The first day of spring was the last day of spring rolls for the UW Libraries’ staff. For the past two months, libraries staffer Jung-Ho Ryu has been delivering the tasty treat to all his fellow employees — between 800 and 900 in all. And on March 20, he came to the end with a delivery to the Libraries administration office on the fourth floor of Allen Library.
“I almost cried,” was Ryu’s reaction to reaching the successful conclusion of his project.
He may not ever want to see a spring roll again after spending countless evenings putting vegetables in delicate wrappers and whipping up peanut sauce to accompany them. He says it takes about three hours to make 20 spring rolls, and the pesky things don’t always come together as they are supposed to.
“The wrappers are really thin, so sometimes they get little holes in them and the filling starts to come out,” he said. “One time it was 1 a.m. and I had to remake a spring roll about five times. It was really frustrating. So when I tell people I pour my heart into this, I really mean it.”
But he persevered, to the delight of the spring roll recipients, who dug in enthusiastically.
Why make spring rolls? Ryu said it started with the Libraries’ holiday party and a conversation he had with Lynn Severin, a program coordinator in the library dean’s office, who said she could make the best spring rolls in the world. Ryu told her he could make better ones — an interesting statement, considering he comes from South Korea and had never seen a spring roll until he got to this country to get a master’s degree in teaching English to speakers of other languages.
Nonetheless, he said, he thinks of himself as a good cook and believed he could learn how to make good spring rolls. He and Severin ultimately traded their homemade goodies, and Ryu said Severin’s were better. But he decided after that to deliver his spring rolls to Libraries staff he saw frequently. Given that he’s a truck driver who delivers books and other material to 15 branch libraries, that’s a lot of people.
Then, on Jan. 18, the day he was making his first delivery, he ran into University Libraries Dean Betsy Wilson in the elevator. On impulse, he told her he was making spring rolls for everyone. And having told the boss that, he felt he had to make it true.
Delivering spring rolls isn’t Ryu’s first project. That was National High Five Day, a day on which he tried to high five everyone he met. He’s also done a newsletter project, a sentence completion project (“Life is….” “Love is….”) and created stamps for members of his graduate program’s with their names in Korean.
It’s all part of his Buddhist philosophy, he says. “When you give, it makes the other person happy, but it makes you happy too. What goes around comes around.”
And though he says he just a pretend Buddhist (“I don’t go to temple; I just try to live the philosophy”), Ryu’s next project is to high five the Dalai Lama when the latter visits campus this month.
“I’m serious,” he says. “I have a plan for how I’m going to do this.”
It may sound impossible, but don’t count him out. After all, he made and delivered more than 800 spring rolls in two months.