Jeanne must be feeling like John ‘Hannibal’ Smith of the A-Team saying – ‘I love it when a plan comes together’. She managed to recruit our friends to launch a surprise party masterfully crafted that left me guessing ’til the very day. Let me tell you how I saw the surprise unfolded on what is my best birthday ever in 50 years.
To begin with, I have never celebrated my birthday in a grand way. A dinner here or lunch with few friends. I can’t even remember what I did on my 30th, and my 40th was a special dinner at home by the 4 of us. I was expecting the same on my 50th, so I thought – and how wrong was I. When Jeanne asked me what I wanted for my birthday – I said let’s just have dinner. My birthday happens to be on a day when people are already partied out from Christmas and New Year. The Christmas bills are more likely to be received on this day, thus we’ve always kept my birthday celebration modest.
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A few days before the day, my youngest suggested that we go for a bike ride at the park then she’ll shout us my birthday dinner. She added that I could pick the restaurant. Closer to the day however, we’ve learned that the forecast will be on high 30s – a stinker. So I suggested that we go for a swim instead. I took the suggestion to go for a ride as a tell that they are planning a surprise. But when Jessica said – ‘Yes let’s go for a swim instead’, it made me re-think that perhaps it was not.
The night before my birthday however, Jessica suggested that we do both, go for a ride as well as pack some swimming gears. I thought to myself, she’s brilliant in putting the cycling back and that I am now certain something is cooking. Then she kept changing the time when we’re suppose to start riding – which throws me off because she’s being her usual self of moving things around to fit her schedule. She can’t be coordinating this. Add to that, she started calling restaurants to book dinner, for which I though, if they were planning a party, why would she still book a fancy dinner. Anyway – I gave up guessing and decided I’ll just let the day unfold que-sera-sera. I went to the gym that night and on my way home – Jeanne asked me to buy bottled water to bring to the park. Still playing safe – I bought small bottles for the bikes and large bottles in case she meant for a party I’m not suppose to know. (Jeanne later admitted that this freaked her out when she saw the large bottles, thinking the surprise is busted.)
On my birthday – no one seems to be in a hurry to go to the park. Jeanne also told me to bring the small bottles – so that also threw me off as it was the logical choice if we’re just going for a ride. Celine also gave me my gift, a Garmin heart rate monitor for when I go running, ride or simply working out. She also want me to read the manuals right there. Jeanne is still working on something on the computer and Jessica is taking her time at the shower. (Later, I learned these were all deliberate to stall for time as they don’t want me at the park before 10am). They even had a plan-B if ever I start being myself and demand that we leave right now. They are to agree and at a certain point beg me to drive back home pretending that one of them (more likely Celine) left something important.When we got to the park, I headed to the bike hire and found Ivor and Elizabeth having a casual coffee preparing for a ride. I told them we’re going for a ride as well, if they want to join us then head off to Concord West later for lunch. I’ll shout them as it’s my birthday. They agreed. I also mounted a camera on my bike – a Christmas gift from Jeanne which she wants me to try before I use it for my planned trip to Mt. Everest later this year. About 10 minutes into the ride, as we turned into the mangroves – we saw Trish and Drew. At this point there was no doubt in my mind that these were no coincidences. However, Jeanne had kept it really well and I’ve decided to play along – it took me this long to figure out – I might as well go the full nine yards.
