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Far From Formosa

I’m blogging again, albeit less frequently, since the adventures of graduate school pale in comparison with the adventures of life in Taiwan.

January will see Gene and I return to Taiwan and travel to China for two weeks.  I’ll write and share photos about that trip over on the new blog too.

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“The sacrifice wasn’t in going… the sacrifice was in leaving.”

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To love a place. To hold it so dearly that one aches at the memory of it. Are we not most fortunate?

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Both quotes come from Bo Caldwell’s A City of Tranquil Light: A Novel

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It was while we were in the midst of this packing that Mr. and Mrs. T. K. Hu came calling. Mr. Hu was carrying a large box which he handed to my father. “Since you are packing,” he said, “we thought this would be the time to give you our remembrance.” My father unwrapped the package and took out a very large ginger jar. Shiny Chinese yellow it was, the happiest color in the world, and it was decorated with bright green characters which wished us long life and health and happiness and lots of money which certainly took care of my wishes.

As we stood admiring the jar, Mr. Hu took it from my father’s hands and set it on one side of our fireplace. “A pair of these jars was given us as a wedding gift,” he said. “They have always stood one on each side of our fireplace. We will keep one and now you have the other. When we look at ours, we will think of you and when you look at yours, you will think of us.” My mother put her arms around Mrs. Hu. My father took one of Mr. Hu’s hands in both of his. “Old friend,” he said. “Old friend.” He must have been misty-eyed, for he took off his glasses and wiped them.

Suddenly I found myself blinking back tears and I didn’t know why. I was counting the days on the calendar, wasn’t I? Then how could a yellow ginger jar turn everything inside me upside down? Mr. Hu, a large, merry-faced man whom I’d always liked, turned to me. “And when you look at that jar, Miss Jean,” he said, “you can think: ‘I was born in China. Part of me will always be there.”’

Fritz, Jean (2007). Homesick (Novel) (p. 93). Puffin. Kindle Edition.

The final two sentences of the above quotation, properly edited mentally to account for the fact that I wasn’t born in China, have comforted me through years of departures from Taiwan. And made me ache sometimes in America, when that part of me I always leave here, on the other side of the planet, seems all too far away.

When I try to write about leaving, my own words tend to ring false. They’re melodramatic or distortedly optimistic or just empty, dull. As the previous paragraph seems to the more I look at it.

I’m thankful that other, better, writers can lend me theirs.

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On Sunday, August 18, I went downtown to watch a protest rally held in front of the Presidential Office.

I do not understand the underlying issues well enough to comment on the reasons behind the protest itself, nor should I on this blog. If you’re curious about the event specifics, check out these English news articles: Thousands join development protest and Protestors occupy government building.

Actually, part of what determined why I went was because I read about the incorporation of traditional funeral rites into the protest setting, which sounded really interesting and tangentially related to my work.

Another part of why I went is that emphasis was made by the organizers that, even if their slogan about tearing down the government sounded violent, the protest was to be a peaceful one. In light of ongoing violent protests worldwide, no matter where you fall on the political spectrum, and no matter what country you live in, I think we can agree to be thankful for public spaces and political cultures that support peaceful protest. I am thankful for that freedom that Taiwanese have.

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People brought their children. Police were out in force, but not forcefully so, if that makes any sense.

When I first got there, it seemed like there were more journalists than protesters present, but as the rally’s start time approached, the reporters finally had something to report on.
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All ages were represented.
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Then I ran into an old friend from my summers working in city government in Kaohsiung, who, as it turned out, was one of the emcees for the rally.
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It was a powerfully affective afternoon in a resonant place in Taipei.

I think most protests don’t make international news unless they turn ugly. For your information, here’s one that didn’t.

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Three weeks from today, Gene and I will be on separate flights headed to the same destination, Chicago.

I think our most difficult goodbyes began today.

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This morning, our foster cats moved to their new foster home. Their crying as we got them into carriers nearly broke our hearts, but I tell myself that they will eventually adjust and be happy in their new place. It’s just a matter of time.

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A metaphor, perhaps, for the coming weeks.

———

They do still need a permanent home. If you’re in Taiwan, please consider sharing the posters linked below, either online or printed out and posted in public places.

Adopt Luffy & Sweety (English)
認養 Luffy & Sweety (中文)

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When I posted last week about my ongoing questions about identity and feeling Taiwanese in America, I had no idea it would become my most-viewed post ever and elicit such a positive response from the Taiwanese American community.

I owe TaiwaneseAmerican.org a huge thank you. My post linking to them triggered an alert, which led someone there to read what I’d written. Their almost immediate response was overwhelmingly kind.

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(click to enlarge for readability)

In a single day, I saw hundreds of new readers visit this little blog, some of whom left comments here or messaged me with friendly words on Facebook. Days later, I still lack the words to describe how grateful I feel for such an open, welcoming response.

From now on, if you see me in Chicago joyfully wearing my Taiwan pride t-shirt, make sure to say “Lí-hó!”

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A few months ago, I was chatting about my own TCK identity with an American woman in Taiwan and mentioned how I was thinking about getting one of these great shirts from taiwaneseamerican.org that says “I am Taiwanese American.” Look at that amazing green!

Image from taiwaneseamerican.org

“But you’re not Taiwanese American!” she replied. Sigh. I guess not.

That’s part of why I didn’t order one. Another part is that I’m worried Taiwanese Americans themselves wouldn’t like me using the label either. I’m afraid of that rejection. Perhaps it’s best not to invest money in apparel proclaiming an identity that I’m not entirely sure I should go about proclaiming. And that the first assumption will likely be that I’m wearing it ironically, as a white woman thinking it’s funny to pretend to be Asian. That’s a reading that will upset and hurt precisely the people I don’t want to hurt when I’m in America.

Instead, I want to share in the joy of having found another someone from my little home country while far away across the ocean in that big strange land. Like I’ve done several times in Chicago thanks to my boys’ and girls’ high school bags from Kaohsiung. I’ve had many delightful conversations about home. I’ve helped lost Taiwanese tourists who saw a familiar object and dared ask me for directions. If you’re reading this, Ching-Fang, our chance meeting on the 6 bus and continued friendship is probably the most fun of them all. :)

I suppose I’ll just stick with those identity markers, rather than anything more explicit and open to negative interpretation.

You know, I’d buy the Ai Daiwan shirt that taiwaneseamerican.org sells, but the brown t-shirt it’s printed on would look awful on me.

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