By Assunta Ng
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
Gene Moy assumed his 103rd birthday celebration would be quiet during the coronavirus pandemic. He was wrong…
A World War II veteran, Moy usually marks his birthdays by dancing with several ladies, followed by a feast in a Chinese restaurant with friends and family. Women would line up to wait for their turn to dance with him. Moy could tango, waltz, cha-cha, swing dance, and more…
Cari Murotani, one of Moy’s long-time dance partners, refused to let Moy glide by his birthday this year without a bang. At first, Moy’s children said to wait out the pandemic. Murotani, who organized the last six of Moy’s birthday parties, convinced his children to go ahead with a surprise because of Moy’s age.
“No one knows what’s going to happen. Time is of essence,” she said.
In less than a week, Moy’s family and Murotani organized a parade of cars carrying birthday signs and balloons to drive by Moy’s house on Beacon Hill. On April 8, 25 cars showed up, honking, people shouting happy birthday greetings, even a police car joining in, driven by Captain Eric Sano. Three media outlets showed up, including KING 5, KIRO 7, and the Northwest Asian Weekly. It was quite a tribute.
Moy’s son Corey fooled him by telling him that Mimi Gan, a freelance journalist, wanted to interview him. Corey went inside his dad’s house early and pulled down the window blinds so Moy couldn’t see friends gathering outside, and they were loud.
When Moy walked out the front door with Corey, he was shocked.
“I am surprised and overwhelmed,” he said. Moy looked happy and appreciative of the parade.
Age makes no difference in forging friendships. Murotani adores Moy for being a remarkable and independent person, even though he’s more than a century old. Last year, Murotani made Moy’s 102nd birthday special by arranging him to dance with another 102-year-old, Myrtle Royse.
”Cari is one of my best friends,” he told the Asian Weekly, even though “I am 25 years older” than Murotani.
On coronavirus (COVID-19)
Moy was supposed to be honored with a Congressional Gold Medal, along with other Chinese American veterans last September. He was disappointed that it got delayed to this April, and then delayed again due to COVID-19. Both his son and daughter had planned to accompany Moy to Washington, D.C. for the ceremony. The event was postponed, and Moy’s children never received airfare refunds.
Moy served in the army as a cook. He filled out an enlistment application stating that he was a cook, and he was instantly assigned to cook. Later, he was promoted to mess sergeant, in charge of a unit of over 120 people.
Compared to WWII, coronavirus is worse, Moy said.
“It’s nothing like I had ever seen,“ he said, although he lived through the Great Depression and other crises in the United States. “You can’t get out (of your house with the virus),” and no other disasters had locked us down, he said.
His son drove him out last week to Chinatown to eat, and he was shocked.
“All restaurants were closed,” he said. “It’s unusual. It’s terrible. It never happened before, sad.”
Since the pandemic, Moy rarely goes out, and friends cannot visit him. Even at his age, he is independent and lives by himself. He misses socializing and driving to senior centers to dance with friends. Fortunately, his three sons and daughter take turns to visit him, clean his house, and bring him food.
“My dad is amazing,” said Corey. He recalled his family doctor told him when Moy was 100 years old that his dad “should have no problems between 100 and 105 (years old.) Now at 103, halfway between 100 and 105, I look at him, he still looks the same.”
Moy has been diligent in working out since the stay-at-home policy. Whatever fitness equipment Moy finds at home, he would use it, according to his son. He would ride on an old exercise bike for an hour a couple times a week. And he also lifts weights.
Moy defies statistics that women live longer than men by six to eight years, according to the World Health Organization. Moy’s wife died two years ago of Alzheimer’s at the age of 95, and Moy took care of her during her illness.
Research has found that longevity has only 25% to do with genetics. Lifestyle choices such as diet, exercise, and smoking habits, according to Scientific American Magazine, play a bigger role. Moy’s parents died in their 60s, so his longevity has little to do with DNA.
Longevity is not about how wealthy you are, it’s about lifestyle. A New York Times article said, “The right mix of steps to improve habits and public health could help people live longer, regardless of how much money they make.”
Thrive in independence
Moy still drives and cooks for himself. He drove before the pandemic. From his Beacon Hill home, he would drive two to three times a week to different senior centers for ballroom dancing.
You might take driving for granted. Seniors who stop driving experience “lower life satisfaction, poorer adjustment, loneliness, and lower activity levels,” according to Seniorsite.com. In fact, my friend’s parent said she’d rather die than stop driving.
“What do you eat?” is the common question Moy gets, as many friends are curious about his secrets to sustaining a long life!
“I eat what you eat,” he would say laughing. Is he eating anything special or consuming magic pills?
