Taiwan, I miss you
Reliving memories of my time in Taiwan
It has been five years since I boarded the plane to move back to the U.S. from Taiwan. As wistful as I was when I saw the green land vanish before my eyes, I thought I would get the opportunity to visit Taiwan a year or two after I left. But I was wrong. Each summer that followed presented a new obstacle preventing me from going back to Taiwan. I’m content with my life in the U.S., but that doesn’t mean my strong feelings of nostalgia for Taiwan have gone away. Whenever I look at old photos of me in Taiwan or flip through travel and dining books about Taiwan, a sudden surge of longing rises inside of me.
As I drifted away from my friends in Taiwan, I gradually realized that what I missed the most about Taiwan was no longer my school or volunteer club, but rather the small and ordinary aspects of Taiwan. What I ached for were the sensations and experiences that I couldn’t find in the U.S.: the soft, silky texture of tofu pudding melting in my mouth, drinking the warm, fresh soy milk from the local breakfast shack, the delightful chime I heard whenever I entered the Hi-Life convenience store.
As my memories of Taiwan became fainter, I romanticized Taiwan more. My memories became distorted, highlighting only the good things that Taiwan offered. I no longer cared that there were many rainy days in Taiwan and that the climate was humid, a far cry from the pleasant climate I experienced in the Bay Area. My recollections ignored the strong odors that came from certain alleys and the lack of greenery in Taipei. All I wanted was to be transported to Taiwan. Going back would not only help me reconnect with my Chinese heritage, but also allow me to relive my late childhood years. For me, Taiwan is frozen in time, evoking fuzzy memories that remind me of a lazy Sunday afternoon with the sunlight shining through the window.
My nostalgia for Taiwan made me wonder why I missed Taiwan so dearly even though I have no family there. Although I blended in with the people in Taiwan, I was still considered an outsider because I’m an American and my mom is from mainland China. My heart aches for Taiwan because it is the place that shaped who I am today.
Without Taiwan, I would still be the uncultured, disconnected Chinese American who refused to speak Chinese at home and detested going to Chinese school. The farther I am from Taiwan, the bigger the chasm between me and my ethnic identity grows. Over these five years, the constant, gnawing pain of emptiness has increased, a growing hole that makes my soul feel even hollower. I tried filling in this hole by learning Chinese online and reading books about Chinese history to compensate for the fact that I am no longer in Taiwan, yet the discomfort persists. I flip back to my old Chinese workbooks and fail to recognize some characters. I skim my elementary school Chinese textbooks and realize that I forgot so many traditional poems and stories. I mourn that I spent my entire time in Taiwan building a Chinese identity and then moved back to the States and lost it. The ache is like a vicious creature, prodding me with questions about why I haven’t kept up with my thirteen-year-old self. Am I still Chinese enough?
Despite having lived in the U.S. again for five years now, I still think about Taiwan. Taiwan is more than a place to me; it is more like a loved one that I had a complicated relationship with in the past. Taiwan reminds me of an imaginary sibling that I found annoying at times growing up but end up missing dearly after leaving home. I regret not truly valuing Taiwan’s essence until physical distance and isolation made me realize how much I took simple things for granted in Taiwan: Good Cho’s, an eccentric yet cozy bagel shop, the enchanting atmosphere of the Eslite Bookstore, the irresistible aroma coming out from the DONUTES Bakery shop.
After returning to the U.S., I thought that I could go back to Taiwan during the summer, but each summer presented new obstacles. Summer school consumed my entire summer before entering ninth grade. Travel plans were impossible the year after since my dad was unemployed. A summer camp and volunteer position took up the following summer. Then COVID hit. As I write this now, I worry that I won't get to visit Taiwan for many years.
I may not physically be in Taiwan, but I still try to recreate my experiences there. I walk down the aisle of the Asian grocery store, scanning the snacks, from Kuai Kuai corn puffs to pea crackers that take me back to my times in Family Mart. I spend my free time compiling a Spotify playlist called Taiwan Nostalgia, playing songs that evoke the calm ambience of restaurants and dessert shops that I went to countless times. I watch music videos of my favorite songs by Taiwanese artists like Fish Leong, letting the sentimental feelings of loss envelope me like a warm blanket as I try to sing the lyrics without an accent. Still reminiscing about Taiwan, I watch Taiwanese teen films such as Our Times to relive those golden days that feel unspoiled and precious. When the credits start rolling in, I remain transfixed by the beautiful, touching ending that makes me cry internally about how I cannot go back in time.
I know that my efforts to recreate these experiences are futile and will never make up for the things that get lost over time. Despite this inevitable fact, I believe there is some beauty in nostalgia because nostalgia makes me appreciate and recognize the good days of the past. My attempts to relive the moments serve as an active reminder that it is the ephemeral nature of childhood and early adolescence that makes these moments precious and worth remembering. So I let random thoughts about Taiwan pop into my head when I walk down Dorm Row or bike on Massachusetts Avenue. I may be more than 7,500 miles physically separated from Taiwan, but there is one thing I am sure about: Taiwan will always stay in my heart, no matter where I go.