Friday, January 23, 2009

Surprise Birthday Party!

It was 4:00 am on a brisk autumn night in Seoul when I took a taxi home from my first "date" with JooYeon. It's not that it had been that long of a date- it started around 2:00 am- it's just that both of our work schedules were insane at that time and we had to meet whenever we were both free. Anyway, in the euphoria of the cab ride home, I made a spontaneous resolution. For the duration of our relationship (which even at that point I was confident would lead to marriage), I would always have at least THREE surprises brewing for Joo in the back of my mind.

For example, that very night I stayed up until 5:00 am designing the beginnings of a book which would come to detail our first 40 dates. In the months before I actually gave her this book, I planned it out carefully - how I would attach a pigalo, her favorite flower, and drop it off for her at work on a day when she was feeling glum. More interesting than the book itself is the psychological effect this process had on me. Knowing that I had a surprise for her that she would like made me extremely happy. In a sense, that could be the same as the "Christmas Spirit" of the month of December for those who have already bought or made gifts and are excited for their loved ones to open them. Or, let's say that you are frustrated or angry with someone; if you also are anticipating giving them a surprise, it somehow softens that frustration or anger.

The only thing I found bittersweet about Christmas is that it builds up to a big climax and then it's over. Which is why I decided to constantly have three surprises in the back of my mind for Joo (so that even when I unveil one surprise, I still have two more in layover until I come up with a third again). By the way, they aren't always big surprises - some times it's just knowing that I will bring her a cup of coffee unexpectedly when she wants it - nor are they always in the near future (I got this Amazonian weaving for her secretly seven months ago and hid it at the bottom of my backpack during our whole travels).

On a tangent here, I never really got the point of throwing a "surprise" birthday party on someone's birthday - obviously they're going to be at least a bit suspicious of people hiding smiles and trying not to laugh. That's why I chose to throw JooYeon's surprise birthday party 25 days AFTER her birthday when she had no idea. Granted, part of that was that I needed time to hunt down the traditional Korean birthday meal - seaweed soup...

Surprises are fun for everyone- Dad had fun distracting Joo by walking her to the end of the driveway to get the mail while Mom and I prepared the party and Mom got Joo some gift cards to her favorite fast food chain, Subway...

Keats once wrote a poem entitled, "Ode on a Grecian Urn" where he focuses on how anticipation can hold even greater power than an event itself. For instance, in one section, he examines a picture of two lovers facing each other on a piece of pottery and claims -

"Bold Lover, never, never canst thou kiss,
Though winning near the goal—yet, do not grieve;
She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,
For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair!"
And I've found this to be true. While of course it's wonderful to see Joo's face light up at each new surprise, it's even more constructive in the long run to spend hours while I'm driving or falling asleep (if any future insurer is reading this, let me clarify that those are two separate occasions) thinking of what Joo enjoys and brainstorming out the next surprise. It helps me to stay closely connected with her interests and surmount some of my own selfishness (which I've discovered had accumulated quite significantly over my first 28 years of life devoid of any long-term relationships).


  1. Seaweed Soup?? Mai (our Thailand exchange student you may remember) sent us a couple bags of what we would say looked like potato chip bags except they were filled with fried seaweed!! Not sure I would want to eat a whole bag in one sitting. Jill H.

  2. If you like surprises, then I definitely think Arizona would be a good fit for your first home can even LIVE in "Surprise" here :). Just watch for other types of surprises Joo, like mice in your bed, not that Daniel would ever do that or anything...hmmm.:) Love you guys! Heather

  3. Mmmm... fried seaweed... bet you CAN eat just one! It actually is quite good toasted with a bit of oil and salted. And Heather, let's not forget that I was generous enough to put the mouse in an enclosed container ;)