Friday, December 7, 2018

Lola's First Birthday - Part I (Birthday Party in Taichung)

Lola turned 1 on December 1st (her golden birthday!) and we celebrated in Taichung with my mom's side of the family.  I cannot believe she is ONE!  This year has been an absolute trip.  The first quarter felt like time had stopped and the second half felt like someone switched the dials to warp speed.

My mom's older brother and his wife (whom I call my "da jiu" and "da jiu ma") and his two sons, my slightly older cousins (my "biao ge"), live there.   Here we are with my oldest cousin, who is Lola's "da jiu."

One of my cousins is married and has a nearly 2 year old daughter named BeBe, and at the time a soon-to-be little boy (they just had the baby yesterday!!).  They are the ones sitting at the table.
 Here, Lola is blowing the camera a kiss.
For this special occasion, my mom's younger sister, my "xia aiyi" came down from Taipei especially for the long weekend to join in the festivities.  It was very sweet.  By the way, Chinese family members have very specific designations - it's not enough just to say he is my uncle or she is my aunt - these monikers tell you if they are on your mom's or dad's side, and if they are older or younger relative to your mom and dad.

Separately, because my da jiu and da jiu ma have lived in this warm and wonderful city for their whole adult lives, they know a lot of people and have a lot of very good friends in Taichung.  Michael and I have had the pleasure of hanging out with these various uncles and aunts on previous occasions when we visited.  They are, without a doubt, some of the sweetest, most generous, and kind people we have ever met.  One of these family friends, whom I call uncle despite there being no blood relation, has a daughter (Huiru) only a year older than me.  She and her younger brother stayed with my parents in New York for a little while over one of the summers shortly after they just finished college, so they have a relationship that goes way back as well and honestly she is family in practically everything but name.  Well, Huiru recently had a little baby girl named EnEn, only 2.5 weeks older than Lola.  
All of this is just a very convoluted way of saying that Michael and I could not imagine a better place or way to usher in Lola's first big milestone than with these friends and family, and we really hope that Lola can look back on these pictures with fondness!

Lola had a really lovely birthday.  We booked two tables for a total of 16 adults and 3 little girls at a fancy and beautiful Japanese restaurant.  The set up was perfect - we had our own private room, it was bright and cheerful, and every chair and high chair was set up with pretty balloons.  One of the aunts purchased a beautiful strawberry cake for Lola.  The food was amazing - so, so good.

I think we were served at least 12 courses, consisting of sashimi and abalone, cold tofu and sea urchin appetizer, calamari, steamed fish, grilled lobster with cheese, peppery steak, rice with salmon roe, hotpot with pork and sour cabbage, steamed crab with vermicelli, stir fried root vegetables, peanut and red bean dessert, fruit (especially star fruit) and pork knuckles with long skinny noodles.  I am sure I am forgetting a few.  The total for lunch came to approximately US$30 per adult, which is insane when you consider the quality and quantity of the food that we ate.  
I really don't understand how people in Taiwan are not fat.  Here are some of the dishes I mentioned.

The pork knuckle and noodle dish was a complimentary one gifted from the restaurant in honor of Miss Lola - wishing her a long and prosperous life.  Noodles are very symbolic in Chinese culture for longevity (and these were especially long and unbroken, specially cooked in bundles).  Incidentally, it was also the dish that Lola liked the most.
I also specifically mention the star fruit because this was the first time Lola tried it.  For those of you who haven't had it before, it is a bit tart but still sweet, and apparently Lola has her mama's taste buds because she went mad for it!  I think she gnawed through nearly 5 or 6 huge slices.  This reminds me of some of my earliest memories from when I spent my summers in Taiwan, just chowing down on fruit.  And here we are, some thirty years later...

During the meal, the babies played together a little bit (Lola stroked EnEn's jumper which had little rabbits on it, they touched each other's hair, Lola tried to feed pebbles to EnEn) and seemed to genuinely enjoy each other's company.  EnEn also dutifully delivered about 8 rocks to Michael, having decided he was her favorite.

After lunch the beautiful cake was brought out and then we had a little cake and gift opening ceremony.

Michael bought Lola a huge calculator - like, truly, a massive one, with the biggest buttons.  It's a humorous and fitting present because Lola has yet to see something (mouse, keyboard, calculator, phone) with buttons that she can resist, and she broke Michael's first calculator (which she still played with sometimes).
I got Lola a 12-pack of assorted play-doh, some glow sticks (which we immediately broke out and distributed among the little girls) and a bath book that changed colors once it got wet.  We got Lola a little train set separately, but that we did not bother to drag to Taiwan.  We also brought some little presents for BeBe and EnEn.

We were fortunate enough to get one picture with the dads, and one picture with the moms.

Throughout these pictures, you will note that Lola is constantly eating something - well, that's star fruit!  Unfortunately, she got her finger by accident once.  Ouchie!

But it was nothing a little more star fruit and a big calculator could not solve.

After lunch, we headed back to our hotel because we hoped to coax Lola to nap before her "Zhua Zhou" event.  These characters literally translate into "grabbing the cycle."  This is a Taiwanese birthday tradition for a baby's first birthday, where she is given the opportunity to pick among a bunch of items laid out before her.  Supposedly what she picks symbolizes or predicts her future career/personality/hobbies.  I think people run the gamut in terms of how seriously or lightly they take it - I really just thought it would be fun to have everyone come together, give Lola blessings, let her play with some objects for fun, and get a bunch of nice photos taken.  We went to a professional company so we have a lot of pictures and even some (I'm sure laughably bad) video clips.  I'll go into details on this fun event and upload pictures in my next blog post!

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