Monday, November 19, 2007

Anatomy of a Filipino Children’s Birthday Party

Attended my niece’s 1st birthday party yesterday. It was held in a Jollibee, which automatically meant sweet, hotdog-laden neon orange Jolli Spaghetti and crispilicious Chicken Joy with not enough gravy. I was not disappointed, except for the Jolli Spaghetti, which only had one hotdog in it. I could have asked for more gravy, but that would have to mean getting up and I didn’t really want to do that.

While my calendar has been filled with baptisms lately (3 this month – talk about baby boom!), it’s been a while since I attended a birthday/ christening party held in a child-themed restaurant. My earliest memories of children’s parties are of feeling slightly insulted every time I was made to attend one. You had the predictable food (sweet spaghetti, barbecue, fried chicken), the condescending party hosts, and the adults who forced you to play stupid games for stupid prizes, whether you like it or not. Yet if you asked my mother, she will tell you (and back it up with pictures, too) that when I was really young (too young to think, really), I was always the life of the party, volunteering for magic acts, lining up for games. I stopped short of impromptu dancing/ singing (thank goodness!), maybe because event hen I knew that I had two left feet and that my singing voice had the tendency to make it rain (a great business venture right there!).

I was pretty excited to go to the party. I hadn’t had Jolli Spaghetti and Chicken Joy in a while. The weird thing is that my love for them was acquired in adulthood. I remember hating Jollibee as a child and thinking that McDonalds was the bomb. Until now, I have no idea why that changed. Maybe they put drugs in their spaghetti and fried chicken. Maybe neon orange suace has a hypnotizing effect.

So I get to the party, say hello to the relatives, air kiss my slightly bewildered cousin (because I don’t really air kiss anyone in the family unless it’s their special occasion), and ask about the baby, who is cute and chubby and has no idea what the hell is going on. "She can do the papaya dance!" my cousin exclaims with motherly delight. "Great!" I reply, wondering what the papaya dance is and if I want to know. This particular cousin has a penchant for giving her kids black names. Her son is called Antione (yes, it’s French, but I have yet to see a Frenchman named Antione) and her daughter is named Ayesha. I sometimes want to ask her if she knows she’s not black. But I have to applaud her though. Antoine and Ayesha are cool names, and more imaginative than the local practice of combining both parents names (thank goodness my parents never went for that either, else I’d be Luben Tan. Or Benlu. Either way, ugh!).

Attending my niece’s children’s party was an interesting experience, if only because I got to see how it’s evolved through the years. Today’s manufactured children’s party is a combination of a wedding (except the food comes first) and a TV debut special. After everyone has eaten, an overly enthusiastic party hosts invites all the kids to come in front to greet the celebrant a happy birthday. The kids who do get a goodie bag for their efforts. This is their version of games.

The host is speaking in Tagalog, by the way, a big change in the 80’s when I remember (probably erroneously, someone correct me on this) them speaking English. And not just normal Tagalog, mind, you. Half of it was in swardspeak (Filipino gay linggo), which was interesting because no one could tell the difference! After the birthday greetings, the host told all the "kidlets" (if piglets are tiny pigs, then are kidlets tiny kids? Isn’t that redundant?) to get ready because they were to welcome a special guest, mr. Jollibee! My first thought was ‘Since when was Jollibee a Mr.???’ Do mascots grow old? Does this mean we should start addressing Ronald McDonald as Mr. MacDonald or Uncle Ronald or Mang Ron? So Jollibee comes in and the kids go wild.

The host announces that Mr. Jollibee is going to do a dance number, but not before he does a pictorial first. This is where the wedding part comes in. "Immediate family first," the host calls out. Next is immediate family with cousins, then all the kids. All the kids scramble to be part of the picture, all of them trying to get as near to the giant orange bee as possible.

Next, Mr. Jollibee does his dance number, which makes the kids go even wilder.. My littlest cousin, the one whose ambition in life is to dance half-naked on noontime television, tries to dance with him but gets hit on the face by a giant orange bee thigh by mistake. Mr. Jollibee mimes that he’s sorry, then finishes his dance number. Every children’s party has at least one child that wants to be buddies with the mascot and my littlest cousin was that child. Another thing that hasn’t changed is that the party soundtrack consists of all the stupidest songs you hear on the radio. Seriously. I wanted to stab the host with the mic and start throwing children out the window.

Then comes the blowing of the cake. After the host gets everyone to sing "Happy Birthday," she asks the paretns to tell us their wishes for the celebrant. This, I have never seen before. "I wish my child would grow up God-fearing," my cousin says, and everybody claps. Next, it’s Jollibee’s turn to tell us his wishes for the celebrant. Since he can’t talk, the host translates for him. She says, he has three wishes. The first is that she grows up smart and God-fearing." I wanted to stand up and say, "That’s two wishes! Didn’t they teach you to count in bee school?" I told this story to Luis later and he said, maybe the God-fearing part doesn’t count since it was already said. I don’t remember the other wishes because they were all boring, like grow tall and stuff. How come nobody gives exciting wishes, like ‘the confidence to unleash her inner bitch’ or ‘impeccable style’ or ‘enough Luis Vuitton bags to sink a small barge?’

Mr. Jollibee exits after he bestows his fairy bee wishes, and the party ends. The host thanks everyone for coming and thanks the sponsors, the celebrant’s parents and Jollibee (who shouldn’t be counted a sponsor as the party was paid for and not an ex deal). I seriously expected to hear canned applause after, so into the role of TV host was she. The whole experience was draining, even though I didn’t talk to anyone the whole time. I guess stupid radio songs, dancing bees and overly enthusiastic party hosts can do that to you. Or maybe old age. But it wasn’t a bad experience. I think I wouldn’t mind attending another one. This time, I hope they have more hotdogs in their spaghetti.


Anonymous said...

I don't like how this was written. It gives me a sense that the author's full of himself. Try a little positivism, you very cool person you!

firefly said...

Geezz, i find this really funny. =) Maybe the author and I just share a similar style of humor (i can actually imagine stabbing the host myself and throwing kids out of the window just because im so pissed haha)

My son's turning 1 yr old this Feb and i'm thinking of getting him a jollibee party (cuz kids love jollibee and its a lot more cheaper than other restos, which adults would like but kids wouldnt appreciate). Now i have a concrete mental image of how the guests actually feel (in spite of the polite smiles and the beso-besos exchanged). ;D