I just learned how to make Chinese spring rolls!

My neighbor, Wendy, invited me to her home for this lesson. She wanted to practice her English conversation skills, and I wanted to learn a new recipe, so it was a perfect exchange!

I climbed the steps to Wendy’s apartment, and the first thing I saw was a wall filled with her 8 year old daughter’s drawings, a wall of pure joy! Kid art amazes me. Of course I love how they draw with abandon, no inhibitions, not allowing self-criticism to sneak in, but I also pay attention to their choices of color, scale, and composition. Because I draw, and I started to draw when I was a kid, I remember making these decisions and having inner dialogues as I drew. I look for stories in children’s art, and Wendy’s daughter had a lot of things to say! Greeted with a wall of joyful art, I felt immediately comfortable in Wendy’s home.

She and I sat at her kitchen table where she had already prepared the shredded filling for the rolls—Chinese cabbage, carrots, and mushrooms. She showed me how much filling to spread across the beautiful, paper thin, rice wraps and how to roll and fold them into pretty ‘envelopes.’ Wendy cautioned me not to roll them too tight, because they could explode in the hot grease. I noted the warning. Then, she poured sunflower oil into a deep frying pan and let it get really hot. When it was ready, she used a large pair of chop sticks to place them into the oil and she turned them slowly, so each side got nice and crispy.

As each spring roll fried, Wendy and I shared details about our lives. She asked about my poetry, and I told her that I was working on a poem for my uncle and our relationship.

Wendy then showed me a brush, made from a ram’s horn, used specifically for writing Chinese characters. On another wall in her living room, she had a beautiful scroll with poetic verses on it. She also told me that she was an athlete when she was younger. She used to practice competitive parachuting or base jumping. Yes, my new friend Wendy jumped off buildings as part of a sports team. Amazing!

I wrote down vocabulary words or phrases when she asked for clarification, and I ate three or four of those rolls while we were talking. The kitchen smelled delicious, and I felt grateful.

It may be a small and perhaps common thing for women to sit in kitchens, cook together and talk, but it meant the world to me. Wendy and I made a connection as neighbors and new friends. We proved that regardless of cultural and language differences, we had things in common. It was a lovely way to spend an afternoon.