Inside his tidy brick ranch home near downtown Overland Park, Hok Kun Ng welcomes visitors with a slight bow of the head and shoulders and a wide sweep of a tanned sinewy arm, palm facing up.
Asked how he is doing on this hot day in June, Ng ("Ing") says, "So-so. Too old."
Then he laughs. His laughter is soft - heh, heh, heh - but his grin unspools ear to ear, like Charlie Brown's.
Ng is 89 in Western years, 90 in his native China. Ng's grandson, Raymond Ng, who has come to help translate, explains that the Chinese start counting age at conception, so on the day you are born, you are 1 year old.
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On a laptop screen in the family room, a beautiful woman in a silk sheath dress reads the news from a futuristic set in Hong Kong. Ng turns the sound off and heads into the kitchen because today is dumpling day.
About once or twice a month, Ng makes dumplings or pork buns from scratch for family celebrations, holidays or just as a treat for relatives and friends.
For Ng, making the dumplings is a tiring, two-day affair involving back-to-back marathon sessions of washing, boiling and chopping the first day, and rolling out paper-thin wrappers and stuffing and cooking them the next.
It's a labor of love that he took up when his wife, Ting Wang Ng, died three years ago.
When his wife was alive, she did all the cooking, including making dumplings for special occasions. But it was Ng who showed her how, all those years ago.
As he flicks a Chinese cleaver - zing, zing, zing - back and forth across a sharpening steel, Ng explains that dumplings are a specialty in the northern Chinese province of Shandong where he is from.
In his hometown of Weihai, only two families had cars when he was a young boy in the 1920s and '30s. Everyone else got around in carriages and rickshaws.
Ng lived in a multifamily household with his paternal grandparents, parents, seven aunts and uncles, their spouses and "20 or 30" cousins. The family was poor, so dumplings, with their expensive fillings, were a rare, twice-a-year treat. His grandmother prepared them for the Chinese New Year and the Autumn Moon Festival.
When he left the family home to try to make his way in Hong Kong in 1945, the 22-year-old Ng didn't know the customs of the city or speak its language, Cantonese. Mandarin is spoken in Shandong.
But he made friends, learned the language and got a job at a grocery store, cooking for the employees. The other cooks showed him how to make dumplings, and he adapted the recipe to incorporate some of the ingredients his grandmother used.
A few years later, that period as a dumpling maker ended. Ng had a knack for photography and loved taking pictures, so some friends gave him the money to open a studio in Hong Kong. He had 10 employees and a 20-year successful run as a portrait photographer.
But in the mid-1970s, Ng moved to Kansas City, where his son, Richard Ng, was working at Imperial Palace restaurant in Overland Park and attending Johnson County Community College.
Later, Richard and his wife, Theresa, worked at Theresa's family's restaurant, Dragon Inn, and eventually opened a place of their own - Bo Ling's, named for creators Richard "Bo" and Theresa "Far Ling" Ng.
It was during that period that Ng and his wife developed a special bond with Raymond, caring for their grandson nearly full time while the young couple worked from 7 a.m. to after midnight at their restaurant.
Ng loved Kansas City. He found it clean and easy to drive in compared with congested Hong Kong. He became a U.S. citizen and proudly displays an American flag on his mantel, next to a ceramic dragon and a pair of Chinese statues.
His refrigerator is decorated with photographs clipped from magazines of all the American presidents from Richard Nixon to George W. Bush. "Big men, " he says with a smile and nod of approval.
Ng moves gracefully and silently between refrigerator, stove, sink and cutting board as he prepares the 12 ingredients that will go into the filling, one at a time: ginger ("Clean taste and good for digestion"), onions ("I like onions in everything"), scallions ("Good for flavor and color"), wood ear mushrooms, shiitake mushrooms, dried scallops reconstituted with boiling water, celery, green cabbage, bok choy, cilantro, pork and shrimp.
It takes a long time to chop everything by hand, but Ng is no fan of food processors. "They chop everything too small. Not good, " he says.
In nearly three hours of lifting, chopping, dicing and stirring, Ng's hands and arms are in near-constant motion, and he never sits down.
"Got to keep moving, " he says. "If I sit, I don't want to get up."
At one point, when he is waiting for water to boil to soften the cabbages, Ng lifts his knee up and out and flexes his foot, tracing lazy circles in the air with the toe of his sandals for almost a full minute.
A daily routine of healthy meals, only tea and water to drink and exercise keeps him fit enough that last year he was able to hike one of the steepest sections of the Great Wall of China.
He rises at 6 a.m., he explains, and eats a bowl of porridge. Then he does an hour of tai chi. Later in the morning he tends his garden, which he waters with a long-handled ladle he dips into 5-gallon buckets of rainwater and water left over from cooking. After lunch he goes to the gym and works out on weight machines and then swims.
In the evenings before bed he enjoys watching Chinese period dramas and news programs on satellite TV and reading.
The second day, before he mixes dough for the dumplings, Ng takes a bowl that contains the two types of cabbage and celery. He lightly salted it the day before, and now he lifts handfuls of it out of a bowl and into a cotton bag. He washes his hands frequently as he cooks, but he likes to do some things with his bare hands so he can feel if the texture or moisture level is correct.
With sudden force, he squeezes the bag, and a stream of water runs off the heels of his hands.
After he has pressed the moisture out of all the cabbage, he adds it to the rest of the ingredients in a large bowl and adds salt and oil.
Ng shrugs his shoulders and shakes his head. "I don't know. I don't know."
After 10 minutes of patient stirring, he goes to the living room to get his reading glasses, then puts them on and holds his face just inches away from the bowl and scans the glistening filling. "Good, " he pronounces. "You can see when it is just right, not too dry."
After he mixes the dough, rolls it out paper-thin and begins to fill each palm-sized round, Ng says that the dumplings he makes are the way Chinese people like them, with more vegetables than meat in the filling. At Bo Ling's, the dumplings have more meat to accommodate American tastes.
He steams one batch of dumplings 35 minutes for his grandson, Raymond. It is 3:30 p.m. and Ng won't eat any now, because he always eats dinner at 6 p.m.
When the dumplings are finished, Ng lifts them onto a serving platter and whisks together soy sauce, sesame oil and rice vinegar to be used for dipping.
After his grandson leaves, Ng will freeze the rest of the dumplings individually on trays and then in a bag. He will keep some of the bags for himself and dole out the rest to family members.
"When a Chinese family's freezer loses power, " Ng says with a hearty laugh, "everybody goes after the dumplings first."
Raymond lifts a dumpling with chopsticks to his mouth with practiced ease. "Mmmmm. Good, " he says in English first and then in Mandarin.
Ng shrugs, and says with a proud smile that Richard is the real cook in the family.
Raymond says his father admires Ng just as much for his hard work and dedication to his family. "It wasn't cheap to send my dad overseas (to America) to school, " Raymond says.
Ng shrugs again and, still standing, says to Raymond, "Eat. Eat one more."