. I felt famous, honestly. I’ve never had so many people at my birthday party before!


For the entertainment of our students, my teammates caked me.

It was Amber’s idea to shove cake in my face, but Jori was the one who carried it out. My watch, face, shirt, and hair were all caked with cake.

My second 23rd birthday won’t be quite as elaborate. I pray it will not involve buddha, singing candles, and cake up my nose.

But I am grateful.

Grateful for another year of life.

Grateful for the memories and the opportunity to travel.

Grateful that no one was injured in the making of this blog.

<>< Katie

  • Marja

    Happy Birthday!!
    I’ve seen those candles at our local grocery store and have wondered how they work.
    Enjoy your Second 23rd birthday!

  • Happy birthday!

  • Happy birthday, Katie!  Hope you had a wonderful day celebrating your second turning of 23.  🙂

    I love your story of celebrating in China.  Reminds me of the birthday celebrations we had while in Brazil.  While they didn’t have crazy candles, the celebrations were never-ending.  

    • Thanks, Denise! I would have rather done it without the crazy candles. 😉


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