Seventy-three-year-old Tsai-Ying Feng comes to Farragut Square 13 times each year to feed the birds. "It's my promise to the pigeons," she said.
It started in March 1980 when Feng was working near the square. "I was eating my lunch in the park and the pigeons came over and wanted some of my sandwich," she explained. "But I was selfish and ate it all myself."
To make up for this "selfishness", Feng promised to pay back the pigeons. She returned to the park on her birthday last March armed with 10 loaves of fresh bread, and the feeding tradition began.
Now, before each of her children's, grandchildren's and in-laws' birthdays, as well as her own, Feng rides the bus from her home in McLean to Farragut Square to feed the pigeons. Recently she brought eight loaves in celebration of her daughter-in-law's birthday. Why eight? "I bring as much as I can carry," she said.
Tsai-Ying Feng, Lily to her American friends, was born in Taiwan. She received her bachelor's degree in education from Tai-Shia University in Shanghai in 1931. Shortly after graduation, she became the first woman ever to work at the Chinese Postal Bank in Shanghai.
While working in the bank's accounting department, Lily enrolled in evening courses and earned a second degree, this time in accounting.
Lily doesn't like to talk about her achievements, and describes her accomplishments as "blessings." Her son, Jerry, feels Lily acquired this philosophy from her grandmother. "I can remember my mother saying, 'My grandmother always said . . . .' " Even as a child, he said, "mother would visit neighbors who needed help."
Lily retired from the accounting department of the Chinese Postal Bank in 1971, after 40 years of service. She made her first trip to the U.S. in 1975 for her son's wedding. In 1978 she moved to McLean to live with her daughter, Janet.
Lily has taken courses in English, to better her grammar and speech, and refresher courses in accounting, to help her with her seasonal job as an income-tax checker at H&R Block. Ann Pennington, of the Division of Continuing Education at George Mason University, praised Lily's dedication to her studies.
"No matter what the weather, Lily's always here," she said. According to the registrar's office, Lily was one of the oldest students at George Mason last semester.
Lily's next vist to the park will be at the end of February, just before her 74th birthday on March 4. Her tradition will continue, because, as Lily said "God loves us, so we should love others."
She means the pigeons, too.