Here are some thoughts on how the month of April played out.
Quick mini-announcement and celebration! I had a poem published in my favorite poetry journal, Cordite. You can read it here–make sure to check out the rest of the issue, too.
At some point between my quarantine at the end of March and this moment of clarity at the beginning of May, time began to show its true colors. I am certain I was not the only one. Others reported not knowing what day it is and experiencing temporal amnesia. At some points I felt that the days stretched on and on ad infinitum. Like sludge, like muck, like snot from a sick night’s sleep. Others, the entire day’s rotation of the earth passed by as a blank sheet, lightly flitting, wavering, unmarked temporally.
Many days–in fact, most days, here–are punctuated by the news at 2 pm.
Every day at 2, the Taiwan Centers for Disease Control releases the official update on confirmed cases on this island. Like many–in fact, most–good Taiwanese citizens, my mom checks the update with an excited commitment. If we’re not at home, she and I will peek in on a restaurant or bar’s TV screen to see. The update acts on the one hand as a timekeeper, a way to mark the calendar, a to-do list for less busy times, and on the other hand, as a barometer for the mood of the city around us.
If the day reports no new confirmed cases, as it did several days last week, the mood is lighter. More people are out on the streets. You feel a little better about taking your mask off when it starts to bother you. The empty hotels emblazon a celebratory ‘Zero’ across the windows, a lighthouse seen from your taxi on the way home from dinner, where the restaurant owner insisted business was down–yet the tables were full and the atmosphere chatty.
On days when 2 pm brings good news, there is the sense that perhaps things will be even more okay here than they already are.
It’s pretty incredible how well Taiwan has handled the current situation. It reminds me over and over again how it was the right decision to come back. I first began toying with the idea of moving to Taipei around Christmas, when I came back to a sunny and warm winter and hikes to volcanic hot springs. As I visited family in the US and traveled in Mexico in early 2020, I confirmed living in the Americas was still not for me. By March, the idea had already solidified. Asia was calling me home big time, and the coronavirus simply expedited the process of returning.
Making a life in the place where you grew up, but have never lived in as an adult, is at once comforting and exciting. It is comforting to be supported, to have family dinners and familiar faces, and not have to rely on Google or gut instinct for everything. It is easy, compared to moving to Australia without knowing anyone, worrying about work and visas. And while almost all of my childhood friends live elsewhere, compared to New York or even Melbourne (which has about the same population), Taipei is quite contained in terms of communities. Within circles of creatives or young people, everyone knows everyone.
It feels like a small pond. It feels like home. And I like it. After these years of putting myself in challenging and foreign environments–it is a relief to come back to a place of warmth and support and family.
And it is such a delight to see your hometown with fresh eyes. I have entirely different reference points to understand Taiwan now. It amazes me how there are always people out and about, how things are open late, how the city stays alive and vibrant and safe. I have a newfound appreciation for the holistic and traditional practices that still exist here: the wet markets, the Chinese medicine herbalists, the tai chi practitioners in the park.
When we walk outside in the early evenings, I am delighted, enthralled, fulfilled by the plumeria trees and the scooters and the last light on the mountains. The swelling throngs of other walkers and joggers and families, the kids on bicycles and the fluffy poodles and the constant snacking. The snacks and the food–oh my god, the food. The little restaurants and street stands and shops peppering every unassuming alley. Taiwan has a density of deliciousness that is rivaled only by Thailand. Trust me, I’ve done the research. Side note–coming back has also confirmed my suspicion that East Asians have unusually high metabolisms. Despite the national obsession with fried chicken and calorie-rich bubble tea, the average Taiwanese person is very slender.
When I walk around here, I know what I’m getting. There’s no one yelling at me on the street, no sketchy areas to dodge, no fights on the verge of breaking out… none of the general jitteriness and obvious, painful inequality of downtown areas in America that make me so uneasy. The safety and solidity of society feels refreshing–when it once felt suffocating. The trains are never delayed. It would be unthinkable. The platform announces its arrival by the second. Convenience here is taken to a pleasant extreme.
Of course, Taiwan has its issues too. The homogeneity of the population means there’s little discussion of race or post-colonialism, despite the island having had quite a complex experience with both. I think mental health could be spoken about more and handled far better. Supermarkets wrap EVERYTHING in plastic. There are, like everywhere, laws and policies I do not love. But honestly, after traveling and living in so many different places, I am more and more impressed by how civil and humane and progressive Taiwan is.
Audrey Tang, who has become a household name recently due their part in the government’s handling of coronavirus, is a great example of this. An activist and programmer, Audrey is the ‘digital minister’, the first transgender official in the top executive cabinet, and an emblem of Taiwan’s increasingly high-tech, transparent approach to governing. See here, and read here.
I started writing with the idea of this past month as the April when time showed its true colors. We could think of it, too, as the April when we were shown our true colors.
With the changing world around us, with more time than ever to reflect (even as life goes on somewhat normally here), with unknowns stretching ahead–our true selves, our boundaries, our unwanted and limiting beliefs, our attachments, and our dreams come surfacing. We are reminded of the suffering and the impermanence that was already there. We dive in headfirst, wade through the distortions, and come out with handfuls of hope and self-knowledge.
Amongst so many revelations and a constant shedding–the death of many things I have needed to let go of–I have also been accepting little things about myself. About my preferences and my lifestyle: how unbearable I find cold winters, and how much I love living in a place that is super safe and clean. Now that I’m back here, with growing clarity, it just makes sense. Of course I hate the cold and love the mountains. Of course I love hot springs and drinking tea. Of course. I’m Taiwanese. I was born and raised on this sweet subtropical island.
It’s in my body and my bones.
And I could never appreciate that as much as I do now, if I hadn’t left for so long and traveled so wide. Our cycles of expanding and contracting–concealing and revealing–provide a context, a framework, a rhythm to understand our selves on the individual and collective level. In this fascinating and precious period, in the midst of halted plans and shifting ideas, in this indefinite moment of revealing, right here, and right now–
I’ve come home, and I’m staying put.
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