Moy said he eats a combination of Chinese and American food. He makes breakfast for himself every day… American-style, consisting of oatmeal and pancakes, and sometimes, bacon and eggs. I don’t know if pancakes are good for your health, but eggs and oatmeal are. In addition to fiber, oatmeal is rich in thiamin, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, manganese, selenium, and iron. An egg is fuel for the brain. Our body appreciates routines and a steady lifestyle.
His key job in the family was being the chef. He has been the cook ever since he got married, and still cooks himself breakfast every morning.
“My wife liked it, naturally,” he said. The couple was married for seven decades.
A study found that people who cook at home up to five times a week were 47% more likely to still be alive after 10 years, according to Cambridge University’s journal, Public Health Nutrition. Cooking is exercising dexterity of hands and feet during cutting, frying, and washing ingredients.
And don’t underestimate grocery shopping. It keeps our bodies and brains active, by dealing with a variety of products with new and old information, economics, and planning. Picking up fresh items is quite a skill. I can never distinguish between the best and not so fresh melons.
Moy cooks Chinese and American food, such as steaks, pan-fried shrimp with shells on, and salty fish, steamed with minced pork.
“I would chew the taste of the (shrimp) shell, and spit it out,” he said in an Asian Weekly interview in 2016. Ah, the guy is a foodie, striving on taste. So his diet isn’t really health-oriented, since he doesn’t really lean heavily on vegetables or fresh food.
Born in Toishan, China in 1917, Moy came to the United States with his father in 1931. He lived in Lewiston, Idaho before he moved to Seattle. Where did Moy get his cooking skills? After he joined the army, he started his own Chinese restaurant, New China Café, with three other partners. He found the chef’s 12-hour shift draining, so he quit.
Although he dropped out of high school, he applied for a job at Boeing. He was instantly hired as a mechanic and toolmaker, and he stayed for 28 years until he retired in 1982. His career might not have been high-profile, but it provided his wife and four kids with a decent living.
Develop memory skills
Another reason for Moy’s longevity is that he sleeps about eight hours every night. Sleep is vital to our brain’s health and memory. Studies have shown that a lack of sleep over a long period of time can cause dementia and Alzheimer’s among seniors.
Nine years ago, Moy wasn’t able to sleep. So he thought of ways to conquer his insomnia. “Instead of counting sheep like most folks, I count capitals.”
He is still interested in learning new things. He committed state capitals and presidents to memory.
“Ask me about any president, 50 states or their capitals, I can tell you,” he said. I tested him with state capitals, and he just threw out answers like a student’s speedy recitation for an exam.
Moy’s most important longevity factor
Perhaps the most important contributor to Moy’s longevity is dancing, which provides exercise, balance, and coordination. Socializing is key to longevity. Isolation destroys life. It has been proven that cognitive impairment is less likely in people who are socially active, and it staves off memory loss.
Moy learned how to dance at the United Service Organization, which provided entertainment for the military when he served from 1941 to 1946 in the Pacific. He picked up dancing again in 1982 after he retired.
“Dancing is good exercise and fun,” he said. “I hate (other) exercises. I don’t get tired when dancing, but I do when I walk.” It’s important to find a form of exercise that you enjoy, so you can keep doing it.
Ballroom dancing strengthens the heart, in addition to leg and arm muscles. Moy was often the star at senior dancing events because very few men know how to ballroom dance, and even fewer can do it well. There are too many women who love to dance, but not enough male partners.
Moy is in command on the dance floor as shown in how he leads his partner. He told the Asian Weekly that he is proud that he has never collapsed into other dancers, even in a crowded room. It exercises Moy mentally and physically.
Last year, arthritis hit Moy, and he felt dizziness and weakness in his leg. Moy has been getting treatment. But it doesn’t affect his posture—standing straight and looking fit and alert. Moy told Corey that when he dances, he does not feel dizzy at all. It shows that the right fitness program will heal us and diminish pain.
By now, you realize that Moy’s successful aging is not a mystery. His active lifestyle, dancing with joy, loving life, discipline, and meaningful routines explains how he can easily swing through to 103 years old.
We cannot reverse aging, but we can adopt an active lifestyle and a wonderful circle of friends like Moy to extend our lives. Moy is looking forward to his Washington, D.C. trip to receive his Congressional Gold Medal. May Congress speed up the ceremony. It will mean a lot not only to Chinese American veterans, but veterans of other wars. The message is, we honor our veterans in good times and bad.
This story contains part of the interview we published on Moy in 2016 on his 99th birthday. It’s a privilege to cover Moy‘s 103rd birthday. We are thrilled to feature stories about friendship in our community, including ordinary and extraordinary people. And most of all, we yearn for stories of humanity, especially in this horror-and-despair-stricken pandemic, and Moy’s story is truly inspirational.
Assunta can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.