I hear him outside the gates when he comes to offer his services: He yells in a practiced, resonant, piercing voice, "剪刀 Jiǎndāo 刀 Dāo 磨快 Mó kuài." Scissors. Knife. Make sharp.
I open my kitchen window and lean out and he trolls for business on his bicycle. "我有 Wǒ yǒu," I say, as he slows, turns, and recognizes me. He parks his bike in the shade of the flowering cherry tree as I bring him my kitchen knives.
"今天没有剪刀 Jīntiān méiyǒu jiǎndāo?" he asks. No scissors today?
"有 yǒu," I reply as I return to the house to get my scissors, leaving my knives in his hands.
Knife sharpening is a family business. Three years ago when I moved to JinHai GuangChang I met his father, an leathered man of indeterminate age, his fingernails mangled from years of minor sharpening accidents, his hands scarred. The father smiled deeply, like an inhalation, and I noted that the scars seemed to be relics of inexperience. There are no fresh scars, scars were from his youth.
Now the son has taken over the business and I inquire about his father's health. "不错 Bùcuò," he replies, beaming over this polite chatter from the foreigner. "他很累 Tā hěn lèi." He is very tired.
I linger outside, enjoying the warm spring day and the scent of the blossoms. He wonders why I am taking his photograph, but he does not protest. He doesn't know that these are our last days in China, that perhaps this is the last time he will sharpen my blades. He cranks the sharpening wheel with one hand while holding the blade steady with the other. He whets the blade to a fine edge on a stone, lubricating it with spit from time to time. He tests the blades, then returns them to me for inspection.
"很快 Hěn kuài," he says, and I agree. The blades are very sharp.
Finished, he re-packs his kit onto his bike. Bench, grinding wheel, and stones all back in their place on the back of his bicycle. As he rides away, he begins his chant again.
"剪刀 Jiǎndāo 刀 Dāo 磨快 Mó kuài." Scissors. Knife. Make sharp.
***On this eve of making final plans for our family for this summer, I have realized that despite the challenges, I do love many things about living in China. Much of what I love is what lies immediately outside my windows. "From my kitchen" is a tribute to the special parts of my life that lie immediately outside my home.**