I am such a lucky person that I always celebrate my birthday in the finest weekend of the whole year. It was no exception this year: we had the most glorious sunny day and bluest sky I’ve seen in a long while. And the air was so fresh – such a treat to Beijiners. Every year, I throw my birthday party at my cottage in the Ming Tombs or in the past two years, at a very dear friend’s cottage set in a charming quiet village by a section of the wild Great Wall in Huairou, some 90 km north of Beijing. People always love to conquer the Wall, so stunning yet not infested with tourists.
I had the party yesterday even though today, Sunday May 12, is my actual birthday. (Not the big one yet, in case you wonder.)
Most of the two dozen party goers arrived in a convoy and others turned up fashionably late on their own in the afternoon.
Last year, I treated my guests to lunch at a restaurant with a commanding view of the mountain village. This, however, has upset my friend’s landlord who isn’t the best friend of the restaurant guy. So this year, I cooked a few dishes and friends kindly bought along all sorts of goodies.
After lunch, those felt energetic went out to explore and others just sunbathed in the yard, with the fabulous view in front. I was out in the village three weeks ago when the mountains were still a little naked. Now they are fully clad in free green vegetation. There are still plenty of pear and peach flowers in blossoms.
When Matt and his family and their dog snoopy arrived, with their guitars, we began to join him in the singing. I am no singer but always willing to sing along with enthusiasm. Pity that my older daughter May, the great singer, who is preparing for her big exams, was unable to attend. By then we already had the first cake and sang happy birthday in English, Chinese, Italian, French, Portuguese, Spanish and German.
As we were watching the sunset, my friend Donelle, who is the finest chef in Beijing, brought an apricot and pistachio cheesecake. Simply divine!
In the evening, a German diplomat friend and two close Chinese girlfriends, an art curator and an artist, stayed for the night and Matt and family stayed at their friend’s cottage a few doors down the road. After dinner, we continued our partying. When we started to attack Donelle’s cake again, they sang a ‘happy birthday’ in a creative version: Lijia is hard-working; Lijia is warm-hearted; Lijia is fun. . . And Catherine, one of my best Chinese friends, added with a typical hearty laugh of hers: Lijia is sometimes a bit too much, which made me burst out laughing. True, for a deeply flawed person, I have received more love than I ever deserve.
The most memorable part was when we came out to the yard to say goodbye to Matt and Co. and saw a velvet sky studded with the most incredible bright stars, something I have not seen for many years. You simply don’t see such starry sky in Beijing city.
Today I woke up shortly after 5 am. So I got up and gazed out in the yard. Not so much to watch sunrise but to see the Sun coat the mountains with a layer of gold, from the top, slowly reaching down and the golden colour slowly deepening.
As I sat there in the cool morning air and the world was still reined by tranquility, I recalled my year. Nothing major or dramatic happened; I didn’t feel I achieved greatly. I’ve made progress in my fairly new career as a public speaker; I’ve written a few stories that got noticed. My novel is troubled but I’ve just launched another round of re-write.
I am just soldiering on, doing what I love doing. I am a lucky person indeed.