Friday, November 24, 2006

Celebrating Birthdays

The month has been a completely mad rush of Bible study prep, actual Bible studies, recce-ing camp locales, writing seminars during conference calls, re-writing talks, late-night meetings, rescheduling timetable clashes, planning games, all on top of the usual workweek featuring a rash of board meetings and an outbreak of crossborder negotiations.

But still. November was for birthdays. And there were birthday boys and birthday girls and celebrations galore.
Graze at Rochester ParkAt Rochester Park, the numero sette of the Da Paolo stable: a bistro and bar in and around a colonial black-and-white, with an outdoor showkitchen and a line of chef whites, like dancers in a modern ballet, bustling to the music of anchovies thick on brushetta and stolid dependable pastas and meats. "Excuse me," said someone, looking around distractedly after the Lilliputian portions'd been polished off,"did I accidentally inhale something?"

On another celebratory night, the allegedly JIA/OPIA-inspired Graze next door: silent black-and-white films, pre-dinner aperitifs at Mint Bar for the tough day at work, a mound of thick hot chips and fierce portions of barbecued meat and fish (which put paid to all rabbit-nibbling grass-munching fears). After the excitement over presents and a surprise! birthday cake, into the night and under the stars we went, spilling the dirt on our own lives, in full joyful assurance of being kicked swiftly in the ass as needed but also of being loved unconditionally nonetheless.

Tanglin VillageHacienda at Tanglin Village
Over in the area-formerly-known-as-Dempsey: the mushrooming of new watering holes; ordered trendiness, courtesy, alas, of a Singapore Land Authority initiative. Apparently sprouting fully-formed from the same minds that thought "good class bungalows" a thoroughly fetching description and "nestled in the lush greenery of" a glowing literary turn of phrase, the area was renamed Tanglin Village, much to the derision of the spirits haunting the institutions of Wine Network, The Wine Company, P.S. Café and Highwood and Samy's Curry, whose leasehold days are numbered.

At Michael Lu's Hacienda: white tentage, lazy ceiling fans, rows of deck chairs, cosy cul-de-sacs, downtempo chillout sounds, passable pints, decent kir royales, very watery watermelon margaritas and al fresco attempts to fly to the moon on a squeaky swing. The watery watermelon margaritas were sent back to the bartender and they returned just as watery. "Maybe," said a wag as we peered condescendingly at the contents of the glass,"it's just that watermelon, you know, like, water.melon. has water?" And he beamed smugly at his own genius.

On another night, Yeow of Whitelabel, fresh from his New York trip, thumped out great tunes for all amongst the red heliconias and under the giant banyan tree, for the hipsters who wore nothing but cologne, structured cotton jackets and skinny jeans, and for the alluring tanned transcontinentals with mixed-up accents and mixed-up features and new clothes shops in the offing - guerrilla like Comme des Garçons, and for us who sauntered in shamelessly, togged most fashionably in old T-shirts and flipflops.

On yet another night, at The Wine Company, there was much wine and cheese and gesturing and then more wine and cheese and gesturing until we were hustled out at 1am, whereupon we took the remains of the wine and cheese and gestures round to the front and sat by the road drinking and nibbling and talking and gesturing until the cheese spiked the wine, or was it the wine that spiked the cheese.

And on still yet another night, at Oosh, with Bjork on the screens and outdoor terraces still wrapped in plastic, a waiter, when asked how big a portion of dessert was, pointed politely with his thumb at the empty plates on the next table and replied confidently,"Exactly that size."

Brasserie WolfDown by the Singapore River, at the Esmirada-owned Brasserie Wolf: easy-going Philippe Nouzillat, mopping up the remains of demi-douzaine d’escargots au beurre d'ail with pieces of bread, pan-fried foie gras better than the most recent chunks at Saint Pierre, stealing bits of other people's carré d'agneau, blindsiding the coq au vin and trashing out, with many detours, the structure of a talk (itself, a detour from other discussions on a kaleidoscope of topics). Later, by the Singapore River, the path was shiny like a road of fairy lights, an umbrella was opened for spin-drying, an empty 1-litre Evian bottle was brandished threateningly to halt the stream of effusive thanks, and we strolled along, laughing, like viva la compagnie:
Let every good fellow now join in a song
Viva la compagnie!
Success to each other and pass it along
Viva la compagnie!

