But I think the truth is that you get used to it after a while. You get used to the foreign environment, the foreign weather, waking up every morning in a bed that isn't yours. After a while the foreign environment starts to feel like home; you adapt to the strange weather; and the bed becomes yours, you start to clean the dirty apartment, you know the way to the subway station and around the city.
Then again, I don't discount the possibility that it's easier for me to feel that I would have been perfectly happy remaining in Taipei forever and never coming back because I grew up there, and I go back there at least once every two years. But being away from Taipei for about 5 days and then going back felt like I was returning home. The minute I stepped out of Taipei Main Station, I had a distinct feeling that I was home. And coming back to Singapore days later, feeling for the first time in many long months what the humidity is really like (i.e. being literally quite unable to breathe through the humidity after two weeks of dry air), coming back to what is currently my real life, I had an unshakeable feeling that something wasn't quite right. And then I entertained the thought of having actually bought a one-way ticket and telling everyone that I was only going to be gone for two weeks, and pulling the wool over everyone's eyes by never coming back.
That's leaving. And the idea felt perfectly fine for me because I barely missed anything or anyone when I was away. I had an aching longing for my boyfriend when I looked into the sunset at Danshui, and I had an aching longing to play tennis, and I did wish I had a few friends with me when I went shopping. Beyond that, it felt like a life that I could slip quite easily into.
In stark contrast, my current real life increasingly and steadily feels like a life I can't wait to say goodbye and good riddance to. It feels like an unreal life. I dreaded coming back one week into my vacation. And now that I'm back, the dread and the fear and the despondence continue their iron grip on my heart, and increase their strength two-fold.
I always have mixed feelings when I go to and leave Taiwan - then again, let's confine this discussion to Taipei because that's what I really mean when I say Taiwan.
Taipei is familiar and it feels like home. There's no denying the familiarity that slaps me in the face and wraps itself around me when I reach Yonghe. It's where I grew up; it's the reason I was annoyed with schoolmates who accused me of having no childhood when I didn't recognise a song from a TV series or a childhood game that they played when I was younger; it's where I continue to grow and build memories, some overshadowing earlier ones, even replacing them.
I suppose my sentimentality is inevitable, because I am human after all, and this part of me is reluctant to contemplate the reality of the situation. The reality is this: my apartment, the one that I lived in, has been completely renovated; the apartment that my family stays in when we visit has also been renovated; I have maybe 5 distinct memories of my childhood in Taipei, and the first one that comes to mind without fail doesn't even have anything to do with where I physically grew up (it's of me falling down while running around the park surrounding Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall and skinning my knee - even this isn't a clear memory; it's simply a fact that I fell down that I remember. I don't know if the blue iodine solution that my mom or my dad applied on my wound counts as part of the memory).
More strikingly, I feel uncomfortable and like a fish out of water when I converse with the locals. My Mandarin is also free of the local accent and it's obvious that I'm not a local. But at the same time, I'm not a foreigner either; at the same time, this aspect of me, the way Taipei is so intricately a part of who I am, always leaves me wondering and conflicted following a trip back to Taipei.
Am I hankering aftet the life that could have been? If so, objectively speaking there's nothing worth being hung up on. I would been utterly unable to speak English properly, let alone have my present command of the language; I would been saddled with a shitty starting salary, like everyone else, and shitty employment benefits, like everyone else; and perhaps most importantly, I would be in love with and loyal to a country that no one else recognises.
And yet, there's just something about Taipei that I can't let go of. It's not the same longing that I feel for places that I've visited and liked, like London or Greece; it's deeper than that, it feels like a part of me that comes alive everytime I'm there, but it's such an abstract notion because I don't know what it is. It's my connection to the city, my memories and my ties and the gut-wrenchingly misplaced sense of home that I feel for Taipei and its ugly, dirty, run-down buildings, its polluted air, its cramped apartments, its dirty streets.
I feel like something is being taken away from me whenever I leave Taipei. My trips there aren't just vacations; they're a reconnection to an essential part of myself that I forget. My roots.
This time round, we ventured outside Taipei - shock, surprise, omg.
1. Kinmen - I haven't gone back ther in 7 years. It was really cold. I didn't shower in my second night and slept in my jeans and turtle neck because it was too damn cold (I always shower and change my clothes every day, Europe trip being the exception to the rule). Kinmen is a dying community; I remember the town where my grandparents live being more populated than what I saw. I don't know. And it was slightly unsettling to go back to places that you can vaguely see in your mind's eye and see for real how different the place is from what you remember it to be.
2. Kaohsiung - the roads were wide and the weather was fantastic. I loved the old British consulate atop a very steep slope, overlooking the Kaohsiung harbour. The huge park surrounding a lake was nice too. I was very surprised by Kaohsiung; I honestly expected it to be a shithole. But it was a lot neater and cleaner than I thought it would be. It's objectively even a better-looking city than Taipei. Still, Taipei will always rule my heart.
3. Tainan - we mainly visited old heritage sites: a few forts, a few temples. I think I would have enjoyed it a lot more if it weren't so damn cold when we went out. I wore a skirt and black tights but the tights weren't enough to combat the cold. The wind was cold, it was raining, my hands were frozen, it was just really bad weather. There was a cool religious ceremony thing going on though - some ceremony where they transfer a god from a temple to another or whatever. There were firecrackers, which I experienced as a kid but don't remember, and they were SUPER LOUD and really scary.
I will post pictures, I suppose, in due course.