What I really think about birthdays


When my birthday came around last week, I was planning to do what I've been doing for many years - nothing.

In fact, since I started working, my birthday has passed just like any other day. I go to the office. I don't talk about my birthday.

I don't take the day off.

Sometimes I don't even realise it's my birthday until the day has passed.

While it usually goes by without controversy, this year, it has appalled several of my friends to the extent that they texted me about it that day, nagging me to take time off for myself.

"I can't believe you didn't take leave on your birthday," one said.

"I can't believe they didn't let you take leave on your birthday," another said, assuming the worst of my employer.

In all, at least half a dozen friends asked me, with their message being: "You should be relaxing!"

This, of course, only stressed me out further. So, in between doing interviews and filing a story, I had to explain to them why I was doing interviews and filing a story.

The truth is, I haven't celebrated my birthday for years because seriously, what's there to celebrate?

It's not a major achievement to be born into this world when billions of people have done it.

If anything, my mother should be the one celebrating, since she put in the most effort on the day of my birth. "Thank you, God," she should be saying as she is presented with a cake and gifts from her family.

"After all that agony at KK Hospital Ward 35, at least Cheng Wee didn't become a drug peddlar."

To throw them off my back, I asked my friends why I should celebrate my birthday, to which one suggested "because it's the longest time you've ever been alive".

"Um, this applies every day," I replied.

Another friend said I should "give thanks for coming into this world". In which case, their suggestions for me to take a day off so I can "laze around" or "go to the spa" seem rather inappropriate.

Actually, if I did take a day off for some "me time", as a friend put it, I suspect I'll spend most of that day pondering the meaning of my existence - and feeling rather sad at my minimal contributions to the world. So coming to work would make me happier.

Besides, I feel birthdays are only fun and worth celebrating when you're seven years old, or 70. At those ages, your friends and family really do want to gather for the occasion and maybe coo around you a bit.

For many decades in between, however, birthday celebrations just seem rather unnecessary or worse - and this is a real possibility when you've hit 37 like me - a desperate cry for attention.

The one good point that was brought up was that taking a day off would at least prevent you from having your birthday ruined.

That I understand. Birthdays are like the next few Star Wars films - by this stage, I don't need them to be fantastic, but they better not be terrible.

Yet as journalists, events might just conspire to foist a difficult assignment at you anytime. Taking a day off doesn't prevent that entirely, but at least reduces the likelihood.

Anyway, this year's birthday turned out to be a busy day at work for me, as I was writing up a story, settling a load of administrative work and placating my aforementioned naggy friends.

With all this stuff on my plate, I wasn't too pleased when a weird request came from a colleague from the next cubicle.

"Can you help me get the copy of Time magazine from the meeting room?" he bellowed.

"Why can't you get it yourself, you bum?" was what I thought.

"Yes, okay sure," was what I actually said, while murmuring something about how I must get another job before my next birthday.

When I opened the door, though, I was greeted by another colleague, holding in her hands a cake, adorned with five lit candles.

Turns out Facebook had given my birthday away.

I may not care much for celebrating my birthday, but a cake with candles still leaves me grinning from ear to ear. "You know I'm not five years old, right?" I asked with a laugh, after the initial surprise and embarrassment wore off.

Five represents good fortune to the Chinese, she replied, as my other colleagues streamed in.

A birthday surprise. Actually, I did feel like I was five years old again, as I thanked them repeatedly.

Told you you shouldn't take leave on your birthday.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 18, 2015, with the headline 'No birthday celebration please, but a cake? How nice'. Print Edition | Subscribe