Looking Through The Conch

Author: Joy Xie

Tags: Asia, Heritage, Quarter Finalist

            The soft whir of the air-conditioner permeates the small study room as I lay on a bamboo mat, staring up at our makeshift mosquito net with my sister breathing quietly beside me. I can hear the shuffling of my grandmother’s feet in the kitchen, the grating snoring of both my mom and grandfather, and the whimpering of my baby cousin in the next room. Our entire family from my mother’s side is crammed into my grandparents’ two-bedroom apartment, but this is the place where I dug deeper behind my heritage to find a new perspective of the world. Over 7000 miles away from America, Taiwan is my conch shell with its creamy color but with a sound reminiscent of my happiest moments. There, I can learn about myself through my culture and the stories heard from my grandparents whom I can only visit once every few years.

       In an island across the world, I can discover who I am as I find out about my culture. Before I visited Taiwan, I had only heard of these unbelievable stories from my mother as she described, “Even though it was almost always sweltering hot, it was my home where I could buy rice cakes and fry them at midnight.” When I got to see the city, Taipei, where my mother grew up with its busy streets, racing motorcycles, and small apartment, I could finally understand my heritage. The culture in Taiwan is oceans away from America with huge differences in food, music, and lifestyles. Everyday I went to a local market with my grandfather to buy fresh fish and vegetables, while in America we go to a grocery story for frozen foods. However the most startling and thrilling part of my discovery into my culture was the night markets. Held outside with flashing lights and individual stands, they delighted me, saturating all my senses with a multitude of trinkets and voices of numerous people. Every time I take a trip back to Taiwan, I realize more about my culture and, therefore, myself.

            Most importantly, behind the swirls of my conch shell is the ocean whispering, and that is where the rest of my family resides, across the ocean. Unlike most families, my grandparents do not live across the street. Every moment that I get to spend time with them; I cherish. Their stories of Taiwan’s past brings into clarity of how China’s nationalist leader Guomingdao escaped to the island and then brought ruin to their once prosperous home. Talking in her soft but forceful voice my grandmother reminiscences of days long gone about Taiwan’s tenuous time with China, since many families wanted by the Communist Party fled for refuge in Taiwan, which she had to do half a century ago. Learning about the past from people who lived through history gives me a different scope of the world.

        The mosquito tent still encases my sister and I on our last day in Taiwan. At four in the morning, we have to leave for the airport. My grandparents hug me for one last time, reminding me to call and urging me to come again as soon as possible. Teary eyed, I wished that I could see them everyday. In Taiwan, I discovered more of myself through my culture and heritage. However, I have not slept under the mosquito tent for three years, but my conch brings me to my favorite place. As I listen to the echoes of the shell, I can hear my grandpa’s snores and my grandma’s shuffling. Taiwan is my home across the ocean.