A friend of mine asked me to leave early with her from the office one day. She was leading me around to various venues in Quezon City. We would meet with the staff at each one, inquiring about the venue’s party space.
“What do you think of this place for a surprise birthday party?” she asked me.
“Well if you’re gonna have a surprise party in the Philippines, Jollibee seems like the best place for it.”
Little did I know her intentions.
We arrived at the third venue, a McDonald’s off of Katipunan. There awaiting us in the party space was every familiar face I’d gotten to know thus far in the Philippines. My officemates, friends of friends, even the building’s receptionists. All yelling, “Surprise!” as we made our entrance.
Surprised I was. Emotional, even, seeing as this was the first surprise party anyone had ever given me.
To see all these people I’d gotten to know in the few short months since I arrived, all there willing to support and celebrate my entrace into “alcohol age”, was truly heart warming. And boy do Filipinos know how to throw a party.
I had a bit of an affinity towards Taylor Swift back then. Her songs reminded me of my hometown and life in America. After landing in the Philippines for the very first time, her song “Love Story” was the first to play on the radio. And so my officemates decided to pitch in and get me a standee of her likeness. You know, in case I got lonely or something.
We ate the most American food we could enjoy: chicken McNuggets, burgers, fries. Most of us, anyway. A couple party goers opted for the “McSpag”, a sweet spaghetti menu option only served in the Philippines.
We danced. We told jokes. We had a surprise visit from Grimace who bestowed me a gift from my development team: a Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf mug signed by my crush at the time. She had even put a little heart next to her name. My heart swelled. Not over the crush’s note, though that played a part, but due to the compassion from the team I was leading. For them to know what I wanted probably more than anything at the time.
The party later moved to a karaoke bar. I, of course, busted out my falsetto versions of Taylor Swift’s Love Story, Forever & Always, and of course the crowdpleaser: White Horse (since, you know, I was their favorite white guy).
Nevermind that I was the only white guy many of them knew. 😅
The drinking age in the Philippines is “you’re a white guy so we don’t care” (but seriously it’s 18). So endulging in my first alcoholic beverage had already happened some time ago. Despite that, I’d ordered a round of Red Horse beers, my favorite at the time. Every couple of bottles of that beer and you’ll get what’s called a “happy horse”. The horse logo on the bottle will be smiling, and you’ll be chugging away at a higher-than-normal ABV.
Sure enough, my first beer that night was a happy horse. How fitting.
The festivities went on into the night, each of us singing our favorite songs, laughing, and all around having a good time. Suddenly home didn’t feel so far away anymore. I was where I needed to be. And I can safely say I had a 21st birthday unlike any other, one I continue to think of fondly to this day.
I owe it all to my friends there. Thank you.