top of page

Chive Boxes

NINI YANG

Grinning to the camera, I held the carefully crafted wonton on my fingertips, pretending to be unaware of its unique shape. 

“You make inverse wontons, and your sister makes straw-hat-wontons. The pudgy hands make art,” Aunt joked. 

The pudgy hands she was referring to belonged to my mom. I have never seen anyone make dumplings as delicate as Mom’s. 

The summer after freshman year of high school, I went home. After a year studying in the United States, it felt weird to be back in the place where I had spent my whole life. On my first night lying in the familiar bedroom, I could hear the chirping of cicadas. My stuffed bunnies and penguins and teddy bears were lined up by the bunk bed my sister and I shared, all the same as I remembered. But things also felt different. I could feel a sense of distance, as if my surroundings were enclosed by a layer of silk, something I could see through but never cross. 

 

I remember one morning that summer, when the sunlight crept through the half-curtained window onto the wooden table, where I sat on one side with my Mom and sister on the other. The scent of flour and shepherd’s purse filled the room. Gingerly, I folded the wonton skin as if making a paper crane, but hardly managed to wrap all the paste inside. I laughed. Though inept, my fingers roused the memory that had long been asleep. 

When I placed another crooked dumpling upon the chopping board, a delicious smell filled my nostrils. I rushed to the kitchen, and before I felt the warmth of the hearth, the sizzling sound was in my ears. On the pan sat the freshly fried chive boxes. The outside grew an appetizing gold. The crispy, ornamented brims looked as if they were elegantly woven. Mom seldom cooked, but she was a natural artist. 

As I gulped the plump wontons and gently cut the golden chive boxes, I smiled wide. A thought occurred to me: If I were a farmer, that was the joy I would taste at harvest time. 

Two months after I left home again at the end of summer, Thanksgiving break was approaching, and Mom’s birthday was in a few days. Yet I was not home. My plan was to stay at a host family’s apartment because the dorms in my boarding school were closed during breaks. I was stretching by the stone steps after a run next to the dining hall when I felt a weird heaviness oppressing me. As I looked beyond the red fence, where the blackness gradually curtained the far hills, I suddenly craved homemade wontons. 

With the challenge of new classes that I had to tackle in the middle of my field hockey season, the semester was harder than I expected. I remember the night after a field hockey practice, when I snuck into an empty classroom during study hall to have my advisory meeting, rescheduled to fit into my overloaded day. Maybe because it was online and through the computer screen I felt somehow shielded, maybe because three more hours of assignments awaited me in my room, or simply because my advisor said, “you looked a bit teary,” I burst into hot tears in front of her for the first time.

So as I thought about what I could do for Mom’s birthday, I, for the first time in my time abroad, acknowledged this yearning as homesickness. 

In elementary school, I would snack on lollipops and pickled olives and walnuts and cheese breadsticks as Grandpa drove us all the way home from school. Grandpa used to pick up my sister and me every day, carrying our pink backpacks for both of us, one on each of his sturdy shoulders, as he walked with us through the alley to the street where his old Toyota was parked, the backseat filled with the snacks he bought the previous day. Grandma would be at home mixing green onions and soy sauce to make my favorite noodle topping. 

In middle school, by the time I walked out of my room every morning, I would hear eggs crackling and milk bubbling. When I got home, there would always be a plate of oranges in the fridge, peeled perfectly. I never wondered when Dad got time to do all of this. I just complained when I had millet congee for three breakfasts in a week. 

The dining hall in my school sometimes offers Chinese food, and every time it does, I am reminded of home. Yet something’s missing, something that I always crave when I see pictures of the dishes at home. I guess when the shepherd purse and the chives are folded into the wonton skin by the hands that have embraced me since I was a baby, they tickle my taste buds in a unique way. 

My family isn’t perfect. I have to admit that I have wished Mom would never lose her temper, wished Dad never set such high expectations for my sister and me to attend a top school, and imagined a life where my aunt didn’t compare my sister and me. But after a year abroad, what Grandpa told me sank in. He told me that Grandma was concerned about her health and insisted on staying indoors all the time, but she agreed to take a walk that summer day with us only because we came to visit her. One visit was a visit. It counted. 

So in the end, I decided to draw Mom’s chive boxes as a birthday gift for her. Above the brightly colored pencil drawing, I wrote “相隔万里,心在一起”, which translates to “miles apart, but connected by heart.” It was true. The day I left home, my whole family was at the airport to see me off, waving and wiping tears. 

“See how much it has taken everyone to bring you two to this day,” Mom’s words ring in my ears. I will be forever grateful for my family’s love that has never changed, warm as homemade wonton soup, grateful for my home that welcomes me back with a rainbow as the airplane hits the ground.

Above, a brilliant blue. 

Below, a tragic gold. 

She sat with her legs crossed by the river, waiting. She’d known that she would wait, long ago. The knowledge rose in her the first time she set her eyes on the delicate greenery, as fresh and blooming as the hope then in her heart A vacancy had since crept up from her fingertips, until it occupied her. 

She looked down at the barren river bed. Crevices crossed like the tree branches she had seen in the old days. How old, she could no longer recall. 

Thousands of fractures. 

She looked to her right, and did not see the tail of the “Dragon”, which she remembered was the river’s name. The only thing she saw was the soil, though she wondered if it could still be called soil. She was part of the soil, she convinced herself, with the countless fractures seaming her skin. 

A breeze cut along her cheeks. Surprised by the sensation, for a moment, she thought she felt a shawl. The idea almost shook her, but then she calmed herself. Still she waited, blinking. The image took shape in her mind again, the falling petal, the last petal of the last flower. It fell on her, suffocating her with its dying perfume. 

It had been years since the drought began, decades since the heat hit the landscape. For a while, the Dragon had survived, yet eventually here too, life dried up, and so had the last blossom. 

She bowed her head and closed her eyes for a wish. Yet when she lifted her eyelids the only color she saw was the pitiless gold. 

Her tears did not come. The last drop of moisture was gone.

Waiting

NINI YANG

NINI YANG is a writer from Shanghai, China, currently studying in Troy, NY. She loves writing fiction and personal narratives. She participated in Kenyon Young Writers Summer Workshop in 2023. She is a section editor of her school’s newspaper and the contributor of her school’s literary magazine. Besides writing, she loves playing the flute, learning French, traveling, playing field hockey and lacrosse.

bottom of page