anotherlongshot (anotherlongshot) wrote,

Taipei 2006, Part the Third: Blood is Thicker Than Water

28 May

Written: 1.27 a.m., June 13, 2006

And so arrives the day all of this is for.

I wake up earlier than usual �C 10 in the morning. Two minutes later, before I have the chance to brush my teeth, someone rings the doorbell and my grandmother asks me to answer it. I open the door and in rushes a small figure in lime green, who hastily says, ��Hello [Yelen] ��� (jiejie �C sister)!�� before running past me to��wherever. A smaller figure in bright red follows behind and smiles brightly at me.

My third uncle��s family has arrived, and those two small figures are my cousins. I greet my uncle and his wife, who asks me if I��ve just woken up. I smile groggily and say, Yes. Then I proceed to locking myself in the toilet where I do the usual freshening up things and putting in contact lenses, etc.

When I emerge from the toilet the small living room of the small apartment is filled with people, all my paternal relatives whom I haven��t seen in years. I smile and nod at everyone, then quickly retreat to my temporary room. I feel kind of awkward �C my dad is out buying things with my granddad, and I don��t really know what to say to my relatives. It��s certainly nice to see them, but this doesn��t automatically translate to endless conversations of nostalgia and how-have-you-been. So I stay in my room for a while.

My third aunt has printed a bunch of matching t-shirts to wear to my grandfather��s birthday celebration. She gives me mine (along with my dad��s, my brother��s, and my mother��s) and I pull out my short, tattered orange denim skirt from Mango and change into it, along with the shirt.

I obviously can��t hide forever. I finally go out and my dad comes back just in time, with a packet of ���� (liangmian �C cool noodles) for my breakfast. Awesome. But what isn��t awesome is the fact that we��re having lunch in an hour��s time, because my grandmother, among other people, come over and is all, We��re having lunch at 11.30! Can you still eat lunch after eating the noodles?

What can I do, really? I just smile and nod and say ��yes��. ��Awkward�� is definitely the code word.

Pretty soon, everyone �C and I mean this literally �C arrives and the living room is packed. The kids go off to jump on the bed in the master bedroom, the adults sit around the living room and talk, two of my cousins apparently go off to buy CD��s, and I��m glad to be having breakfast because at least I��m doing something. I really hope lunch would be better than��this.

I spot my second aunt��s eldest son and I��m genuinely surprised that he��s the same boy I used to run around with as kids during family gatherings, like a wedding or birthdays or whatever. He��s three months older than me and I have this vague, somewhat misplaced memory of playing some kids�� game with him and his younger brother at my old apartment, way back when. We ran down the staircase and sat in front of the doorway, and we laughed a lot.

The person I��m seeing now sits slouched in the sofa, staring at the ground, keeping to himself. It��s funny how people change, even weirder how seeing him now has more or less undermined whatever little I still remember of him from my childhood. It��s like a ��refresh�� button has been pressed in my memory bank, updating it, and I can��t quite fathom why this button even exists.

Well, in any case, he��s turned out really, really good-looking. My impression of him has always been that he��s a bit of an oddball: he was practically born a vegetarian and he recently had his name changed because he shared his name with a monk or something so I don��t even know what his name is, and so seeing him sitting there, all quiet, only serves to reinforce that impression. (The vegetarian thing isn��t about being a vegetarian, but that he was born one. As in he didn��t eat meat from a very young age, which is very unusual.)

But even more surprising is his younger brother. Like, oh my god, he��s certainly ballooned in size. I can hardly believe he��s the same little boy who followed his older brother wherever he went. Like I said, it��s funny how people change, and all that.

Anyway, at 11.30 we walk to the restaurant. My dad took quite a while to change and get ready and so we are the latest to arrive. We are given three tables in a separate room. I spend some time standing forlornly by myself, waiting for my dad to sit somewhere, but he��s off talking to people and leaving me by myself. Thanks a lot, Pops. Luckily Hanying waved me over and I sit down next to her and her sisters. Their mother takes the seat on my right.

A bit about her. She used to watch me when I was a kid. My dad would go off to teach, my mom to her architecture firm (or whatever it was she did), and they would leave me at her house. It��s also very convenient because my eldest uncle and his family lived opposite us (and still do, as a matter of fact). To be quite honest I don��t remember anything substantial about my ��ĸ (um, don��t know what it��s called in English; my cousins�� mother), just that she doted on me a lot and that her youngest daughter (a couple of years older than me) and I used to play with her make-up when I was at her house. They were fun times.

