Once Upon a Time in China Part 6: The Story of a Birthday Cake

bya Gabrielle at 11:20 AM

One evening, in Fuyang, Phil and I were invited to attend one of Phil’s student’s birthday party. For the life of me, up until 5 minutes ago, I couldn’t remember the name of this student. I’m sure that you don’t care, but it was about to drive me mad. I hate when I can’t remember stupid stuff. Anyway, the student’s name was Alan, it was his 16th or 17th birthday, I can’t recall, and he wanted his two new foreign friends to celebrate with him. We gladly accepted the invitation, of course. Alan was a good student and actually seemed like he wanted to be our friend, unlike many others who just wanted to tote us around and show us off like we were an exotic breed of dog.

Alan told us to meet him at the school gate after class. He didn’t live too far away, so we all decided just to walk to his parent’s house. When he finally got to the school gate, he looked very troubled and sad. Apparently, he had somehow lost the 200 yuan(RMB) that his parents had given him to use at KTV – Karaoke TV – later that night. He thought someone in his class had taken it, but since he didn’t have a clue who, there wasn’t a whole lot we could do about it. We offered to give him the money, but he politely declined. Some of his fellow classmates, who were also going to be in attendance at his party, were going to help him out. He made us promise not to tell his parents.

We first stopped by his grandmother’s house – at least that is who I think it was. She was old and they seemed related. We sat there for a while basically staring at each other. She didn’t speak any English, and our Chinese was limited – conversation was almost impossible. Alan translated a little for us. She gave us some tea, and when we were done, we walked a few more blocks to his house.

We arrived to find Alan’s father cooking in the kitchen. If I remember correctly, his father was a cook in a local restaurant, but don’t quote me on that. His parents, like his grandmother, spoke no English – besides hello. They greeted us with huge, happy smiles on their faces. Phil and I sat down on the couch and started sucking on some sugar cane that we saw cut up in a bowl on the coffee table. I always expected sugar cane to be more, well, sugary, but this kind wasn’t. I wonder what they call a coffee table in Chinese since many of them don’t drink coffee. Hrm, I never thought of that before now. :)

Phil had brought his computer with him so that he could play some American music for everyone. Music always makes a party better, didn’t ya know? Well, the music that Phil played was a bit different than what they were all used to. A lot of it was harder than the typical music played on Chinese radio. If you’ve been to China, you know exactly what I am talking about. If you haven’t, most of the music, at least what I heard, is very soft and slow. I’d say a lot of their songs have a rather strong lulling effect. I tried picking out some softer music for them, and they seemed to like that a bit more.

After Alan’s father finished cooking and had all of the dishes placed on the table, both of Alan’s parents said goodbye and left. I was very confused. I asked Alan why his parents were leaving, and he said something like his parents didn’t want to bother us. Phil and I shrugged our shoulders and started digging into the feast that lay before us. All and all, it was an okay dinner. I wasn’t particularly fond of any one dish. Like at most birthday parties, the one thing I couldn’t stop thinking about was the birthday cake.

Birthday cakes in China are a little different from what us westerners are used to. The cake is more spongy, and the icing just tastes different. I don’t know exactly how to explain it. Also, a lot of the cakes come with fruit on it. Is it good? Yeah, it’s alright, but I still prefer the western cake a little more.

Well, soon after we polished off our table of food, someone brought the cake out of the refrigerator. In Fuyang, every time you bought a cake, you got a cool ass Lotus candle. (I’ve got a video of the one that was on my cake. I’ll post that soon.) It starts out closed up like a bud. A wick sticks out of the top. You light the wick and when it burns down, it lights all of the other wicks on fire. There are wicks on each of the petals. When all of the wicks catch a flame, It opens up like a flower blooming and sings Happy Birthday to you. It’s absolutely awesome and looks very pretty with all of the lights off. I haven’t seen anything like that here in the States before. Well, the flower bloomed, we sang, and the when started to cut the cake.

There is a tradition in my family, or rather, a cruel joke. Whenever we eat something that is mushy, like cake, ice cream, or mashed potatoes, we like to get a little bit silly. I’m sure everyone reading has probably seen it done. It goes like this. You hold the mushy substance close to your nose, smell it, make a face like it smells like something died, pick a target, and have someone come smell it for you to make sure that it really smells as bad as you say. When they lean in for the sniff you shove said substance up their nose. Laugh. Laugh. Laugh.

Well, more or less, that is what I told Alan, who had just cut himself a huge piece of cake. For a second he let the words settle in and then without any hesitation, turned and shoved the entire plate into one of his party guest’s face.

I was shocked. Phil was shocked. Everyone, especially the person that just had cake smashed into his face was shocked. And then war broke out.

The boy that had just been creamed, picked up what was remaining of the cake and threw it into Alan’s face. Alan took what was left and threw it at one the girls in attendance. Her silky black hair turned white and she started to scream. She retaliated and threw her piece back – not caring who it hit as long as it hit someone. Cake was flying everywhere. It was madness. All I could do was laugh and watch. I had tears rolling down my face. The apartment had been trashed.

“Oh, his parents are going to kill us, ” was all that I could think.

This must have gone on for several minutes before it finally calmed down. The girls had locked themselves in the bathroom – 1) to protect themselves from further attack and 2) to clean themselves up. They hadn’t looked so hot going in.

I had been smart, and saved my piece of cake. When all was said and done, I ate it.

We made sure to clean up the place a little bit. I really didn’t want his parents coming home to see what the Americans had let unfold in their absence. I’m sure they would never have been able to understand. I made a mental note to never tell a person who didn’t speak English as a first language my family’s little joke ever again. :) I found it funny that he skipped the whole, “Hey, smell my cake,” and just threw it. You really had to be there. It was crazy.

Once we had everything cleaned up, we left the apartment, hopped in a cab, and went to a local KTV to sing for the next several hours. Nothing else crazy happened that evening, besides seeing a woman fall flat on her ass as she walked over a bridge. It was old and slippery – made of marble or something like it. Poor thing broke her tail-bone I think.

And that is the story of the birthday cake. The moral of this story? Be very careful if anyone ever ask you to smell something. :)

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