We have Chinese neighbors. Four of them live in a tiny, two-room apartment and they span three generations of a family from Shanghai.
Grandmother and grandfather speak no English. They take care of a little baby girl, energetic with short hair and wobbly in her pink jumpsuits. The little girl’s mother studies at MIT, returning late each day. Grandfather is tall and distinguished, with a warm and welcoming smile. He catches fish of all sizes from nearby rivers and dries them on a rough line in the sun. Grandmother smokes Chinese cigarettes on the front stoop in her pajamas. They cook all day and eat, together as a family, in the evening.
Smells seep through their apartment door and into the hallway. Sometimes they are familiar and intoxicating, other times terrible and too strong, from too far away and impossible to understand. I helped them move a couch when they arrived in our building this summer. My reward came a few days later - a Tupperware container brimming with dumplings, savory and smooth in a broth dotted with bubbles of oil and the tiniest shrimp you’ve ever seen.