Viva la, viva la, viva l'amour
Viva la, viva la, viva l'amour
Viva l'amour, viva l'amour
Viva la compagnie.

A friend on the left and a friend on the right
Viva la compagnie!
In love and good fellowship, let us unite
Viva la compagnie!


Now wider and wider our circle expands
Viva la compagnie!
We sing to our comrades in far away lands
Viva la compagnie!


Should time or occasion compel us to part
Vive la compagnie!
These days shall forever enliven our heart
Vive la compagnie!

Chicks On Speed CollageAnd on some other occasion, Zouk hosted the crazy chicks from Chicks On Speed, whom, it has been said, are all electroclash, electro-trash, punk-rock, new wave, synth-pop, indie design, avant-garde paper and leather clothing, deconstructed art, interactive gigs and cutting-edge vibes.

Whatever, we said. "Creatives" we are not.

So for the last Heineken Green Room session of 2006, there was making like a universal blank canvas and drawing and painting everywhere: the clear panel outside, the white walls around the dancefloor, the lean bodies of a male and female model each on a pedestal, our faces with black mascara and garish body paint, the T-shirts...

About the T-shirts: because there were cardboard robots bleeping "Customise. Customise. Customise." before they tripped over each other in the dim light, and because there was a station to accessorise one's couture with rips and tears and pompoms and feathers and clothes pegs and fluorescent markers and light sticks, and then another for feather boas and tiaras and aviator glasses, and then yet another for wigs of all colours (sometimes more than one on each wig), there was an excess of people with afros and, on their backs, downward arrows of glowing tape. One read so enthusiastically and so pleadingly:"Hi! I'm Edmund! Touch my butt!", that we reached out a charitable leg to kick him.

It is possible that "bitch" has not been uttered so affectionately in one place in Singapore by so many happy men as that fateful night. On stage, the crazy Chicks were prancing, dancing, jiiving, screaming, stripping, mixing, clanging paint strippers. On the multimedia screen: rappinghoodgirlmonsters and several minutes of "Woah. Was that a full-frontal pre-Brazilian?!" before the management hastily pulled the plug. On the dancefloor: rainbow wigs, arms in the air, strawberry smokes, Heineken glugging and penguin-shuffling while clutching jugs of Long Island Tea. And then, a moment of feather boa envy as a German snuck mine off and twirled it around his neck like a trophy, grinning triumphantly.

And when the revelry'd wrapped up, the birthday boys and the birthday girls were snug and quiet in their passenger seats, eyelashes soft on their cheeks, like the happy tiredness of a good night out.

Celebrating Birthdays
If birthday celebrations are nothing more than a bit of vacuous existentialist fun, why do we even bother with them?

Jehovah Witnesses abstain from birthday celebrations. Their topical Bible guidebook, "Reasoning from the Scriptures" notes that the Bible makes reference to only two birthday celebrations and in both cases they are held in a somewhat negative light: (1) the Pharaoh's birthday when he has his chief baker hanged (Genesis 40:20-22); and (2) Herod's birthday when John the Baptist is beheaded (Matthew 14:6-10). It then concludes that God isn't too keen on birthday celebrations and officially forbids them as a result. Origen, writing in 245AD reached a similar conclusion, saying:
A certain one of those before us has observed what is written in Genesis about the birthday of Pharaoh, and has told that the worthless man who loves things connected with birth keeps birthday festivals; and we, taking this suggestion from him, find in no Scripture that a birthday was kept by a righteous man. (Second Tome of the Commentary on Matthew, Book X, Chapter 22)
(Job 1:4, on this matter, seems pretty inconclusive.)

