Saying Goodbye to Family

This post is dedicated to the family that opened their home to me unconditionally for the last three months. Not since high school, when my real mother and father did the shopping and the cooking and the money-earning, have I been so pampered.

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I met the family in December, 2008, thanks to my mom’s neighbor Lilen (pictured at right.) My mom stayed with them for a week, then I joined them for another, then mom left while I stuck around for one more.

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At that point, my traveling pants still looked like pants.

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In April, 2012, we visited them for the second time.

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At that point, Singa the lion hadn’t started disintegrating.

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If you haven’t learned their names by now, that’s “Awi” (auntie?) in the middle and “Da-ge” (uncle) up top.
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Bro (I can never remember his real name and nobody understands me when I try to pronounce his nickname) and his girlfriend “Apple.”

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Their cousin Zaizai.

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Karaoke on a Monday morning.

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Much bonding and language-leraning took place in the kitchen. Usually along the lines of “So…what are you cooking for me today?”

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They even let me drag this rascal into their house.

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One of several beer-n-snack nights.

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A trip to the baseball stadium. I finally took a good people-picture! On the right is “Second Sister,” i.e. Zaizai’s mom.

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Mealtime was always bunches of fun.

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“Shrai ge” = cool piece = stud.

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The night before Mingyu and Hwa-in set off.

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I was even granted access to the baby picture stash. Bro, Zaizai, and older Bro, who works on the mainland.

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I’m sure they’re thrilled I’m posting these.

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One of many trips to the market, during which Awi bought me whatever my heart desired and then more.

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My parting gift to them: a photo album with most of the above, plus some (very thoughtful) commentary.

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“Goodbye / See you again” (incorrectly drawn) and one of my new “business cards.”

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Goodbye dinner at a vegan place not far from home.

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Zaizai drove up from Kaoshiung the night before (well, 12AM to 5AM) and made it home in time to say goodbye.

 

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After many hugs and a fair share of tears on Awi’s part and on my own, Bro asked me when we would meet again. I told him “15 minutes.” Ten minutes later, just a few moments after my tears had run try, Bro pulls up next to me on his scooter. “How sweet,” I thought, “he’s come to see me to the riverside bike path.” Nope, just out to buy lunch for his girlfriend. He’s a swell guy either way.

Thank you, family, for allowing a hippie vagabond mooch like me to lurk around your apartment and office at random intervals for nearly three months. I’m not looking for a metric to determine whether any part of my trip has been “sucessful” or not, but if I were, it would certainly be number of hugs hugged and liters of tears shed, not photos taken or kilometers ridden or sights seen. Even though I spent the last week of my trip in Taiwan more or less motionless in Beitou, I feel I travelled more deeply than I had in my ride around the island – deep into the life and routine of the family, into the mundane joys of cooking and eating together, into the conversations that can arise only after the getting to know eachother has already been done.

Upon hearing me speak Korean and/or learning about my involvement in Korean green groups, Koreans often told me “you”re practically Korean.” Chinese have said similar things despite much less evidence. And a few nights ago at my couchsurfing hosts’ house, I had an impromptu debate about the topic – is such a thing possible?- with a Brazilian musician, a Polish student of Chiense art, and a Chinese alternative school teacher who had spent her childhood in Singapore and the Netherlands. My intuition is that it’s possible to become an American. It’s probably also possible to become a Londoner, though not an Englishman. I don’t think it’s possible to become Korean or Chinese, though. Not that you can’t identify with them, or love them, or even prefer their company to that of your own race. Simply that too much separates us, physically (skin color, eye color, height) and otherwise (language, education, expectations, history). Even someone who’s married to a native, who speaks fluently, who has citizenship, who doesn’t go home but once a decade, will still be regarded as an outsider. A welcome outsider, but an outsider nonetheless.

It does feel possible,though, to become a real part of a family. Welcome at any time, expected at meals, invited to join in on any excursion, taken to the doctor when sick, trusted with the keys to the house. Uncle even promised to come to my wedding, provided it’s within the next two years. I told him it’d be more like five and he started hobbling around around the house saying he’ll be too old to fly by then. I hope not.

See you all again, someday.

Zai jian.

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