By Kazuya Muto
June 30 was a rainy day — perfect weather for how I felt. It was my birthday, and nothing was happening. No one had even mentioned it. Admittedly, hardly anyone in Sydney knew that it was my birthday, but still I couldn't help hoping.
Then, in the afternoon, around 3:30, the phone rang. It was my friend Shirley, and she said, "Hi, Kazu, are you ready?" I wasn't sure what she was talking about. "Ready for what?" I asked, and she just said, "Three, two, one, HAPPY BIRTHDAY!" Then some other friends came on the line and wished me happy birthday. I was surprised, and I just kept on saying, "Thanks so much, thanks so much," over and over again. I wish I could have thought of a wittier reply.
My friends invited me to Pizza Hut that evening. There were six of us altogether — Shirley, Yoyo, Wen and Helen, who are Chinese, Phillipe, who is French, and me. They were all people I had met at Language School in the weeks leading up to First Semester. It had been a difficult time for me (I had just arrived in Australia and I wasn't used to my new surroundings), and it had also been a time when I met a lot of great new people from around the world. Meeting them again always makes me feel a little sentimental.
We chatted over cake about what we had been doing, our courses and, of course, the World Cup. Everyone was so talkative, especially Phillipe, who was always ready with a witty joke to make us laugh. We laughed a lot, and at the very end they gave me a bottle of sambuca, a traditional Italian liquor. "Drink and enjoy the World Cup tonight," they said.
I got home around 10 p.m. Robert had e-mailed me, kindly wishing me happy birthday, which was a very pleasant surprise as I don't remember ever telling him when it was. Everyone at home looked at the remains of the birthday cake I had brought back with me and said, "Why didn't you tell us it was your birthday?" And so began Part II of my birthday celebrations.
Over cake and beer, we talked a little about the different ways of celebrating birthdays. Then as everyone became a little tipsy, we moved to more serious cultural problems, like Yasukuni Shrine, Taiwan and China. All of the issues were highly controversial, and it was very interesting hearing the opinions of Chinese and Taiwanese people of my age.
I was also impressed with how concerned they were about these issues, and how they voiced their thoughts so clearly and logically. If I was vague, they would always pull me up, and they never hesitated to disagree, but not in a hostile way. They enjoyed talking and learning from others. We talked to about four in the morning and completely forgot about watching the World Cup.
Later, as I lay in bed, I looked back on my 20th birthday, and to be honest, I felt a little lonely. Of course, it was an amazing experience to be able to celebrate my birthday with my new friends in Sydney, and I will never forget the conversation we had that night. But at the same time, I wished some of my close friends in Japan were here too. I fell asleep, swearing that I would always treasure my friends.
Shukan ST: July 21, 2006
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