According to WikiPedia, birthday cakes have been around since the time of the ancient Romans. That’s right, before a major battle, it’s possible that an army of Roman slaves gathered around Spartacus and sang to him while he blew out candles.
“What did you wish for, Sparty?”
“I wished, my brother, that one day this revolt would inspire a motion picture, and then a scene from that movie would be used in a Pepsi commercial.”
And like ancient Rome, birthday cakes have become a part of life here in modern China (imagine Chairman Mao’s anger if ever the trick candle prank was played on him). But in China, there’s another tradition that exists and it’s kind of goofy, so I thought I’d talk about that today.
This tradition is called “yi mein,” or, the “longevity noodle.” It’s a very simple idea: a soup is made with one really long noodle, and that noodle symbolizes your life. To complete the ‘long life’ metaphor, you’re supposed to eat the entire noodle in one big slurp. Failure to do so implies that…well…maybe you should get started on your will soon.
I’ve already posted some pics of the longevity noodle in this post, as I’m sure you’ve noticed. Yesterday was my birthday, and at night several of my friends (including my girlfriend, Feng Deng) took me to a Chinese restaurant. They got me a longevity noodle and sang to me while I attempted to slurp that bastard down. I don’t think they were even finished with the song before I couldn’t slurp any more and severed the noodle with my teeth. This is not something one is supposed to do, but I soldiered on anyways, sucking that thing down while hot broth burned my lips and splashed into my eyes.
In the end, I failed. The noodle was too freaking long. It was an impossible task, to try and slurp down a noodle the length of an intestine. Perhaps that means I won’t live past another decade or so, or perhaps it’s just a silly tradition and it just means I couldn’t fit nine miles of noodle into my stomach.
But isn’t that the way all traditions are? Half meaningful and half arbitrary? A birthday cake. A pinata. An endless noodle that I’ll be shitting out for days. A lighthearted person might say it’s all in good fun, while a more morbid person might say these are just distractions, something to take our mind off our own inevitable expiration.
Last night, after failing to eat much of my longevity noodle, I learned two important things. One is that I might not be living a very long life. And the other is that hot soup in the eye really sucks.