This week it was my birthday and this mainly resulted in copious amounts of (not so delicious) Khmer cake...
The cake(s): Cambodian celebration cakes are fairly out of the ordinary by western standards. Imagine a fairly normal but heavy sponge cake ... Now imagine it covered all over in an icing that has the texture and consistency of lard but is sweet and supposedly "creamy" - spread and shape it into anything (flowers are popular but I have also seen cakes make into dogs, rabbits etc). Drip some sort of coloured gelatin around the outside and enjoy.
The bakery opposite the largest supermarket Lucky has done a roaring trade from me this week. I was concerned that the women at the bakers do not really get the need to be urgent after they take the cake creation out of the cold cabinet to write your message on it and package it up for you - The lard I thought would surely melt but after one of my cakes not being kept cold for 4 hours (and it was still OK and in one piece) I guess the cakes are heat resistant as well. ... This can only be an added bonus.
The women in the shop were fairly confused when I asked for candles. Not because they did not have any or that it was not a Cambodian tradition. They were confused by the fact that I told them "4" in response to their question "how old?". I just didn't want 28 candles on the cake... so I said "4" ... However, when I took the candle out of the bag it was actually one candle in the shape of a number 4 rather than 4 individual candles. Ummm.... confusing for the children - never mind.
Party(s): My first celebration was at the International School. I had told the kids on Tuesday it was my birthday the day before so they could get sufficiently hyped up about the prospect of cake. However, the result was in fact gifts. Ranging from a very useful and rather attractive "Hello Kitty" mug, a money box and a wooden jewellery box, hair bands, note paper, pen etc to paper folded swans and airplanes (lots of then) and tropical fruit juice. The kids were all very sweet and made/bought cards etc. The Cambodian tradition of presents being wrapped up very elaborately was followed - pretty paper and bows and boxes for any gift was compulsory. The short party lasted about an hour and I face painted their faces. A popular request was a Vampire
On Friday it was my birthday party at CCH. It was decided that I would get hot dogs, fries etc for the 50 kids that live at CCH. Mix that with another lard Cambodian cake and Mirinda (a toxic form of Fanta) and the live CCH band and there are a lot of hyper kids. First stop for me after school was the supermarket. 60 hot dogs, 5 large packs of frozen fries, 64 bread rolls and frozen battered onions... then over the road with large heavy bags to get the large lardy cake. I now had to get all of this and me onto a motorbike taxi. The women at the bakery nearly died of shock that I was going to spend $20 on a cake and then take it on a bike!!! They asked "but where is your car?!". Balancing the cake on my lap, 3 carrier bags on my left arm, my handbag around my neck and giving my large basket to the driver we sped off - I was a prime target for a sausage/cake thief.
The cake made it only slightly squished. I then helped the cook fry the hundreds of fries and sausages over a charcoal heated pan - Absolutely boiling work!
The children decorated the orphanage with the balloons I got and played with some silly string I managed to find. Then after the band had played a few songs, the candle was blown out. Happy birthday was sung, I was presented with many paper necklace garlands, a small presentation to say thank you and then the cake was eaten in a flash... then we ate the hot dogs and fries before dancing to the band. Some of the children gave me some gifts/cards they had made. The kids seemed to like the food and the cake (of course) so it was a success.
A very productive birthday!