My grandparents live in dusty, old photo albums. Like dreams I’ve never had, I see pictures of my grandmother holding my infant form and my grandfather sitting quietly on the sofa, holding his cane out in front of him. Amidst the blood rushing in my head and the drone of the plane on our 17-hour flight, I hear their voices on the telephone and imagine they are sitting next to me. Yet, I know that with every hour, we draw closer to them. They are the people I have always known, but have never met.
The cloudy, starless Taiwan night sky shields us from the sun’s overbearing rays when we land. However, the suffocating humidity and overwhelming summer heat of monsoon season embraces us wholeheartedly. Two figures, my grandparents, greet us at the airport with smiles on their faces. It is like they are the characters from my dreams come to life. I still can’t believe they are real.
On the cab ride to my grandparent’s house in Kaohsiung, we pass building after building, lights flickering in every direction. A countless number of signs cover the walls of restaurants and stores, a collage of color and creativity blurring past me. I close my eyes and breathe in the polluted air that sits heavily with the scent of cigarette smoke and the promise of rain.
In the morning, unrelenting gray clouds fill the sky as we venture the streets of Kaohsiung. At a local market, street vendors loudly call out sales pitches and assertively pull customers into their shops. Mopeds stacked with entire families speed noisily through the street.
I watch as my grandmother confidently negotiates with the pushy vendors, her voice rising in her Taiwanese dialect. I look back and see my grandfather patiently waiting for us just outside of the small store. In this moment, I realize that they are not simply characters of my imagination, but living and loving people of my present.
Every aspect of the culture shocks my American-conditioned mind. I feel out of place, yet in the right place. I wonder what life would have been like if I was raised in Taiwan. My mom looks more alive than she’s been in years, eyes filled with excitement. She blends in with the crowd and I know she feels at home, like she never left.
My grandparents navigate the busy market with pristine strategy and swiftness despite their age, leaving us out of breath as we catch up with them.
Outside the market, we find ourselves at a beach. The clouds blur the horizon and the ocean seems to continue forever. The laughter and screams of local students my age fills the air as we watch them playing in the water. Part of me wants to jump into the water with them, but I feel separated by a language and cultural barrier.
The storm that had loomed overhead all day suddenly gave way, pouring out all of its frustrations. We made a dash for a nearby gazebo to wait out the storm. But the people walking in the streets continued on without a care and without an umbrella, content and happy.
As the rain poured around us and the waves crashed wildly on the shore, my grandmother sang a folk song loudly into the noise and my grandfather played along on his harmonica. Sitting on the benches with my family, in a place that was not my home, but was becoming one, I felt complete. The stormy faces that had once clouded my past have now become clearer than ever.
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