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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?

——–
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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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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We briefly fled the heat of Taipei for a night away with my parents in the high mountains around Cingjing.

Yesterday at this time, we were hiking along a ~3200m (10600ft) high path to the peak of Mt. Shih men (石門山) in Taroko National Park. This was the easiest trail offered at this part of the park, taking only about 30 minutes to reach the peak on a fairly well maintained path. For the more intrepid climbers, the park offers trails that take up to 8 hours of hiking, with a few intermediate ones at 2-4 hours estimated time.

It was probably only 15C (59F) outside, and when the sun went behind the clouds (which we were walking among, not below), I appreciated my sweater and scarf. I profess to hate cold weather, but the truth is that I enjoy it in small doses. This was delightful.

To get there, we drove over the highest “automobile pass” in Taiwan, at 3275m high.
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There were a lot of tourists, so finally I gave up on getting a picture of the sign without a stranger posing in it.
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It’s 33.8C (92.8F) in Taipei now and those peaks seem a world away, not a mere 5 hours by MRT, high speed rail, and car.

Let’s go back.

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Hehuanshan National Forest Recreation Area

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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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Blogger Lao Ren Cha 老人茶 already has an excellent post on getting clothes custom made and fitted by tailors at Yongle Fabric market in downtown Taipei. You can read it yourself here and gawk at her gorgeous wedding dress.

Though I’ve been to the Yongle market a few times this year (to buy fabric for the couch cushion covers, the bedroom curtains, and the living room hanging dividers), it’s too far to go to for the kind of tailoring I want – resizing all my too-big clothes.

So what was I to do?

You can’t walk a block in our neighborhood without coming across a sign for a tailor who fixes and alters clothing. Most of these places are tiny and look perfect for hemming your pants shorter or fixing that broken strap on a dress, but not for more complex alterations.

Finally, on one of my walks, I spotted a tailor with an actual store. Better yet, it was occupied by about four older women in their late 60s or 70s, chatting with the tailor while she worked. Perfect. I’ve really come to appreciate my neighborhood aunties this year, whether I’m dancing with them at exercise class every Tuesday, buying vegetables with them at the market, or observing them gossip like a gaggle of geese in the park nearby. If this tailor shop came with aunties, it had to be good!

I took two dresses, two dress shirts and a skirt in for alteration. The dress needed the most work because it was already a little big when Gene’s mom bought it for me in 2011. Add to that my becoming even smaller this year in Taiwan and by March, the dress looked like this:
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Now, thanks to her work, it fits perfectly!

The total for altering five items came to 1100NT, or ~$37US. I have a few more blouses to take in before we go, and I think Gene might try to get some of his boxier dress shirts cut down to fit him better.

The tailor speaks both Mandarin and Taiwanese, but be careful – as soon as it became clear I could speak Taiwanese, one of the aunties decided I wasn’t allowed to use Mandarin anymore for the sake of practicing. It was marvelous! As was this exchange:
“Is it your father or your mother who’s Taiwanese?”
“Neither, they’re both American.”
“Then why are you so short?”

I love Taiwanese aunties.

Address:
內湖區東湖路33巷24號
Neihu District, Donghu Rd. Lane 33, #24

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Most MRT stations in Taipei offer open outlets and free wifi, which has been extremely useful for me when my cell phone battery dies while I’m out or if I realize important info is in my email rather than written down somewhere.

I’m feeling curmudgeonly over this gaggle of teenagers huddling around the charging station, however.
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This was after I’d spent half an hour waiting at the National Immigration Agency to renew our visas and noticed that, while not alone, I was one of the few who had a book out rather than a smartphone or tablet. I’m in a Luddite kind mood today, I think.

My crankiness was lifted, however, shortly after boarding the MRT, when I saw this middle-aged couple playing some tapping game together on the man’s cell phone. It was adorable.
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