Jocelyn Chin, Managing Editor for the AffNo, traveled to Taiwan during winter intensives for her senior Hawken Project. She shared with us her blog posts, capturing her experiences in Taiwan as she explored Taipei. After reading through all of the blog posts, we have selected a few passages to share with you some of her experiences. Jocelyn’s vivid imagery will carry you through both her journey and emotions. Sit back and get prepared to travel with her.
Prior to trip:
I've been waiting so long for this. I've been waiting since the end of summer, when I came up with this project. I've been waiting to return to Taiwan and China since I left, five years ago. I've been waiting for this experience of returning, since I moved to China nine years ago. I've been waiting for this reconciliation since, I don't know, maybe since birth. Waiting for a closure between myself and some sort of greater power - in this case, a country. And a past.
A three-week solo international trip as an 18 year old girl does not sound easy. But I'll have friends and family one LINE-call away. I'll have my not-so-many-years of hardcoring experience tucked in my pocket. I'll have one suitcase full of gifts and one backpack full of journals and camera equipment. I'll have some cash for street food and boba and my passport because I'll eventually want to go home (probably).
Walking into the messy club room, my cousin was greeted by a friend: “Trash! Trash is here."
This friend was one of the four boys sitting on mats around a low table playing mahjong. There was one window way across the room, where two other boys appeared to be sleeping, and a girl in braids ate from a paper takeout box. White fluorescent lights outshined the thin film of dust covering the scattered shelves, cardboard boxes, suitcases, randomly placed end tables. The air smelled like plastic and heat
My cousin and his friends attempted to teach me mahjong, but I was a lost cause (even after watching a Youtube video in English titled "Learn how to play mahjong in 2.5 minutes"). After a bit, one of the boys pulled out his phone and started playing "Shape of You."
"You like Ed Sheeran?" I asked. I don't think he realized I was speaking to him, plus the name Ed Sheeran probably didn't ring a bell. He continued playing his mahjong. Then "Take Me Home, Country Roads" came on. Three of the boys began singing, led by a boy in dark glasses and a wrinkled black long-sleeve. I listened, mesmerized, to the clicking of mahjong tiles against green tablecloth and the music of three Taiwanese college students slowly belting out, in warbled, drawling English, "West Virginia, mountain mama..."
I don't think I've ever been in a nicer or larger mall in my entire life. This mall has sky bridges that lead to the mall next door, which lead to the mall next door, which lead to the mall next door, and so on. We walked through five malls in about five hours, and there were still more malls, all on the same few blocks, one right after the other... This was truly the heart of the shopping centers of the world. Even past 9 PM on a Thursday night the sidewalks were still crowded with young couples, older grandparents, families with strollers, tourists like myself... NYC may be given a run for its money for the title "city that never sleeps."
My grandmother turns to me. "See, as the oldest daughter, my mother told me to take care of all my siblings. I basically became their mother. My brother here? His plane ticket to America for college, I paid for it all!"
"I know," my great uncle nods, "and thank you."
Grandma turns to me. "Will you also take care of your siblings when you are all older? Will you take care of your parents when they can no longer take care of themselves? I told my daughter - your Aunt Peipei - that when I am old and sick that she should just let me die. It'll be easier on her heart too. And she tells me, 'no, no, I'll leave my job to take care of you,' but I tell her that I don't want to be a burden. Taking care of old people can really be a burden. Do they do that in America? Here you can learn to be pious, do you want to?"
My great uncle butts in, "She's here as a researcher!" He says, "she's not going to mingle into the culture she is observing!" Everyone laughs.
We begin drinking soup, ladled from the thick pot still simmering over the portable gas stove. "So, are you American or Chinese? Or Taiwanese? Can people really ever tell now, these days? You're from all three places, so where are you really from?" Grandma and Great Uncle ramble on, "Born in America? But also lived in China? Parents from Taiwan? Family?"
"Okay, but are Taiwanese people Chinese?" I asked, half-jokingly, recalling my conversation with Yuting Ayi at the soy store the other day about Hong Kong, Taiwanese, and Chinese politics.
Everyone at the table laughs again. The conversation gets political, but everyone is super chill about it. No one seems polarized. When my grandpa brought up how China still boycotts Japanese products, I pop in, mentioning how people on the streets driving Japanese cars like Honda were dragged out of their cars and beaten in Ningbo while I was living there because of the Senkaku Island dispute. "See, I can't believe things like that are still happening," my great uncle sighs. "It's the modern world already now, come on people!"
I nibble away at the small orange slices, my stomach content and my mind brimming. The three of them begin talking about their own lives. Going to the dentist, how's so-and-so doing, spam calls that try to trick you for money these days. My grandma apparently got one yesterday again. I zone out a little, listening to the distant chatter at the two other tables still in the restaurant at 1:30 PM. The sun shines through the scrubbed windows, causing the windowsill plants to cast funky little shadows across the floor.
My dad's older brother and his son (my cousin who took me to his board games club) brought me. My younger cousin couldn't come because my aunt is forcing him to stay home for his tutoring lessons. He's in his last year of middle school right now and high school entrance exams are fast approaching.
Swerving around all the buses was crazy. My uncle's a pretty seasoned driver on these mountainous roads, but we were winding up these rocky roads at 50 kph, and these were two-way, one-lane roads. Yes. TWO WAY, ONE LANE. My guts twisted and turned as the Tesla did, too, around bends that were at least 300 degrees sharp; on the map, the paths looked like the bends of paper clips and bobby pins.
My dizziness melted away as I stepped off the car, which we parked off the side of the road near the start of a trail I'm roughly translating as "Yellow Gold Trail." (It was neither yellow nor gold. It was made of mud and dirt and rotting wood. But it was beautiful nonetheless). I could see the coastline beneath us, so far, and the early morning sun was warm on my back. It was a bit windy, but what can you expect when you're 181m above ground?
After going down the trail for a bit, we entered a forested area of the trail. I was practically inhaling the Studio Ghibli vibes. It was like the scene where Mei from My Neighbor Totoro climbed into the small forest hole, and the branches parted for her.
It required all my core and leg muscles to remain balanced on the small top of the rock (which was only wide enough for me to stand with both feet closed and touching). The wind tore at my pressed shirt. It whipped my bucket hat off my head, but luckily it stayed on my shoulders because of the elastic neck strap. My stomach lurched when I looked down, but also when I looked anywhere at all. I could feel so much air. So much space. So much vastness. So much risk for a good photo and a moment of absolute freedom. The wind nearly knocked me over, so I leaned forward, hoping that I'd at least faceplant on the rocks four feet down instead of tumbling sideways off the shrubby mountainside, where'd I'd almost certainly die. Funny, how being close to death - or at least being within some parameter with the slight threat of death - makes you feel so much more alive. “Get down!” my uncle yelled, “Your aunt is gonna kill me when she sees this!”
After passing the peak, we continued slipping and sliding our ways down the rocks with shabby ropes hanging out the metal rungs that served as surprisingly solid handles. We bumped into quite a few more tourists before turning around and heading back to the car. By the time we got back, my sneakers were caked in mud, my hair was a glorious, tangled mess, and the noonday sun was beating down from high above.