3AM. I’m so backlogged with posts that I can’t even think right. I still want to post our Niagara adventure, and I really, really need to update my book review section.
Part of the problem: I’ve been writing so much for classes that it feels like there’s very little to say here. Of course that’s not true…I’m a firm prescriber to the belief that life is in the details. But while I do appreciate them everyday, I’m no longer of the opinion that every detail is worth a blog post. (This is something everyone who’s ever read this blog should be thankful for.) But there is a happy medium, somewhere. I just haven’t found it yet.
In other news, we’ve added more stamps to our passports. We’ve recently returned from Jim’s first visit ever to Taiwan, my home country. Jim is my first friend EVER to see my home. In the days and weeks leading up to the trip, I wasn’t so much anxious that he’d like the place–after all, it’s where I’m from; part of what forms me, and I can’t change that–but I was really freaked out that everything would go smoothly.
My dad is the eldest son of his family, an honorable position, and my mother is the youngest daughter in hers–a coveted position in terms of sheer spoiling. It’s my mother’s family whom we visit the most when we’re in Taiwan, and this trip was no different. So yes, my brother and I still get spoiled when we go home, and yes, I expected some pampering, but I did not expect to have my cousins do everything for me.
MARKERS YOU WILL ALWAYS BE EIGHT IN SOME PLACES IN THE WORLD EVEN WHEN YOU ARE 37 AND YOUR HUSBAND IS 40.
1. One entire branch of your family calls you and refers to you by the nickname they gave you when you were two. (In my case, “Gee Gee,” pronounced with hard “Gs.” It means “little screamer.” Shut up.)
2. When you have a problem, like, oh, I dunno, say your husband leaves your iPad in the seat pocket of a train, your entire family gets on it. Also, everyone knows about it in about three seconds.
3. Your entire family asks if you have enough money to spend. EVERY DAY.
4. No one lets you pay for anything. You have to resort to things like “going to the bathroom” and then stopping by the hostess’ booth to hijack the check. This leads to a bizarrely joyful sensation when you do get the check, or the chance to pay for anything. You feel like fistpumping: “YES! I GET TO PAY FOR SOMETHING! OWN IT!!”
5. You get patted on the head. Your hair gets ruffled. People say things like, “Good GeeGee. She comes home every once in awhile. What a nice girl.”
6. Your older cousin accompanies you to a business meeting and sits on the other end of the couch. For an hour.
So. The anxiety. There were parts of Taiwan that I hadn’t explored in ages. My progress through Taiwan is hampered by my incapability to read or comprehend Mandarin. Taiwan is weird that way, and Taiwanese, too–it’s rooted in Mandarin, which I never learned, but it’s a language entirely on its own. My cousin Jill helped me with EVERYTHING. She booked train tickets and hotels, arranged for permits, and in general was a gracious and lovely and fun host. The absolute care with which she handled everything made me feel a little flustered. I mean, how do tourists who don’t even have my basic knowledge of a working language do it?
A STORY ABOUT A FREELANCE WRITER AND AN ENDANGERED BIRD
Once upon a time, there was an endangered bird called the Black-faced Spoonbill. A fledgling writer in New York heard about its endangered status and went on a mission to spread the word about a salt refinery going into place that would decimate one of the birds last remaining overwinter sanctuaries.
The girl made arrangements to fly to a small tropical island to visit the birds and the fishermen who were fighting to save it. She booked plane tickets and set up interviews and eventually wrote an on-spec story that never ran.
Legend goes, the girl’s family still marvels over her initiative and bravery at such organizational skills. Alas, the girl herself has no recollection of how she did all these things. Further study is, perhaps, warranted.
Eventually, it all went to plan: We spent a full day in Taipei and then went to dinner and then took off the next morning for the Taroko Gorge–yet another place we want our friends to see–and then it was off to Kaohsiung for dinner with our uncle and hanging out with family I already knew Jim would love–and then I took him home, to TouLiu, and to my hometown, and to the house that robs me of any other standard of living.
Once, we owned rice paddies from our front doorstep to the foot of the mountains to the east. Once, water buffaloes and peasants worked the fields. Once, peeping frogs and squeaking bats and the plop-plop of rain were the only ways you could tell where things were in the deep dark of a night in the Taiwanese country; once, I could walk down the alley and go to the corner store for breakfast and they would say, “Your mother went to America, didn’t she? And you came back? Welcome home.”
ELEMENTS OF ARCHITECTURAL STUDY, AN IMAGINED LECTURE BY A PROFESSOR OF ARCHAEOLOGY AT YUNLIN POLYTECHNIC UNIVERSITY
“In this example of late Chin-dynasty architecture, we see clearly many markers of status: The horned roofing structure, the hand-painted rafters, the elaborate carvings in the area above the family shrine.
“Likewise, the person who designed this house clearly loved nature–note this inscription above the doorway to the kitchen, which evokes the memory of birds floating gracefully within flowering plants as they sing their songs.
“Finally, we note the pillars of the great hall itself, the way the short set of stairs sweeps up into the entrance to the grand hall. Visitors were made to feel as if they were not only being honored, but also as if they were in the presence of something honorable.
“In that vein, we take a trip down the road of local lore. It’s rumored that, on these very steps, the designer and first owner of this house, a scholar and elected official in the Chin dynasty, a man we’ll call Mr. Wu, received a notorious chief of Japanese warrior thieves. Our Mr. Wu had been asked by the emperor at the time to ‘do something’ about the warrior thief problem, and so, feigning illness, he sat in a wheelchair with a wicked saber hidden beneath a blanket on his lap. He summoned the warrior thief for a visit. One did not ignore an invitation from Mr. Wu.
“Our Mr. Wu beckoned the warrior thief closer. As he stepped within striking distance, Mr. Wu stood.
“The blade went neatly through the warrior thief’s neck. It is rumored that Mr. Wu sent the head to China, as proof of having followed the emperor’s request to a T, and then went in search of the Taiwanese wife that the warrior-thief had taken from her home. He took her under his wing, made her a concubine, and took care of her children for the rest of his life.
“But I digress. We have here in front of us two of the columns that came down during the earthquake of September, 1999. Let us study them now. Tomorrow, I’ll talk more about the internal workings of the house, the large center courtyard, and we’ll have in an expert on family living in that era.”
The rest of the trip was awesome. I sincerely hope that the occasion arises for more Western friends to see both my homeland and my home, the structural body itself, before one of these things falls to progress and concrete rot.
As evidenced by the three national parks we visited the other of these things seems to be well on its way to preservation, not progress–it’s a good thing.