How to Go Home to Taiwan
Feel anxious about facing all the family and friends. Feel that they are closing in on your personal space already, even though you’re still far away.
Be reluctant to pack. Wait until the absolute last minute.
Wonder if you can survive the humidity and heat in Taiwan. Imagine being hit by a flying cockroach.
Make a mental list of things you have to eat in Taiwan, because you can only find them in Taiwan.
Get on a plane. Fly for 14 hours. Feel exhausted.
Call your mother from CKS airport. Tell her not to wait up because you still have the keys to the house, after all these years.
Wake her up still when you enter the door because the dog doesn’t recognize you, and doesn’t stop barking.
Get changed and try to sleep. Your mother insists that you sleep in her room tonight. You lie there awake for a while, and finally drift off to the dream.
Wake up at 4am jetlagged. Your mother immediately asks if you are hungry for a glutanous rice ball. Say no at first and only to surrender half an hour later, because she made it for the Dragon Boat Festival and especially in anticipation of your return.
Visit your grandmother. She is the one person you will make the most time for in every trip. You take Taiwanese breakfast to her place everyday and sit with her for a few hours, listening to her repeating the same stories every time you see her. Get her a taxi so she can play mahjong with her friends in the afternoon. She has been doing this for as long as you can remember. It’s her only entertainment and the reason why she’s still so sharp in her 80s.
Visit an optometry to get new glasses because getting a prescription is free, so the new glasses cost less than $70. Visit a dentist for a checkup and a deep clean. Even without health insurance coverage, you’re only paying $40 for the whole thing. Also, you can walk in, get it taken care of and walk out, all within one hour. Visit a Dermatologist so he can take care of the “thing” that’s been bothering you on your back. It only costs $30 and is done within 30 minutes. Decide you want to retire in Taiwan.
Walk out of all the clinics feeling like a new person. Decide this trip is well worth it already.
Meet with various friends and family members over lunch, dinner, and more lunch and dinner. Feel sorry that you don’t have much chance to taste your mother’s cooking, and see the disappointment in her eyes.
Appreciate the laughter and joy you share with these friends and family, remembering all the good times together. Feel like you have people behind you again, and they are all backing you up. It is different from having to fight and standing up for yourself all the time in the U.S, and feeling lonely sometimes. Complete this ceremony like a good citizen, once a year. You like this part.
However, you also sit through some accidental personal questions about relationship status and how much your salary is. Remind yourself this is Taiwan and it is what people do, out of curiosity and… love, or so they say. You know this is their way of assigning you a place in their system and this is how they process life. Be surprised why no one notices that they are all programmed the same way to think the same and behave the same. Be confirmed again that you do not want to live in Asia for precisely this reason. You don’t want to be part of the system. You’re not even a team player.
Attend your brother’s wedding. Feel excited for him, and still can’t believe he’s lucky enough to marry her. She is an angel. Pig out at the wedding banquet because no one drinks excessively as in western weddings, and notice you’re the only one drinking at the table. Play the role of a good daughter and sister. Take pictures with all family members and feel the love for them. You are proud of your brother for no reason. Feel the unbreakable family bond. Worry about the unbreakable part for a while because it conflicts with your strong desire for freedom. Know that you can never be entirely free. Shake off this thought.
Be determined to find the best pineapple cakes. Get five boxes even though you don’t really know whom you’d give them to yet. You have no trouble inhaling them all by yourself. Maybe you’ll bring some to the office. Maybe they won’t like it. Taiwanese desserts don’t impress people much in the U.S., and you know it’s because it’s neither sweet nor creamy enough for the American taste.
Pack again to go back to the U.S. For some reason, it is harder to leave your family behind this time. Hold your grandmother and tell her you love her. Hold your mother and tell her you love her. There is a soft spot in your heart of steel, after all.
Get on a plane and fly 12 hours this time. Feel happy about traveling as a U.S. citizen. Greeted by the gorgeous sunshine and 66 degrees weather in San Francisco. Be glad to be back to your own apartment and space. Blast music. Pour some wine. Watch TV. Try to sleep. Wake up in the middle of the night. Write about this trip. Try to sleep again because you have to work tomorrow. Actually, today.