I’d always lived in California. I’d never been anywhere else — not even out of state! — and I can’t imagine living anywhere else. This, I suppose, is exactly why my mother intended to visit her native Taiwan this summer — and drag my brother and me along.
I abruptly fainted.
I’ll say it right now. I may be Chinese-American, but that gives me absolutely no qualifications to actually live in a Chinese-dominant nation. My mother describes my Mandarin, for instance, as “rocks being thrown at a wall,” and my Chinese literacy isn’t much better. (In fact, it’s worse.) Knowing this, I completely dreaded the flight to Taiwan. Being scared of airplanes didn’t help.
As soon as we arrived at the Taipei International Airport, my grandmother warmly greeted my mother, little brother, and I with what she probably thought was an excellent way to greet one’s family members: running up to us with a large foreboding grin on her face, grabbing all three of us with (what looked like) flesh-colored claws, and smothering us to death by something called a “hug.” As her unseemly embrace clutched at our wriggling bodies, I thought of what my father was doing back in California. (Being the smartest in our family, he had decided to stay home–I only hope I attain such wisdom when I get to be his age.)
After some desperate negotiations involving a large amount of chocolate, our family escaped from the claws of my conniving grandmother with only a few scratches to show — except for my little brother, Brian, who also had large, rosy lip marks on his cheeks. (They still remain today as a wonderful memento for our first thirty seconds of Taipei.) Somehow, we were able to establish to our grandmother that we came to Taipei for more than just the airport, and so after a few more negotiations (involving more large amounts of chocolate) my battle-worn family and I, plus grandmother, boarded a large SUV driven by a creepy-looking shaggy-haired man — my mother told me he was my uncle, but I had no intention of believing her then — and somehow made our way through the night to my grandmother’s house.
You might remember that particular night — it was the longest night of all time. What happened, in short, was this: the creepy driver would speak in some language that sounded like rocks being at a wall, my grandmother would answer in the same dialect, and then my mother would tell us to laugh, because whatever the noise those two were making was, it was (evidently) a real knee-slapper. So, recalling our firsthand experience with the Embrace of Death, my brother and I laughed, guffawed, and rolled over hysterically in an effort to preserve our lives.
The real meat of our trip, though, was life outside the vehicle. When we arrived at my grandmother’s house, my brother and I stumbled out of the car — this was difficult considering we were still laughing with unbridled enthusiasm never before seen in this century — and then met some very strange people who claimed to be my cousins. I, on the other hand, claimed I had never seen these people and that they were obviously thieves hiding out in my grandmother’s house. Nobody believed me. (Which is unfortunate, because the very next day my complimentary peanuts from the airplane were gone, which completely ruined my day.)
Because I was with people who claimed to be my family, I traveled everywhere with them. Taiwan really is a beautiful place (says my interestingly written travel pamphlet: “Taiwan: The Jewl of Asia” –yes, “Jewl”) and is full of many wonders (says the same pamphlet); unfortunately, my brother and I didn’t get to see many of these wonders, because we mostly only visited waterfalls and ruins and a large terracotta soldier exhibit. The thieves hiding out in my grandmother’s house loved the Terracotta Army exhibit at the museum; I suspect they only liked it because the soldiers were holding weapons, and being thieves, the little sneaks liked sharp, pointy things.
Yet for some reason, these supposedly boring days passed by like seconds — and only minutes later, we had to return home. This time, we allowed our grandmother to smother us, because we would miss her; I apologized to the thieves, and even shook Creepy Shaggy Man’s hand. I had found Taiwan to be much more interesting than I had given it credit for — and in return, Taiwan had given me the opportunity to bond with the family I never knew existed.
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