I think it’s natural to try to grab onto anything that is familiar when you are drowning in “foreignness”. Even in a place like Taiwan, where the West has not yet reached with its greasy fingers, I still find myself looking for America. When traveling, we try and find what is recognizable and relatable. It’s ironic because we came with the hope to see new things, but we are more pleased when we find things that remind us of home.
Is it because we realize newness did not taste as sweet as we expected? Is it out of relief that the world is not so strange and different as we thought? Whatever the reason, I found myself searching for home in my first weeks in Taiwan. “Oh that looks just like the Lincoln Memorial”.,”This tastes a little like cheese!”, “I think that we have that brand at home”.
I have slowly realized the danger in this habit. I will never settle in if I am constantly looking for, dwelling on, and living in the “America” I found. I am living in this imaginary middle nation I created. America changes while I’m away, and the Taiwan version of America isn’t the same. I need to be fully present here. As Mumford & Sons sing, “I will learn to love the skies I’m under.”
To force my mind to do just that, I have developed an imagination game. I imagine what it would have been like to grow up in Taiwan. I dream what each family member would have been like if they had been born and raised in Taiwan. My mom is particularly fun to imagine.
As I ride the bus, I push aside the American similarities my eyes are constantly scanning the streets for, and as I look at the cooks on the street, I imagine my mom there.
She would have surely opened a food stand. She loves to cook, and I could just see her wearing one of those bright red bandanas around her brown hair as the steam from the noodles wafted around her head. I know she’d work as hard as those women I see. She’d make dumplings at lightening speed on a rickety table on the street next to her food stand. Her fingers would fly as she stuffed each dumpling with meat and vegetables and folded the dough over expertly. I can see her working late at night, even though she hates staying up late, squatting on the street at 10 PM, furiously scrubbing giant pots and pouring out the soapy water in big splashes onto the black pavement. She’d not ask her kids to help her with the pile of dishes from the day’s customers. She’d find the strength to work alone, knowing her children were studying hard in the apartment above.
When she was younger she would have had a toddler or two balanced on a stool next to her food stand. The little one would be reading to her or reciting something, while my mom would be making tofu or soup. Ever the queen of multitasking, she’d catch every mistake, while flawlessly serving a stream of customers.
I snap out of my reverie when a scooter loudly motors passed my view of the food carts. My mom, frugal being her middle name, would definitely have had an old scooter. During the day, I imagine, you could see her zipping around with two children balanced precariously on the back and another squished between her and the handle bars.
My mom has been more than an impressive American homemaker and provider. She has created a safe and healthy home to grow up in, but I imagine she would have been just as strong, protective, godly and wise if she had been a Taiwanese mother.