My Thanksgiving post is late because I recently had a contretemps with Catherine Jr. when she discovered that I now have side swept bangs. This means that we are no longer identical evil twins.
We used to look so alike that when we went to Blythe meets, people would try to pick me up and click my eyes. It was incredibly awkward.
The deterioration of my relationship with Catherine Jr. has thrown me into a deep depression and it is hard to be grateful in this state. But we’ll get over it eventually, even if it means one of us ends up getting her faceplate changed. Anyway, aside from the fact that I am not thankful for little plastic ingrates who routinely try to slip toilet bowl cleaner into my iced green tea, I am thankful for the following things:
1) One of the reasons I decided to join Ron in Taipei instead of ordering him to return to New York City was that I hoped that living abroad would allow me to better understand the milieu that my parents and relatives grew up in. My slightly younger brother Michael (he came into the world only one year and 19 days after me — 媽媽好勵害喔!) and I were the first kids in our family to be born in the United States. We were the first to grow up immersed in American culture from the moment we were born and we were the first to feel more comfortable speaking English instead of Mandarin.
We were and are close to a lot of our relatives and of course we are very close to our parents. But in my own mind (I can’t speak for Mike) there was always that little divide because of the culture and language differences. It’s narrowing now and I am grateful for that. I mean, it’s not like the moment my feet touched Taiwan soil I felt like an actualized human being for the first time in my life and burst into a flood of happy tears, but I’ve learned so many cool things about my family.
For example, I had no idea that my mom graduated from the most prestigious girls’ high school in Taipei and that my dad graduated from what he rather modestly informed me the other day is the second most prestigious boys’ high school (but as he pointed out, the kids at the most prestigious boys’ high school graduated with their brains transformed into concrete, so things turned out for the best).
I always had an inkling that my parents are geniuses, but I had no idea just how smart they are. You know, genes sometimes skip a generation, but I can’t wait to have genius children (who, I am assuming, will earn my retirement fund for me). This also explains why my mom and her fellow California-based alumnae have so many reunions. 北一女 (bĕi yī nǚ) — it’s hard to get in, but once you’re in… you’re in for life.
All this might sound trivial, but a lot of my peers grew up with a good idea of what their parents’ high school years were like and had roughly similar high school experiences. I didn’t and now whenever I see a teenager walking by wearing Bei Yi Nu’s distinctive pine green uniform, I want to run up to her and say “Hey! My mother went to your high school! If you are school sisters, then that means we’re kind of related, right?” I don’t, but it’s still pretty nifty to know more about my parents’ teenage years of geniushood.
2) Living abroad has thrown certain aspects of my personality into the spotlight. I think of myself as a friendly person, but I am also very introverted. That means that, among other things, I like to think things through before I talk. I think introverts get a bad rap, but there have been only three times in my life when my inwardness has actually been an issue.
The first was in college, where I was sometimes hesitant to speak up in seminars, especially if I felt like I did not have a solid grasp on the course material. The second was when Ron moved to Taiwan and I realized that if I were not more pro-active about reaching out to my friends, I would be really lonely. And of course I’m living the third instance right now. If I were more gregarious, I would have more opportunities to practice my spoken Mandarin and, frankly, I would have more fun doing so.
I’ve also realized that I’m too much of a perfectionist. I know it’s hard to tell from this blog, but I hate looking dumb. This is, of course, the reason I found it hard to speak up in college classes if I hadn’t quite understood the reading. I was afraid that people would find out that I was stupid — even though the whole point of Sarah Lawrence’s seminar system is to enable students to discuss and debate their way out of stupidness and into the light with one another and their professors. I find it hard to speak Mandarin sometimes because I hate hearing my offbeat pronunciation and exotic sentence structures, and I know that certain people will judge me for those quirks because I am hua yi — even though I know that the more I talk, the better I will get.
Moving to Taipei and being forced to ponder the impact of my personality on my experience here has led me to one conclusion — I’m too uptight. It’s no coincidence that my Mandarin improves dramatically when I’m drunk.
There are three possible solutions to this problem. I can a) drink more (I actually don’t drink that much because alcohol has a lot of hidden calories and I HATE hidden calories), b) undergo a personality change, or c) come to terms with the fact that it’s OK to sound like a jackass and get judged for it, as long as it means that I get my own damn way in the end.
It’s like that anecdote about Nell Gwyn’s retort when her coachman tried to beat up some guy who called her a whore: “I am a whore. Find something else to fight about.”
Nell’s refreshing self-awareness and lack of ego is something that I will certainly try to emulate as I work on my Mandarin and do my best to squeeze the most out of my time here in Taiwan. I think the lessons I learn here as I work on developing a non-drunken drunk attitude towards any challenges I face will serve me well as I go through life as a self-critical introvert and I am grateful for that.
3) And last in the list but certainly not last in real life — as ever, I am thankful for my shiny new Mandarin skills. I stumbled upon the Twilight display at Eslite the other day and since the original English-language editions were wrapped in plastic (thanks a lot, Eslite!) I flipped through a Mandarin edition instead. And lo and behold I found myself running smoothly through entire sentences! And not just entire sentences but two, three, four sentences in a row! I have no idea how I would have fared if I had kept on reading the thing because I was so overcome with emotion that I dropped the book and had to go hide underneath a table of zakka magazines to recover, but let me tell you — it was pretty freakin’ sweet. I have to translate articles and press releases for my job, but it’s a whole ‘nother thing to realize that I can now read vampire fiction for young adults in Chinese! It’s like reliving my semi-Goth high school years again. Now all I need to do is to dig up my blue lip gloss, black nail polish and spider web lace skirt and I am back in business.
As for my actual Thanksgiving — I spent it at the house of a journalism school classmate that I randomly bumped into one day (neither of us had any idea that the other was in Taiwan). That’s another thing I’m grateful for. Being in Taiwan has given me the opportunity to make new friends and reconnect unexpectedly with old chums. I bumped into another old classmate (from my high school) at Shida and though we weren’t close as teenagers we became good friends by the time she left. A lot of the friends I’ve made in Taiwan have left by now and I miss them. Just in case any of them stop by here, I’d like to say to them: puhleeeaaaase come back! I have a free Taiwan Beer Light in the fridge! Just kidding. Thank you for lighting up my life.