However, the JW's use of the Genesis and Matthew passages seems to be a misreading of a descriptive as a prescriptive. In any case, like much of the glorious freedom of a Christian's life, it is not rules and regulations that please God but the heart and mind behind our actions: do we follow the ways of the world, the magisterium of materialism, that presents birthdays as excuses for self-centredness and self-glorification? Or do we see them as occasions for centering on and glorifying God?

Immense joy can be derived from having the birthday boys and girls in our lives and we are right to rejoice in such stupendous serendipity.

Yet, life is not something manufactured by the hands of man, nor relationships by a nebulous concept called "fate". All life and all joy in life are ultimately gifts from God and it is right that we celebrate his goodness in forming us and continuing to sustain us with lifebreath each passing year, month, day, hour, minute and second. So the psalmist waxes lyrical in Psalm 139:
you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother's womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
If any one should be celebrated on the anniversaries of the dates of our biological births, it should be God, for only he is truly deserving of such celebration. We did nothing to give ourselves life. Additionally, as Christians, our biological birthdates point us to our spiritual birthdates for the Bible delights in using the universal phenomena of birth and life as metaphors to speak of our salvation:
Jesus answered, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.(John 3:5-6)

since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God (1 Peter 1:23)
So even as we celebrate the God who gave us lifebreath, we also celebrate the God who chose us before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight (Ephesians 1:4) and we celebrate Jesus our Christ, who gave himself up for us, that by believing in him we shall not perish, but have eternal life (John 3:16).

Furthermore, as children of God, assured of our place in the new heavens and new earth, we celebrate each passing year as a year nearer to glory. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul speaks of the importance of the historical veracity of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead:
if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.

But someone will ask, "How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?" You foolish person! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. For not all flesh is the same, but there is one kind for humans, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. There are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is of one kind, and the glory of the earthly is of another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory.

So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.

Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

"Death is swallowed up in victory."
"O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?"

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
We celebrate our lives and the lives of our brothers and sisters in full gratitude to the Creator and Sustainer of all creation, who provides us with all good things - family, friendships, our bodies, our minds, our senses, loving relationships, food, drink, yea, even the undeserved forgiveness of our rebellion against him and so, eternal life in relationship with him. We celebrate our confidence and the confidence of our brothers and sisters that because of the historical truthfulness of the death and resurrection of Jesus, there will come a day when death will be no more and our painful struggle with sin will be no more and our perishable dishonourable bodies will be raised imperishable and glorious forever.

3 Rochester Park, Singapore 139214
Tel: (65) 6774 5537

4 Rochester Park, Singapore 139215
Tel: (65) 6775 9000

13A Dempsey Road, Singapore 249674
Tel: (65) 6476 2922

Block 14-3 Dempsey Road, Singapore 249688
Tel: (65) 6479 9341

22 Dempsey Road, Singapore 249679
Tel: (65)

#01-13 The Pier at Robertson
80 Mohamed Sultan Road, Singapore 239013
Tel: (65) 6835 7818

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At November 23, 2006 5:10 pm , Anonymous Anonymous said...

on ne le dira jamais assez

At November 24, 2006 11:13 am , Anonymous timz said...


Heh. It's still Thanksgiving in this part of the world.

What did you do for Thanksgiving?


At December 02, 2006 7:20 pm , Anonymous Ground control said...

Earth to Shadow! Earth to Shadow! Come in Shadow! Over.

At December 05, 2006 12:19 pm , Blogger shadow said...

anonymous: :-)

timz: Hehheh. Thanksgiving was turkey and salad and wine! Aiyah, how to say "no" when in the evite, there is a turkey running away from murderer/murderers unknown, an exclamation mark over his head and his gobblegobble red snood and wattle a-swaying in the wind, and the text is:"Quick come! The turkey has been slaughtered!"?

ground control: This is Major Tom to Ground Control!
I'm stepping through the door
And I'm floating in a most peculiar way
And the stars look very different today

For here
Am I sitting in a tin can
Far above the world
Planet Earth is blue
And there's nothing I can do



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