It’s been a long time since I met my cousin Billy Lee for the first time at Albert Chong’s Memorial in Great Neck, N.Y.. He called me “Little Auntie” for my cousin Yan Ren-mei was married to his uncle Li Zu-ming. We also showed up in the same photo at the 80th Birthday Celebration of my cousin Ming-cho Lee, who was the single most influential force in American stage design since the mid-1960’s, in 2010.
What surprised me most was that Billy had a clear memory of my older brother A Da1 in his childhood. For personal enjoyment, I have kept making and publishing my biography “My Story” on WeChat “Moments”, totally 420 episodes so far, for about two years. Billy got very interested in these stories and what he wanted to read first was about my older brother A Da. So I sent the 36 episodes with A Da’s photos and resume to Billy, as well as other episodes of “My Story” that Billy would like to read. He once wrote in his email to me:
“For a very brief time your brother and I were very fond of each other.
It was around 1945-46. Our fathers first introduced us, and we lived not far from each other along Shanghai’s Fugerson Road. I remember playing at Jin Da’s2 home once or twice. We lost touch since he moved, and we unfortunately did not keep in touch.
Much later I heard from Jeanette Wei3 (another cousin of yours?) that he passed away rather tragically in China.
Wow, you kept good records on his grand achievements. I wish I had gotten to know him better. Admirable Brother of yours! Admirable!
I loved his Friendly Smiles.”
After reading my biography, he replied my email as follows:
“You mentioned a grandson of Zhou Tso Ming. The banker’s house was immediately next to ours in Shanghai. I used to play with the No. One grandson Albert and his younger brother, whose name I have forgotten. Could the younger brother be that guest at your mother’s birthday celebration? He should be between 82 and 85 years old now.
I was known to them as Lee Min-xin4 at 123 Furgerson5 Road. I also noticed a picture of David Kwok who now resides at Walnut Creek. He is my F.F.6 contemporary.
In No. 116, you visited Pan Chang Lo Lo’s home in 2014. She was just sitting next to me at a dinner last week. Her daughter Sandra brought her there. She told me about her youthful days in Shanghai playing softball at a softball field close to my home.
In No.117, I noticed a DISTINGUISHED photo of Shirley Young on the wall of her Shanghai home. She certainly is a Distinguished Person in our Generation. Say ‘Hello’.
I also noticed singer Hou Jia Tien’s photo in that chapter.
In No. 118, I noticed Diane Tang Woo’s photo taken as recently as 2018. She is a special friend, as the rumour had it, my mother almost married her father.
Received Story No.31 to 50, missing No. 46 and No. 48 however.
Noticed that we are also connected via Ningbo7 and Andover.
I was at Andover for 4 years from -1947-51-graduated the same year as your cousin, Shirley, who was attending Abbot.
Amazing, I noticed my mother’s younger sister, Woo Weize, in your Story No.20 – pictures at the very bottom. I think your mother’s sisters and my mother’s sisters were well-know young ladies from Dee Fong Lu8.
MK Loo became Fay’s husband. Jonathan Lu worked at IBM with my wife, Lucille. LC Chen was an associate at I.M. Pei’s office and later became a partner of mine at Copelin, Lee & Chen Architects. All three ( MK, Jonathan, and LC ) are in Heaven now!”
Although long retired from architecture career, Billy still has a keen interest in Design, even in Men & Women Fashion. He said, “I designed mostly residential projects. Below is one of my favorite – in Napa Valley, California. (Two links below – the first one has verbal descriptions – the second one has better photos.)
And he sent me greetings for each festival through emails,
“Happy Chinese New Year!”
“Happy New Year, Jeanette!”
“Merry Christmas, Jeanette!”
Billy also enjoys sharing his personal moments with me, like,
“…had dinner with Jeannette Wei last week.
She and Jim Caldwell will be moving to Austin Texas soon.”
We also talked about F.F. Fraternity together, “…So you are Sister Jeanette now, since Uncle T.T. Zee, your father, was an F.F. Brother.”
I also found a brief introduction and many photos of Billy and his wife in a book: History of F.F. Fraternity: the Evolution of the first Chinese Fraternity in the United States (1910-2002), which informs me more about his lively life in the US.
He also told me,
“The last one, John MY Lee, is my younger brother, the architect who designed the first mega-structure in ShenZhen-the city plaza and civic center.
Please say ‘hello’ to Niuniu – Lee May, and husband Zhang Goon for me, when you see them!”
When he learned the relationship between Shirley Young and me ( our mothers are sisters ), he happily told me that he, Lee Tsu Yung’s no.2 son was Andover ’51 while Shirley was Abbot ’51. ” Please extend my best regards to Shirley. She remembers me only as that skinny Andover Chinese Boy who went to Yale.” he requested.
Billy is an energetic man indeed, and I really enjoy the moments of exchanging news back and forth with him; especially in recent years, we could share moments anytime and anywhere by using WeChat. Those memories in old days tie up Shanghai and the other coast of the Pacific Ocean closely and give a happy and abundant life to both of us. I only have a little wish that all my relatives, friends and our children could keep in touch with each other, like Billy and me, to explore more about Ourselves, China, and the World.
- A Da: 阿達，the best-known name of my older brother Jing-da Zee, a very famous animator in China
- Jin Da: the pronunciation of my older brother徐景達Jing-da Zee’s given name, should be “Jing Da” according to the latest Chinese phonetic system
- Jeanette Wei: the god daughter’s sister of my parents
- Lee Min-xin: the pronunciation of Billy Lee’s Chinese name李名信, should be “Li Ming-Xin” according to the latest Chinese phonetic system
- Furgerson Road: normally spelled as “Route Furguson” 福開森路, the former name of “Wukang Road” 武康路 in the French Concession of Shanghai
- FF: F.F. Fraternity, the first Chinese Fraternity in the United States
- Ningbo: 寧波，a coastal city in China where our family origins from
- Dee Fong Lu: the pronunciation of “Tifeng Road” 地豐路 in old Shanghai, which is now named “North Wulumuqi Road” 烏魯木齊北路
- T.T. Zee: my father 徐振東
BILLY’S COMMENTS: Jeannette’s MY STORY with more than 420 episodes is an amazing collection of photos and stories about her amazing Friendship Span. I implored her to write an article on ” How you sustain your links with so many Friends ? ” She just showed us how. SIMPLY: KEEP IN TOUCH, ENJOY, APPRECIATE, AND REMEMBER YOUR AMAZING CONNECTIONS !