taiwan diaries

Hi hi!

Is everyone enjoying the transition into fall? It’s already quite rainy in Seattle but I honestly kind of missed it – I love fall so much. I have yet to have my first PSL of the year but I did just buy Trader Joe’s PSL coffee grounds. I’m PUMPED to brew some every morning until December. 🤩

Things have been hectic this past week because I moved into my new apartment! My roommate helped me move in (she’s actually the best!!) and I ended up building seven pieces of furniture from Ikea for a full 12 hours the day after. My hands and fingers were raw and sore the next day from twisting the screwdrivers so much, but I was totally feeling like an independent woman. 💪🏻

But before all that, I was in Taiwan for two and a half weeks with my mom. I hadn’t been back for over 15 years so I felt it was due time to go back. Primarily, my grandpa isn’t doing well so that created more urgency to the situation. I’m going to be honest: after coming back to the States and having my friends ask me how my trip was, I’ve been telling them that it was a sad trip. Not sad-disappointing, but sad-my-heart-hurts-sad. I kept a running diary for this trip because I had so many thoughts and reflected a lot, especially the first couple of days. While my photos from the trip are all fun and dandy – because I did have time to do some sightseeing and touristy things with my mom – they don’t capture the moments where I was sad for my grandpa.

I’ve included some snippets of my Taiwan diary in this post (excluding some things for personal reasons), and included my fun photos at the end. Hope y’all enjoy!

August 24, 2019 (Day 1)

It’s been an interesting 48 hours to say the least. The flight to Taiwan goes by quickly at first when I was watching movies (On the Basis of Sex and The Inventor), but drags on when I try to fall asleep again. When we arrive and wait for the bus into the city, I’m blasted with humid, hot air as I step out of the airport. The wind is strong and cools us down after awhile, but I’m grumpy. My eyelids droop heavy and my glasses keep slipping down my nose. I just want to lay down.

I fall asleep on the mattress in the guest room quickly after I shower. A few hours later, I hear my mom settle down on the mattress next to me, probably after catching up with my aunt for little bit. I sleep fitfully after, like I’m battling a high fever. Dreams weave in and out. I can hear Grandpa’s groans of pain and discomfort puncture the silence of the apartment every couple of hours, my heart cracking a little more every time.

I wake up at 5:30am (today, now) the sun already slowly brightening the room. My mom is also awake, so we decide to make it an early morning. The rest of the day goes by slowly, us hunting around the restaurants near our apartment as we hide from the impending typhoon. I read a little and chat with friends on social media.

In the afternoon, Grandpa is awake and talking. My mom and I both take the opportunity to see if we can jog his memory since he hasn’t been able to remember either of us yet. He mumbles something unintelligible, but he raises his right hand. I maneuver to the right side of the bed and take his hand.

My mom tells him, “Hold hands! You guys are best friends!”. I grip his hand gently, afraid that I could crush his fragile bones. Seconds later though, he shakes his arm back and forth, swinging our hands together as best friends do. Tears well up in my eyes and I choke down a sob. He resumes the shaking, and I never want to let go.

I do though, because my aunt and mom need to adjust his position on the bed, so I leave the room before they see my tears.

Even after a day of being here, I feel so fortunate to have seen Grandpa, even though he doesn’t remember me. Catching up with my aunt has been wonderful as well, like no time has passed.

AUGUST 25, 2019

I go talk to Grandpa again and he is quite awake and cognizant this time. My mom is next to me again watching me interact with him, and he mumbles something about coming to America to see me and my twin. Mom says she will buy plane tickets for him, and I start tearing up again. Why is she making these empty promises? I suppose whatever will make Grandpa happy in that moment, but it crushes me. Tears actually rolled down my face this time.

I don’t know if I’ll be able to stop crying every time I hold Grandpa’s hand during this trip, but today makes think about the time I have left with my parents, my relatives. They’re hitting the age where diseases start coming out of nowhere. I’d like to take care of my parents when they’re at that point rather than leave them in a nursing home, but how would I take care of them in the future when I’m working? It’s a different era now, especially in America, where sons and daughters don’t normally just become caregivers. In the next five years, will my mom be in need of care? Will my dad?

September 7, 2019

It’s my second-to-last day here in Taiwan and I’m reeling at the thought of going back to the States. I miss being in Seattle with friends in the same time zone, but mostly, I’ve realized that I miss my independence. Being here in Taiwan, I am 90% dependent on my mom and family members. It’s interesting because I think that if I were here by myself, I would be self-sufficient because I have no one else to depend on. But because I’m with my mom who is evidently more confident in this culture, it’s easy to just let her do all the work and figure out where to go, where to eat, what mode of transportation to take, etc. Here, I’m on everyone else’s schedule – I’m not making my own plans. 

And I miss that liberty & agency I have when I’m in Seattle. For days now, I’ve been planning what I’ll be doing once I’m back in Seattle; that’s when I know I miss it. A lot of what I miss seems shallow and very first-world, but it’s true. That doesn’t mean there won’t be things in Taiwan I won’t miss. Walking around today with my mom, I noticed things about Taiwan that I want to remember: 

  • the way the signs of the stores crowd the street buildings, vying for the attention of customers
  • the teenagers at the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall who were dancing among the pillars, trying to express themselves in whatever space is available in the city
  • the cracked, grimy pavement that smells like rotten eggs; the crisp, bright 7 Eleven stores
  • the chaotic, comforting feeling of Carrefour stores
  • the condensation on carton of Earl Grey Milk Tea

I think 2.5 weeks in Taiwan was just right; it’s time for me to return to the States. Throughout my time here, Grandpa hasn’t remembered who I am, and I’ve grown to be okay with that. I’m just glad I was able to see him after 15 years, and possibly for the last time. This trip has made me think a lot about death – sad, I know, but it seems like we’re all just waiting around for Grandpa to pass, like a string pulled taut and ready to snap at any second. We’re all trying to stay positive by joking and laughing at the things Grandpa says and does, but underlying, it’s deeply sad. Life seems unbelievably short now after hearing about how Grandpa was fine just a few months ago. It makes me think about a famous quote from Mary Oliver:

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

I hope y’all enjoyed this post! It’s darker than all my posts I’ve written in the past, but I think it’s important to be open about these things every once in awhile, to remind you that we’re all still human.

Talk soon,

Jen

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