Now, she keeps complimenting me and telling me how pretty I am (which I don��t necessarily agree with). When the food starts arriving she keeps asking me if I wanted anything, even chicken, despite it being pretty much known to everyone that I don��t eat meat. I am slightly close to being annoyed but I brush it aside because I know she means well.

My dad and my third aunt are filming the proceedings, even though nothing is happening, really. We��re all just sitting around, eating, talking. I��m sitting around and sipping tea/orange+guava juice more than I��m eating or talking. I also go to the loo quite a bit.

Actually, it��s not that bad. My youngest uncle, who��s probably the coolest uncle ever (evidence: I nipped Nirvana��s In Utero from him six years ago), and his family are sitting at the same table. His wife happens to be pretty hip and she soon engages us in a conversation about shopping and cool places to go to in Taipei. She mentions a place that sells really cheap clothes, and I make a mental note to check it out for myself.

Eventually, the awkwardness dissipates. Someone starts up the karaoke machine and pretty soon it��s a cacophony of off-key singing with the occasional decent singing thrown into the mix. My grandfather sings a number or two, along with my eldest aunt (main contribution of decent singing); to literally everyone��s surprise, my eldest uncle also takes a stab at the karaoke thing. He��s awfully out of tune and I��m laughing a lot but when my dad comes over and tells me that this is his first time in his entire fifty years hearing his oldest brother sing, I get the significance of his gesture and I��m silently impressed.

My dad sings �޴��ӡ�s 1980���� (a song by a famous Taiwanese singer; can��t translate) which is apparently his signature song and I have a good time filming him on my Nikon camera. He��s only a notch better than his oldest brother, which he refuses to believe. Well, you know what they say: Ignorance is bliss, and all that.

Someone comes over and harasses me to sing a bloody English song. In fact, I have been harassed to sing a stupid English song ever since the karaoke machine was turned on. Damn. Then an elderly relative comes over and asks me to sing and I feel backed into a corner. Luckily Hanying is nice enough to offer to sing with me, so we pour over the karaoke song list �C a thick album �C and I��m dismayed to discover that there about a grand total of ten English songs in the entire album. I haven��t heard of half of them, I can��t sing most of the rest, and in the end Hanying suggests that crap You Are My Sunshine nonsense and I reluctantly agree. Needless to say, the song sucks ass and I can��t sing for nuts and it sounds horrendous. Hanying sings much better than me. The elderly relative��s wife comes over and sings back-up and I��m like, Well, that��s nice. Later, my dad bitches to me about her and about how she wanted to sing an English song with me to compete with me to see who has better English.

Um, okay. That��s just extremely stupid, especially if it��s true. I don��t know her at all and my dad obviously knows her better than me. She seemed nice, but then again, I��m not the best judge of character because I tend to give a person too much credit when my defences are down; and since I have no reason to be on my guard during the family lunch, I didn��t think too much of, well, anything. So I guess I��m taking my dad��s word for it and I��m rolling my eyes, thinking how absolutely dumb it is for someone to even think that her English can compare with a person who had an A1 for General Paper, among other things.

Hahaha. Right, please forget I said that.

I am glad when that insipid song ends, after which everyone gets up to leave. My oddball cousin apparently left a long time ago, and Hanying��s younger sister has also left early to go home and sleep. Waking up past 12 noon seems to be the ��in�� thing, for some reason or other.

By the way, the cake was an ice-cream cake and it wasn��t very good, particularly for a made-in-Taiwan cake. Taiwan has some really fabulous cakes. In general though, the food wasn��t fantastic and I didn��t eat a lot. The Hong Kong-styled fried fish drenched in soy sauce and all that was also so oily that I felt like hurling everything back up after a few bites. But then again, I suppose all these don��t quite matter, and that it was the company that counted. How often does the whole family get together anyway, even though my brother couldn��t be there? Today is even more special because, like, my dad and I flew in all the way from puny Singapore to be here. How awesome is that?

Everyone gathers back in the small apartment again and I have nowhere to sit. I go into my room and see my oddball cousin looking at my copy of Great Expectations. I feel like saying something to him but I don��t know what to say and so I say nothing. I shuffle back and forth between my room and the living room, stopping occasionally to say a few words with whoever talks to me, and finally I go back to my room and curl up on the bed and read Great Expectations. But my peace is soon disturbed when my young cousins run in and start jumping on the bed and playing hide-and-seek. Oh well.

