The Stranger in my Kitchen


The Stranger in my Kitchen

Illustration: Shivali Devalkar


iving with a stranger teaches you several things: You brace yourself for their idiosyncrasies, you prepare to adjust to their habits, and you hope they will tolerate yours. The further the stranger is from your culture, the steeper the learning curve – the more rewarding the payoff.

Niya Ming and I are now friends, but when we first met, there was a discernible veneer of ice between us. Niya is from Hangzhou, near Shanghai in China. She lived across the corridor from my room and studied graphic design at my university. She and I shared a kitchen, along with three other people on the same floor. Being older than the rest of us, annoyingly conscientious, and married, I’d written her off as unsociable. I was 20, having the time of my life, and too hungover on most days to realise that, under the stoicism, lived a sensitive soul with a rare sense of humour and great taste in food.