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For 92-year-old Fung Sin, Lunar New Year means a crowded kitchen. Each year, her family gathers to celebrate the beginning of their new year. And like most holidays, food is at the center of it all — dumplings, spring rolls, rice cakes. Fung Sin admits her husband was the better cook, but her specialty was chicken with sesame. She used to make it every year, along with a big batch of deep-fried rice noodles with shrimp.
With eight children, there were many mouths to feed, but also many hands to help prepare each dish. Fung Sin has fond memories of the sound of frying oil, the hiss of steam from the pot of boiling noodles and the laughter of her family.
Born in China, Fung Sin emigrated to New York City in 1951, when she was just 20 years old. After she met and married her husband, they opened a laundromat together in the Bronx. Fung Sin worked alongside him, and once their children were in school, she got a job as a seamstress in a shop on 34th Street. She’d always loved sewing. She was good at it, too, her nimble fingers finishing the hems of garments and making sample patterns with ease. Working there also helped her pick up her new language. “You learn English when you go out,” she explains.
When she wasn’t working, Fung Sing explored her new country. She never learned to drive, so she’d book bus tours for her and the children. Together, they toured up and down the east coast all the way down to Maryland. One trip took them to Canada. And, once air travel became more affordable, Fung Sin was able to return to China.
I want to go back to China now, but I can't.
In the seven decades since she left, Fung Sin has only returned home a few times. Despite the distance and years gone by, she still has family and friends there. Even though she considers herself a New Yorker, through and through, China will always be home. She misses it. “I want to go back to China now,” she says, “but I can’t.”
Given her fragile health, the trip would be too taxing. Fung Sin’s vision is failing, which affects her sense of balance. She can’t leave her apartment alone and, when she does get out, she needs a wheelchair. Even when moving around her apartment, she relies on a walker for support. She spends most of her time sewing, muscle memory guiding her when her eyes cannot. It’s still a source of joy for her after all this time.
Fung Sin moved from her longtime home in the Bronx to her current Manhattan apartment four years ago, to be closer to her children. She lives alone. Her husband passed away a few years ago. And though her children check in on her often, she can still manage a lot of daily tasks independently, especially with the help of Citymeals on Wheels. Since she can’t go to the grocery store alone, Fung Sin relies on regular meal deliveries to provide nourishing, balanced meals. It’s hard to cook for herself each day, now that she is over 90.
But Fung Sin still get back into the kitchen on special occasions, like Lunar New Year. Seated at the kitchen table, she helps pinch and fold dumpling dough. It’s a skill she’s had many years to refine. And though the holiday may look a little different than it used to— now one of her adult children hosts — so much is the same. The kitchen is still crowded. There are still many mouths, many hands and an abundance of food. And there are still more memories to make.