A few more minutes into the ride and we meet Tito Rudy and Mark, who just happen to go for a ride this day on a 35 degree forecast because – as Mark said, he got a two-for-one deal on the bike hire. Great, I thought, everyone is sticking to their script. We all went riding further – when a few riders were falling back, so Drew decided to go back for them. When we gather the troops again – Drew came with his brilliant excuse that his knees are playing up and that we all have to head back. Of course I know that the main party must have been already convened and that we’re already being called. As we ride closer to the main park – I was already looking at pavilions where some groups were gathered. Just as we reached the fountain we saw the Flaxies. Dave could not keep a straight face why he happen also to be at the park and the kids blurted that they’re going for a picnic. As we continued the ride through the fountains – I saw the distinctive profile of Tito Raul and a large crowd behind him. My heart swelled with joy as I saw the size of the crowd. I can’t believe this – I just can’t believe this. I didn’t even know I had this much friends.I was the last rider to come in – and I stopped at the middle of the entrance with everyone singing Happy Birthday – all I want at this time is to give Jeanne a big hug as I have never felt so much joy seeing my friends in one big gathering. A number of the gents were wearing Hawaiian shirts, the ladies were wearing grass skirts and leis. Then they started singing and dancing Pearly Shells. As they were dancing – my sister Helen came out off the line, dancing too – it was the icing on the cake – I have not expected her to make another 1000km trip to Sydney after having been here just a few days ago on New Year’s Eve. It is truly a big surprise, way beyond I have imagined.
Naming on this blog, friends who made it or left messages through Jeanne, is risking missing someone and they are all special to me. But Jeanne asked big favours on a number of our friends to make this day happen. Drew and Ivor came one weekend at the park to plot the route. They planned where riders will be positioned so that as we ride we bump to more and more friends joining the ride. Tricia who has not riden for years, had her bike serviced and tow bars installed as she said she would not miss this for the world. Fe and the Wonder Girls – Lisa, Beng and Vivien were in charge with all decorations. Harold enthusiastically volunteered to be the camera man. Tita Agnes made sure we had enough tables and Tita Luisa would have brought her new BBQ griller if not for the fire ban. Tom and Jeremy did a lot of the leg work for the logistics and everyone had brought something to share. There were friends from Nielsen, Texas Instruments, Harana, Ex-Neighbours, our South American Tour Group, Old and New friends. Each person I hug or shook hands with had stories to tell – one thing in common though – they all knew about this day months ago. Emails and messages have been flying busily preparing for this day all were so excited to see it unfold. They all had managed to keep it to themselves or at least never tipped me off. It was indeed a very lovely day. I have not smiled, laugh and felt so good on a party – it is indeed a very Happy Happy Birthday. Big Thank You to everyone who shared on this day.
After the party, we decided to go for a swim at the Sydney Aquatic Centre in Homebush. Tito Atoy and Tita Tess joined us there as they were unable to make it to the picnic. But this couple always make us feel special as they would always find time in their busy schedule between running a business and various community groups.
It is also around this time that my sister Levs sent me a text to login to Skype. I only had my dying iPhone but it was enough to connect and had the chance to see my youngest brother Jun in Baguio, my older brother Cess who was with Levs in Calgary and of course my sister Khorz in Vancouver. It was difficult to sustain any meaningful conversation as we were bouncing videos across computers, iPads and iPhones. With Manang Helen on my side – they all sang Happy Birthday albeit the delays. It was really great as we don’t do enough of this get together despite all the technology available to us.
Manang Helen, to keep her presence in Sydney unknown to us (including Jeanne) stayed at the Novotel in Homebush. We had our dinner there instead of the one arranged by Jessica. To Jessica’s credit – she had every intention of shouting us dinner after the party, but Manang Helen had already packaged her stay and our dinner at the hotel. In fact she even shouted us a room to spend the night at the Novotel.
At the dinner, we were joined by Ryan, Angie and Jeremy. We were also joined by Remy and Mar who also brought their gift having been unable to make it to the picnic. The next morning – we had breakfast at the hotel with Tita Sony.
All good things come to an end, however, we all drove out from the hotel with Manang Helen following us all the way to M7 where we waved goodbye as she head off to a 1000k return to Melbourne and us returning home filled with the memory of the previous day.
Special thanks to Chris of Bike Hire at Sydney Olympic Park. Our bikes were provided free of charge for the day. It is always enjoyable to go for a ride at Bicentennial Park and sometimes you just want to go for a short ride. So leave your bikes at home and rent worry free. The new hybrids are so light – they are a pleasure to ride. That’s my bit of a plug for our friend Chris – but really I enjoy bringing guests here because showing them the park on a bike is always something special.