I grew up in just about the only farm in Taiwan. Everyday after school, the wind would carry the melodies of the school bell into my ears as I sprinted back home to play in the mud. For snack, my brother and I plucked off bananas fresh from the trees. And for adventure, we would squat along the narrow, transparent stream to poke at the crawfish. Most of the time, I kept myself busy by collecting bee hives. Somehow, the bee hives were always incomplete, the perfect size for my small hand to hold. Everyday, I was filled with carefree thoughts of playing in the mud or in the stream and how great of a playground Taiwan was. This was my guo jia (my country). But when I turned 10, our family left our country for America on business matter.
There were no banana trees, no bee hives, and no little lobsters. I waited for someone to knock at my door and befriend me. My wish came true. My neighbor, a little blonde girl with blue eyes, knocked on my door and asked politely if she may play with me. It was unbelievable how innocent this girl was, unbelievable that a perfect girl like her would want to play with me — an alien. Even though I had a hard time understanding, she was patient and soon we became best friends. Her name was Sarah Pratt and she was the one filled my once lonely and empty mind with love, patience, and friendship.
After waiting long years, our family finally decided to go back to Taiwan for the summer of 2007. I was excited to finally come back to my guo jia, to see those familiar old surroundings and faces once again. Only when I stepped into the streets of Taiwan did I realized how much it changed within the last 7 years. The government had bought my grandfather’s farm and had dumped cement over the stream where my memories lived along with those crawfish. So I went into the capitol, Taipei, to find familiarity. I found nothing there. The streets were filled with cars, motorcycles, skyscrapers, huge advertisement boards, attractions and skinny people with Japanese-style clothing. The banana trees, bee hives, little lobsters were no where to be found.
Taiwanese teenagers didn’t play on bare soil like I did; they were interested in fashion. One of their fashion magazines even said: “We just want to wear cool clothes. Guys who can’t be bothered about their looks — what a waste! And there’s no way you can trust them.” I laughed when I first read that. Although this was my home country, I could not relate to them. I doubted this place; maybe it wasn’t Taiwan.
As I walked along these crowded streets, I stood out because my style was different and my face was “American-looking,” so they say. I had the simple Billabong T-shirt and Levi’s jeans as opposed to them with their colorful tank tops, lacey shorts with shiny beads on them, and hot pink high heels. As I walked on, random people greeted me and asked if I was a foreigner. I did not know how to answer them. I was born here in Taiwan just like them, and was raised here for 10 years as opposed to the mere 7 years in America. Everyday, more than 4 people would ask if I was an American before I even say a word. I wasn’t sure where I was from anymore. I thought I was from Taiwan but I guess I’m not authentic looking enough. A sense of loss and confusion filled my mind. What I thought were my people weren’t really mine anymore. What I thought was familiar wasn’t anymore. All I could think of was Sarah; I wished I was back in Irvine where Sarah would welcome me any day so I would not have to walk on these crowded exciting place alone. I just wanted to hide.
Perhaps Dale Carnegie said it best in that “it isn’t what you have, or who you are, or where you are, or what you are doing that makes you happy or unhappy. It is what you think about.” And where you find yourself happy is where you belong — your guo jia. Though Taiwan once filled me with carefree thoughts and satisfaction of how great my country was, I feel more tenacity toward America now. After these 7 years of staying in America, meeting its people and breathing its air have changed me. Being here in America has given me the best of my years. Having an understanding friend like Sarah has filled my life with excitement and satisfaction of such a durable companionship. And for this country, my country, I am willing to sacrifice my time and rights for the benefits of this country. My thoughts make up who I am. And I have learned to love such a carefree, loving country — America. My gua jia and I am HERE now to always cherish this free land.
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