There are many things in life that a person can sort-of do. You can fake it till you make it. And, there are things by which there are degrees of expertise like playing guitar, cooking or being a writer. A surprisingly good, or a surprisingly bad level of talent can be found in a person who describes themselves as a home cook.

What really amaze me are the few things that when asked if you can do them, you must respond, “yes” or “no”. Like chopsticks. It’s impossible to sort-of use chopsticks. You either can or you can’t.

For me, I learned to use chopsticks in New York City’s China Town at a hole-in-the-wall restaurant called Hung Fat. It was the 1980s and I was a young girl in a purple jacket traveling with my father. I took in China Town with all five senses, each experiencing something exotic, something intoxicating.

An old woman looked on as my dad struggled to posture the chopsticks in my tiny hands. He demonstrated; I fumbled. Our dumplings got cold. We were both laughing at the ridiculousness of it all.

As the woman approached we were aware of her for the first time. In my memory she’s just a fuzzy outline with deeply lined dark skin and arthritic hands. Without speaking a word of English, she first anchored the base stick, and then the pivot stick in my small hand. With the chopsticks in position, she wrapped her fingers around mine and made the motion over and over until she could pull away and I was continuing on my own. And there was no going back; I am a chopstick user.

Chopsticks are rites of passage through which I continue to experience exotic and intoxicating wonders. All it took was an anonymous stranger to be my teacher and a willingness to learn. And, the belief that a-ha moments can happen at the most unexpected times, which allow me to be transformed from someone who doesn’t know, to someone who does.


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