It’s been years and I’m finally back in the place so dear to me. Grandma’s house looks the same as it did years ago when I left. I’m sitting in the stretchable chair that seems to have been here ever since I can remember. The sun is as bright as always and it’s steaming hot out. I remember how I, as a kid, would always go play in the river in this weather, but so much has changed. Much of the river has dried up in the past few years and the rest is now filled with trash.

I sit still in the chair with my eyes closed, not knowing what I want to do and not wanting to move. Then, I hear the familiar sound again. Thud thud. Pause. Thud thud. It’s the sound of wood gently striking another piece of wood. The wonton man is here. I get up and run out of the door to catch him before he rides his tricycle past my house. He stops and gets off the tricycle filled with all the equipment he needs to make a bowl of wonton soup. He turns on the gas under the pan and pours some water into the pan. He then puts in some greens, sliced pickled mustard, and the tiniest bit of meat. He opens the drawer filled with neatly folded wontons and takes out a few to add into the pan. He stirs a little and the soup is ready in no time. He hands me the steaming hot wonton soup in a Styrofoam bowl and a little plastic spoon as I hand him the money. He gets on his tricycle, riding away and tapping on the piece of wood in front of the handle.

I carefully move back to the house and set the bowl down on a table. Has the bowl always been this small? I remember back when I was very little, my parents or grandparents would sometimes buy wonton soup for me. Not often, because it’s not exactly cheap, but once in a while I can enjoy this luxury. Of course, I always have to share it with my brother or cousins, because we couldn’t finish it by ourselves, or because we couldn’t afford to buy one bowl for each person. I scoop up a steaming hot wonton and eat it. The skin is very soft and tender. There is not nearly as much meat inside the wonton as I thought I remembered, but it’s still wonderful. The soup is very hot, almost tongue-burning, but I’ve always liked it best this way.

I finish the wonton soup very quickly. It looks a bit different from what I remembered but the smell and taste are so familiar that they bring back so many memories. All those days when the wonton man stopped in front of my neighbor’s house and I could smell the mouthwatering wontons boiling but I could only watch them. And those special days when my grandma bought a bowl of wonton for me. She would always bargain with the wonton man in non-fluent mandarin about how little meat he put in. And those afternoons when all of my siblings sat outside on the stone bench around one or two bowls of wonton soup, and we would always fight over the last wonton.

I put the plastic spoon back into the empty bowl and lie back down on the stretchable chair. I’ve had countless wonton soups from different restaurants and supermarkets in the three years I’ve been away. But only this wonton soup is unforgettable. Maybe because there is a secret ingredient. Maybe because it’s fresh. Or, maybe because it tastes like home.

Manlun Ding’s personal essay “The Wonton Soup” won second prize in the Fifth Annual School of Visual Arts Writing Program Contest. She is a digital and traditional artist who has deep sentimental feelings for the village in China where she spent her childhood. Manlun is currently a freshman majoring in Computer Arts at SVA.