For many of us, there are days that are sentimental and special, and we treasure these memories in the depth of our hearts. Today, I’d like to share a few of these special memories with you.
For me, birthdays always have a special place in my diary and I’ll let you in on a little secret as to why .
Upon returning to the dorm, before fetching food from the canteen, I spotted a letter from a northern city waiting for me on our shared desk in the middle of the room. One roommate had collected it from the mail lady at the front gate. I smiled.
It had travelled two thousand kilometres and for two weeks to the day, from the date of the damaged stamp. It was a surprise – there were few surprises those days for a normal university student as all normal students lived a boring and highly organised communal life, unlike typical student life in the West.
That was Yu’s first letter on my 20th birthday. It was not planned, because he did not know when my birthday was, nor did I know his. The post in China those days was anything but reliable – you never knew how long it was going to take for your mail to arrive or even if it would reach you at all.
Shocking it may sound, but true. I had never celebrated my birthdays before even though I had wanted to. I didn’t remember any of my family members making a fuss over their birthdays either.
When I informed my parents that I was going to celebrate my 21st birthday the year I was about to graduate, they laughed at the idea. “People don’t celebrate birthdays unless they are fifty, sixty or seventy!” I didn’t know then that eighteen and twenty-one were significant birthdays in the West. I just thought how awful it was that I had to wait until I reached half a century or older to celebrate. What if I never made it?
Somehow, my 20th birthday proved to be out of the norm, possibly one of the most significant turning points in my life. On that warm spring day in 1981, I heard my heart thumping as I carefully opened Xia Yu’s letter.
The episode above is taken from my semi-autographic memoir-like fiction The Same Moon. Those of you who believe that Pearl Zhang, the Protagonist in my “Journey to the West” trilogy is me in real life can at least be assured that this part of the story is personal and authentic. I had never celebrated birthdays until much later in life. Therefore I have a good excuse trying to make my birth-day extra special when I have the chance.
I’ve selected a few photos marking this day, a day which luckily always falls in the spring, when flowers burst into blooms and the world is decorated with amazing colours and beauty.
My creation, Pearl Zhang’s birthday is on the first of April (April Fools?) – there is a reason why I picked that date for her. It is the birthday of my mentor, Professor Lalage Bown, who was my postgraduate supervisor from University of Glasgow. Bless her, she is now 85 years old and still enjoys an active life.
My own birthday is also in April, according to the western calendar, although according to the Chinese lunar calculations, it could be any day from March to April.
In recent years, if at all possible, we have travelled to different locations to celebrate my birthday. As you can see from the pictures, the various exotic locations included Scotland, Prague, San Francisco, Italy and China.
What are special occasions for you? Your first date? Anniversaries? Whatever that may be, I hope that you’ll spend it with someone special and treasure every moment!