My oddball cousin and his family leave first. At around 4-something, almost everyone has left, save for my eldest aunt because she��s waiting for her oldest son to wake up from his nap (he, by the way, graduated from National Taiwan University, which is the best university in Taiwan. He��s also seriously good-looking, though he could do with a better hairstyle and maybe contact lenses). It��s started to rain outside.

At five o��clock my dad finally budges and takes me to the saloon. My fringe is too sickeningly long and I desperately want to cut it. I changed my hairstyle in Taipei way back in December 2004 and I thought the haircut was really good, and so I go back to the same saloon. It��s raining out and it��s actually kind of cold; it even feels a tad like winter. In Singapore, rain naturally comes with humidity and not much wind. As inconvenient as it is to carry an umbrella when I go out, I kind of like the rain in Taipei.

The hairstylist �C a woman who calls herself Judy (I really doubt that people in Taiwan are born with English names) �C somehow manages to convince me to opt for hair care treatment. She goes off about how hair as long as mine gets tangled up easily and falls off easily and I��m all, Yeah, that��s exactly what happens! She quotes me a price (cut + wash + hair care) and I��m shocked to see that it��s around S$70. I tell her that it��s too much and she brings it down to S$57. She��s pretty persistent about the hair care thing and eventually I��m sold. What can I say? I��m weak.

I go off to get my hair washed and the girl asks me if I wanted the massage chair switched on. Massage chair?!?! Wow. This must be new. I can��t take massages and so she merely turns on the most basic function, and I spend the entire time, including the six minutes caring for my hair, having my butt massaged. When I stand up to walk back to my seat, my legs feel like jelly.

Judy snips my fringe and layers the rest of the hair. The rest of the hair turns out looking significantly shorter than it was before the cut, which bums me out a little because I��ve been growing the damn hair since 2004 and I don��t want it shorter. Nevertheless, I say it��s awesome, my dad pays, and off we go.

I��m craving for coffee. My dad tells me that he came across a caf��/bakery that has a lot of people queuing up while he was killing time walking around when I was having my hair cut. He brings me to a corner shop called 85 Degrees C. I order a French hazelnut latte and I have no idea how to pronounce the Chinese version of ��hazelnut��. I tell the girl my order in English but her blank look tells me that she��s not following. My dad comes to my rescue and places the order for me. The coffee, about the size of a medium-sized cup from Starbucks, costs only NT$60. That��s approximately S$3. And it tastes just as awesome as Starbucks�� coffee, and certainly better than Coffee Bean.

Seriously. You cannot even hope to find quality coffee that cheap in Singapore. For some reason there are a lot of caf��s all over Taipei. You have franchises like 85 Degrees C, Starbucks and Dante Coffee and you also have small caf��s opened by eager entrepreneurs, located practically everywhere. You can virtually find about four caf��s at least along a single road, which means competition for customers is extremely fierce. This is good news for caffeine addicts like myself, because it translates to competitive prices, such as NT$60 for Starbucks-quality coffee. In fact, the coffee menu at 85 Degrees C is practically exactly the same as Starbucks, except that the former has hazelnut latte. I was surprised to see ��iced caramel macchiato�� on 85 Degrees C��s menu.

To be quite honest, I don��t see the logic in paying double for coffee that��s almost the same in quantity and quality. 85 Degrees C also has one up on Starbucks because it sells fabulous Taiwanese milk tea, which is fine alternative when one doesn��t feel like drinking coffee. This is another reason why I totally don��t wanna go back to Singapore: There��s only so much coffee one can consume in a day, but in Singapore, one cannot turn to milk tea as a substitute. Sure, there��s teh peng and everything but it doesn��t taste quite as good as the milk tea in Taiwan. Even a NT$20 small cup of milk tea from 7-Eleven tastes better than teh peng. Besides, the quality of teh peng varies from coffee shop to coffee shop; when teh peng wants to suck, it really sucks (case in point: the teh peng at the NUS Arts canteen tastes like plain water). The good ones from places like Ya Kun and whatever definitely don��t come as cheap as S$1.

At night, after dinner, my dad and I walk around the other side of Yonghe. There��s nothing much to see. Apparently it used to be more populated and happening, but many of the shops have closed down and clinics of all sorts have taken their place. I pass by a bubble tea shop and I��m very tempted but my dad tells me ��no��. Oh well. It is already past 9 and bubble tea is fattening. Maybe some other time.

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Tags: family, taipei, taiwan

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