Meeting family not seen for 12 years or ever! Written: August 7, 2007
08.04.2007 - 08.07.2007 32 °C
To me, Taiwan is like an old shoe. I don't mean it looks like an old shoe (though the island geographically does, with some imagination) or that it smells bad. But like an old shoe that was once comfortable, you realize how much you've outgrown it, non matter how familiar.
I haven't been back in Taiwan since leaving it the summer of 1995. While my parents and sisters have been back to visit, I haven't had the chance with school and summer work. Add to that the complications of my conscription service and 12 years have gone by.
In those 12 years, I've changed a lot. Grown up into the person I am today, graduated from University in Engineering and sprung up to the 6' tall 158 lbs man that I am today (which is almost 4-6" taller than the average Taiwanese man!)
Though I've left Taiwan early at the age of 5, my family and I moved back in 94-95 before the Quebec referendum. We didn't adjust that well and decided to move back to Canada, but this time Toronto instead of Montréal.
In that one year, I gained a lot of memories of my birth country and relatives I barely knew. After leaving and being away for so long, they were just names in a distant land to me. In a way, my embrace of the Canadian identity further increased the divide between my Canadian life and the one I left behind in Taiwan.
While my family and I have had a patchy relationship with our relatives back in Taiwan, people do say that blood is thicker than water. While memories may be suppressed, they cannot be forgotten. The sights, smells and people all brought them back one at a time.
The familiar face of my oldest aunt reminded me of the family gatherings we used to have. The dresser in my cousin's room reminded me of when we played hide-and-seek together 12 years ago. Riding on the moped with my uncle on the wrong side of the road reminded me of Taiwan's insane moped traffic. The smells of the night market reminded me of the endless cheap and diverse snacks that Taiwan is known for and that all Taiwanese people long for when away. Seeing my younger cousins all grown up and tall as well as new ones that I hadn't seen before reminded me of how much older I've become! Visiting the place where I sued to live in Taipei, I suddenly remembered a brown suit with red bow tie I once wore. My uncle laughed and dug out his wedding pictures that showed me and my cousin as ring bearers for my aunt/uncle's wedding 20 years ago. I forgot.
On visiting my great aunt, she remembered the nickname she called me all the time when she took care of me since she lived across the street from us in Taipei.
"Non goo", it means slow, dimwit.
The joke's on her though, I'm the first of this Tseng clan to graduate University and my grandma was pretty happy that I was nearly 1' taller than her grandson my age. My grandma is a simple and competitive woman.
I also visited the old family farm land which used to include a nice old home but it was sold, demolished and a retirement home was built in its place. I had great memories of playing in the creek nearby with my cousins and exploring the right wing of the home which was full of old stuff (including a big artillery shell my dad had brought back from the Army, he was an artillery sergeant) But all that remains of the Tsengs there was pieces of rice paddies, old friends and memories.
We met the old village chief and his wife there. As soon as she saw me, she said, "That's Tseng Pen-Chao's son. He's got his face." I am familiar with that exclamation and not ashamed (apparently, my dad was well sought after by the ladies in his younger days, something I thought was just my mom's exaggeration/boasting however my aunt and grandma did confirm that it was true).
My usual response: "I'd be worried if I didn't look like him!"
That always gets a few laughs.
On my last day in Taiwan, I spent it all in Taipei. I went to the (remarkably good) vegetarian buffet and then Taipei 101 tower. After the visit to great aunt, we went to the night market for me to have authentic Taiwanese food that I wouldn't have for a long time. Finished up with going to the wharf in Danshui and checking out the bridge. I spent the night at my dad's younger brother's place. He runs a bookstore with his wife and didn't get home till after 2 am when I'd already gone to bed. But I finally met the aunt that I'd never seen in the morning.
It's strange. For me, my family has always meant my dad, mom and sisters. The relatives in Taiwan were unknown strange people far far away. But now I realize, they are a link to my past and an integral part of my history and identity. Though I've spoken to them less than to my most disliked professors, there is a connection with them that transcends distances, countries, languages and culture.
Although I had given up on that connection, I would indeed like to renew and reconnect.
Thank you (for all the food) Taiwan!