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I can smell something sweet and sickly, like … onions. And it’s coming from inside the closet I sleep in. I rummage through all my belongings wondering if someone slipped an onion in either by accident or as a joke. My paranoia takes me looking under the bed, in the drawers, everywhere… but nothing.

Then, I find it.

On the top shelf by the sliding door, there it is – two onions. I wonder what could be the meaning of these onions left out to rot two meters from my pillow.

Later I ask my housemate Kimmy what’s up with the onions, and she says her mum left them here.

This is what Kimmy’s mom has left us.

China

She’s cut the onions and put them up high to breathe because she read somewhere that it prevents colds, which are common around this time of transitional seasons apparently. It was a nice thought, but the smell is giving me bad dreams…

Kimmy’s mum came over on Friday night to make dumplings. We started cooking as soon as she came through the  door. Kimmy got all the contents of the fridge out – asparagus, celery, coriander, mushrooms (“jew’s ear” in Chinese), tofu… putting them under my nose to smell one-by-one, and then she slammed everything down on the tiny table we shared between us.

Kimmy’s mum washed everything. The amount of times we all had to wash our hands was verging on compulsive. Kimmy’s mum didn’t speak English, but she had loads to say to Kimmy and they yelled at each other in heated Chinese. Family issues, Kimmy said.

The next thing that happened was Kimmy got a phonecall, and she said she had to go out, so she was going to leave me with her non-English speaking mother. Me and her mum exchanged looks of panic. With no translation! This would be interesting…

So very quickly, a process that usually takes all afternoon, we worked double the speed and finished in less than two hours. Kimmy’s mum washing, Kimmy chopping and me mincing. Everything went in the wok, and then we dug our hands in the mixture (which was the most amazing feeling and seemed like food taboo), massaged it for a bit, added eggs and then Kimmy left.

Me and her mum sat in silence for a while folding the dumplings. Dumplings to last a year.

Then we tried speaking, and Kimmy’s mum demonstrated her English skills to me, managing to say, “We are friends” “Cuddle me” “I love China” and “Thank-a-you”. (It was more than I could say in Chinese.)

She slurped Chinese-style and I struggled as I always do with chopsticks, and we were eventually laughing hysterically and trying to communicate but seriously failing, so we ended up making a language that was a kind of fusion of English & Chinese ie. just a load of noises and hand gestures that ended up with Kimmy’s mum dancing and juggling a packet of tissues and a bottle of chickpeas… and me wondering how we got here.

 

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