Friday, April 3, 2009

Happy Birthday, Emy!

Emy is the first person I met when I came to Madison from China in 1995. A volunteer for Madison Friends of International Students, she was generous to let me stay in her house for three days for free before I could find my own lodging. For me, a foreign student in a foreign country for the first time, the first few days were scary, confusing, and overwhelming. Emy's kindness and resourcefulness really calmed me down. I can never thank her enough for that.

As we know each other better, a "forget-age-friendship" (wang nian jiao in Chinese) blossomed since we have so much in common. For example, she was an international student herself half a century ago. We both love opera (Italian opera for her and Chinese folk opera for me), and dreamed as a child of becoming an opera star. Over the years, we traveled together to see opera in New York City, to watch whales off Mexico, and to visit Frank Lloyd Wright's architecture in Illinois.

Emy always amazes me with her energy and wisdom. Some quotable sayings from her:
  • A girl's face without freckles is like sky without stars (so don't feel bad about them).
  • Even if you are a street sweeper, you should still try to be the best ever street sweeper (and treat every job seriously).
  • Prepare as if you'll live forever, enjoy life as if you'll die tomorrow.

Her whole family are warm and interesting people. A large part of my American experience is shaped by my time with them. I spent almost every Thanksgiving in their cottage and became a good potato masher. I went to her grandson's Bar Mitzvah and witnessed a Jewish ritual for the first time. I tasted the smoky maple syrup her son made from trees planted by the family decades ago. I got to know and love Robert Frost's poetry and Alec Guinness's movies because of her husband.

On Tuesday I joined her and some of her family and friends to celebrate her 80th birthday at the Black Hawk Country Club. We had a good time sharing stories and memories.

Happy birthday, Emy!

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