Lavish Birthday Party For 7-Year-Old Isabella

Someone forwarded me this Facebook album of a Filipino girl’s 7th birthday party which will put many Singaporeans’ wedding banquets to shame.

Organised by one of the best event organisers in the country, dining tables were dressed to the nines with a ceiling decked out with matching chandeliers, balloons and flowers.

The centrepiece was a stage with the girl’s name ‘Isabella’ spelt out in big, cursive font.

7 is a special age in Filipino culture and families will throw a special birthday party but “nobody does that,” a Filipino colleague said of the party’s extravagance.

Princess theme

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Unsurprisingly, the theme of the party was princes and princesses. Children were encouraged to dress up for the theme to potentially take home a ‘best dressed’ prize. Attendants were told via the invite not to wear blue, reserved for Isabella and her family.

Now I know how to make myself feel special for my next birthday party: reserving an entire shade for myself.

To top it off, there were performances by ballet dancers, professional singers, acrobats and my personal favourite—a slew of Disney princesses who belted out a song.

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Isabella’s birthday party

When I witness the theatrical pomp of Isabella’s birthday party, I can only imagine many children dreaming of being in her position. What the party signals is that her life is set out for her, being able to have anything she desires.

How are her parents going to top it off for her sweet 16? Having all the Disney princesses serenade you is already quite a high bar.

Would getting a car as a present mean anything if you are already that affluent?

I am reminded of many teenage celebrities who go through a personal crisis; they reached a level of fame and success at a young age without the experience or temperance to handle it.

After all, if your life peaks at 18, does it only go downhill from there?

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Law of diminishing returns

One useful concept I took away from ‘A’ levels economics is the law of diminishing returns. It tells us that the utility or pleasure of a product or experience diminishes the more you have it.

1 cup of bubble tea = feels great.
2 cups of bubble tea = full with a sugar high
3 cups of bubble tea = sick stomach

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You get the idea. In a capitalist society, we think having more is better, but I remind myself of this concept to stay level-headed when I can’t get what I want. I have learnt that our desires can sometimes just be an illusion.

Birthday regrets

When I was a child, all I wanted was a Mickey Mouse cake from the neighbourhood bakery. You know, the ones made with coloured jam and icing.

But time and again, my parents denied me, saying the cake did not taste good. Instead, we settled for a coffee or pandan kaya cake from Bengawan Solo.

It was my damn birthday and I didn’t get what I wanted.

Growing up in the 90s, birthday party rooms were always part of McDonald’s. Most times, the rooms would be empty but sometimes, I witnessed children and their families playing games while wearing party hats. I would look through the veiled door with a heavy sense of envy.

A submission to Singapore Memory Project of a 90s McDonald’s birthday party.

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My requests for a McDonald’s birthday party over the years fell on deaf ears.

My first birthday party

At age 12, it became the rage to hold birthday parties at home. It was PSLE year and a birthday party was a good way to end our primary school journey with friends.

So for once, my parents gave me what I wanted for my birthday—a freaking birthday party where I would be the star of the show and people would travel great distances bearing gifts just for me.

Needless to say, I was extremely excited, as if my life boiled down to this one moment.

How did it turn out? It was just alright.

I don’t even remember what I received that year. All I remembered was many friends and relatives came and I felt exhausted trying to spend time with different groups of people. To be honest, I didn’t even have any fun.

My all-important first birthday party was a hard-hitting lesson about expectations vs reality before memes were a thing in 1998.

I learnt that you don’t always like what you thought you wanted after you get it.

Lessons Growing Up

As the number of candles on your birthday cakes increases, the meaning you attribute to the day decreases (at least in my experience).

I have had birthdays with many attendees, with one attendee, and with no attendees.

One year, a close relative had passed away two days earlier and I celebrated my birthday with only one close friend on a cold winter’s night in New York. It was snowing and we hopped into a small restaurant for a drink.

It was morose.

When I see the gorgeous gown Isabella wears and the confetti, I think, God bless this child because she does not have to shiver in the slums like many of her fellows. A Filipino friend explained some children would decline a celebration and ask for a simple gift or food when they turn 7 instead.

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Some years, I still find myself fantasizing what a perfect birthday would look like. It no longer involves a crown, McDonald’s or even Gucci.

Birthdays are important because for that one day in a year, we can feel special just for existing without having done anything great; a human need that is rarely fulfilled.

These days, my ideal birthday cake is the green pandan kaya cake from Bengawan Solo with my name written in pink. It reminds me of who I was when I was a child—untainted and hopeful.

To be quite honest, I wouldn’t mind if Pocahontas, Mulan, and the Little Mermaid appeared to serenade me as well.

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