“Happy birthday!” the immigration officer at Hongqiao Airport said to me an hour ago as she stamped my boarding pass to Hong Kong. Her sentiment caught me off-guard; Chinese border officials rarely even return my greeting of “Ni hao” when I hand over my passport, let alone make small talk. The fact that she noticed that today is my birthday, and said something about it, was an unexpected but pleasant moment.

I barely remember my birthday last year. It fell exactly one week after I’d arrived in Shanghai, and I’d spent the previous days in a haze of jet lag and rush of preparations to move into the apartment I’d found. The only clear memory I have is that I went to Starbucks in the morning and my parents and brother called me on Skype to sing “Happy Birthday” while I was there. How did I spend the rest of the day? I have absolutely no idea. Turning thirty—one of those big, landmark years that American popular culture views as some sort of dividing line—was basically a non-event in my life.

Carrot cake at Baker & Spice to kick off my birthday in delicious, sugary splendor.
Carrot cake at Baker & Spice to kick off my 31st birthday in delicious, sugary splendor.

I can’t say that turning thirty-one is any more of an event, but at least there’s a good chance I’ll remember it. I started out the day with breakfast at Baker & Spice, my favorite Shanghai bakery, and am now waiting for my flight to Hong Kong, where I have a long weekend to visit friends and try to acquaint myself with a unique part of China almost entirely unknown to me. (I spent a few hurried days in HK in 2005, and many slow hours in the airport on a layover in 2010, but that’s the limit of my time there.)

The start of a new year, whether it’s the calendar year, a school year, or a year in one’s life, is always a time for reflection on the past and planning for the future. And, of course, resolutions. To lose weight, spend more time doing X, quit smoking/drinking/spending money, get organized, whatever. As we all know, those resolutions usually last a few days, or a week at most. It’s too easy to fall back into familiar habits, even if we recognize that those are things we want to change.

I was thinking this morning about all the things I’d like to do during the next 365 days. Write more. Read more. Knit more. Travel more. Snack less. Take the stairs. Stop spending so much money in coffee shops.

I am definitely going to try to do all of those things. But really, I only have one true resolution for my thirty-first year:

FINISH MY DISSERTATION.

Fingers crossed that for once, I’m making a resolution that I actually keep.

But first, off to Hong Kong!