Circuit breaker birthdays: Singaporeans get creative with celebrations

April babies (from left) Yue Kok Wai, Tan En Ying and Ridaudin Abdul Rasid were chipper about celebrating their birthdays indoors. PHOTOS COURTESY OF YUE KOK WAI, MELISSA CHUA, RIDAUDIN ABDUL RASID

SINGAPORE - Mr Yue Kok Wai had been looking forward to turning 28 abroad - either in the crisp Seoul air or surrounded by cherry blossoms in Japan.

But as travel restrictions kicked in with the spread of the coronavirus, the automation engineer's dream birthday plans were dashed.

He ended up with the next best thing - a home-cooked spread of Korean dishes.

In a way, it was a blessing. The preparation and cooking, which took two days, kept his parents from going out, he says.

Worried he might not be able to get a cake after tighter circuit breaker measures were announced on April 21, his father bought one from a bread shop the next day - two days before Mr Yue's birthday.

"(My birthday) went from no overseas trips to no meeting friends outside to almost no birthday cake," Mr Yue says with a wry laugh.

Actually, he had two cakes. His friends surprised him with one via Foodpanda, followed by a video call.

Mr Yue is not alone. Around the world, many are having to adapt celebrations in accordance with lockdown and social distancing guidelines, including not dining in at their favourite restaurant.

But April babies here The Sunday Times spoke to were chipper about celebrating their birthdays indoors. For them, a birthday in the time of coronavirus involved parties on teleconferencing app Zoom, food-delivery surprises and creative ways to connect with loved ones in isolation.

Mr Yue celebrated his birthday with his friends on Zoom and a spread of home-cooked and delivered food. PHOTOS: COURTESY OF YUE KOK WAI

After "six predictable birthday surprises", Dr Melissa Chua found it refreshing to plan a circuit breaker celebration for her fiance, Dr Tan En Ying.

The couple, both 26 and doctors in public institutions, had postponed their June wedding. But Dr Chua was not about to let her fiance's birthday pass uneventfully.

Over the three days leading up to his birthday on April 22, she and their friends surprised him with food and cake deliveries. She also coordinated Zoom calls with three groups of friends, including a friend who called in from the United States.

For the virtual party, she researched online group games. They even had a T-shirt design competition. On online gaming platform Steam, they played Tee K.O., a drawing game to create the funniest T-shirt prints. Keeping things light-hearted, they made it circuit breaker-themed.

The birthday boy lost.

Dr Tan says: "I was constantly primed by Melissa that there would be no surprises due to the circuit breaker. So after each surprise, I thought that was it and didn't expect more."

About a week earlier, graphic designer Ridaudin Abdul Rasid also had a virtual birthday party with his friends.

Disheartened by a cancelled holiday to attend the Coachella music festival in California - originally scheduled to run over two weekends in April - he had given up on celebrating his 30th birthday on April 13.

A conversation with a friend about mental health changed his mind. "He told me it's okay to have positive experiences like celebrating my birthday even during this crisis," Mr Ridaudin says.

Newly inspired, he planned a virtual party with a few close friends and designed a digital invitation with a dress code. The party took place on social networking app Houseparty.

Getting decorations and a cake were the biggest challenges.

Mr Ridaudin baked his own birthday cake and celebrated with close friends on the Houseparty app. PHOTOS: COURTESY OF RIDAUDIN ADBUL RASID

He ended up baking his own cake - a chocolate-coated vanilla sponge - using supplies in his kitchen. "I was proud to pull it off given the circumstances," he says of his first baking attempt.

The online dinner party lasted four hours. He secretly arranged McDonald's delivery to his friends' homes so everyone could enjoy a treat together. "Sharing these positive experiences with friends was truly priceless," he adds.

Mr Ridaudin surprised his friends with McDonald's delivery on his birthday. PHOTO: COURTESY OF RIDAUDIN ADBUL RASID

More still are finding a silver lining in turning a year older at home.

International operations manager Jeanne Vincent jokes that with three of four family members celebrating their birthday at home, "at least there's no jealousy".

Her birthday is on April 8, her four-year-old son's is on April 11, and her husband, Benoit, turns 35 on Monday (May 4).

As they also have a three-month-old son, the French expatriates had ruled out celebrating outside even before the circuit breaker.

For her 32nd birthday, Ms Vincent's husband organised a treasure hunt around their home, where she had to solve puzzles to find presents he bought.

For their elder son, they had hoped to invite his friends over.

Ms Vincent adds: "Once we heard about school closures (from April 8), we asked his teachers if he could celebrate his birthday at school with his friends, so they did on April 7."

At home, she baked a cake and printed pictures of Batman saying 'happy birthday'. They celebrated over a Skype call with their extended family in France.

For her husband's celebration on Monday, Ms Vincent intends to order in an Italian fine-dining meal - preferably from a place that sells tiramisu for a birthday cake.

In spite of the circumstances, the birthday babies agree that a circuit breaker birthday is a once-in-a-lifetime event.

Mr Yue says: "I would have been content with just a small family celebration, but to receive a surprise at home from friends far away is better than just meeting up for a meal treat. I realised how powerful simple gestures like this could be."

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