Detours from home: The pandemic cancelled my flight, but not my birthday

[Editor’s note: Detours from home is a Rappler column where readers can share about the new things they have been doing while in quarantine. In this essay, we get a glimpse of how a pandemic birthday looks like. You, too, can share your own Detours from home story.]

During the first weeks of the quarantine, I was still hopeful that my booked trip to Bangkok in June will push through, just in time for my birthday weekend. March passed, April happened, and then come May, I received an e-mail telling me that my flight was cancelled. 

For me, birthdays must be vibrantly celebrated. I feel this way perhaps to compensate for the childhood birthdays I spent at the beginning of a school year when you don’t consider your new classmates as your friends yet. And as I am in my twenties, it’s a “youth card” I am playing before I enter my thirties.

When I turned 21, I had my first pakain of sweet spaghetti to my first set of colleagues. I had my 23rdsalubong birthday in a restaurant in Makati with close friends and waiters singing for me. I celebrated my quarter of a century by hosting a quiz night, and when I welcomed my 26th year, I treated myself to a hotel staycation.

But how do I make my 27th birthday memorable?

I checked for a painting class, a hiking itinerary in Batangas to catch the sunrise and a golf club where I could play a new sport that’s allowed during the quarantine. The universe said no to all of these.

June 1 came and I was running out of ideas. I still wanted to celebrate my birthday outside of our house, probably to serve as my treat after having stayed at home for more than two months.

Perhaps I’ll just stay at home because, after this year, I thought I am bound for a new journey. I was hoping to finally take up graduate studies so last May, I applied for a program at a Thai university. June 10 came with the results – I was not accepted.

Okay, birthday at home then, I told myself acceptingly.

While I think of birthdays as lively parties, I realized that the blessings and life itself are its core reasons. I reflected on what has happened and realized that being safe at home with my family is more than enough reason to celebrate during a pandemic.

But I also found inspiration from my two setbacks – the cancelled trip to Bangkok and my failed acceptance to a Thai university. Voilà, I came up with a Thai-inspired birthday spread!

TASTE OF THAILAND. A spread of my favorite Thai food. All photos by Ralph Ferolino

I quickly searched for ingredients and came up with a grocery list. With my sister’s help, I cooked pad thai and chicken satay. It was also my first time making fresh spring rolls and chicken red curry. 

Then the artist in me has awakened – I bought an illustration board and wrote in Thai to show the menu. I set out a bright yellow table cloth to remind me of the golden palaces in Thailand and red plates to signify spices. For decors, I displayed my mom’s salakot and a sarong with elephant designs. And to maximize the cultural immersion, I wore a white polo and tied my long hair, just like how they do it in Thai BL series. 

It should have been my first time to visit Siam, but staying at home unleashed my cultural capital to execute what I think could give me and my family a taste of Thai culture. My birthday became a fulfilling experience not just because I learned new cooking skills but because I was able to appreciate how some unfortunate events in life can be a springboard for creativity. 

Travel is not only discovering and exploring new places by road trips or booking flights. It is also bringing its taste, colors, and even language to where you are planted – at home. So, that’s what I did.

When I reach my forties, I will recall that once in my life (and I hope pandemics and lockdowns will never happen again), I celebrated a quarantine birthday when the movement was limited but the source of inspiration was endless. –

Ralph Ferolino majored in French at UP Diliman. He lives in Dasmariñas, Cavite and currently works at the French Embassy Manila. His enthusiasm in culture allows him to prepare festive holiday and grazing tables, write witty hashtags, and journal his eat, pray, love experience in his Instagram posts.