Christin and MeiMei
MeiMei kisses my cousin Christin, Christmas Eve 2004

y parents went back to the US yesterday and I won’t see them again ’til late spring. And, of course, MeiMei, who gave me so much unconditional love and affection during a rocky time in my life, passed away two days ago. I’m feeling blue right now and am trying hard to stay positive this Thanksgiving. But, of course, I still have a lot in my life to be thankful for.

When Ron moved back to Taiwan in February 2006, he only had a month’s notice because of a job offer. I was incredibly upset when he told me. And by incredibly upset, I mean I exploded with anger. But I calmed down after two days and we went off to Flushing to look for deals on phone cards. It was hard being in a long distance relationship (and we were on opposite sides of the world, so it was really long distance) when both of us had little money and limited vacation time, but we managed to see each other three times over the course of 18 months and, of course, we had the miracle of Skype (those phone cards weren’t so cheap, after all).

Catherine Jr. is scared of heights
Intermaterial family — flesh and plastic, and by plastic I mean Catherine Jr.

I expected that time to be miserable and lonely, but I ended up feeling that it was one of the happiest periods of my life. And this isn’t just hindsight — I knew I was happy back then even though I missed Ron and looked forward to our reunion. A few days after I arrived in Taipei in August 2007, I wrote about why:

With Ron gone, I was also forced to learn how to fill up the stretches of time I had to myself. I realized that, after having been a loner for most of my life, I would have to reach out to other people if I didn’t want to go crazy. My friendships in New York City deepened as a result, and I will never take those relationships for granted. Ron and I also had to find common ground in our daily conversations over Skype without the benefit of day-to-day shared experiences, and I believe the lessons we took away from that challenge will help us weather the rough patches each couple inevitably tumbles into.

The last two years I spent in New York City were a very special time for me, but things have only gotten better since I arrived in Taipei. I’m not saying it hasn’t been a challenge. I knew I would deal with identity issues as an American-born person of Taiwanese descent living in Taiwan, especially since I barely spoke Mandarin when I first arrived (and I still have an obviously foreign accent). I’ve had some unpleasant run-ins with certain people, and they often left me seething with anger and feeling sorry for myself. But they were important experiences. As I wrote in another blog entry:

I’m a minority here in Taiwan, and I am a minority at home in the US, too, and what I have learned so far from this experience is that a sense of belonging needs to come from within yourself.

I’m grateful for that lesson, not just for my sake, but for the sake of my multiracial family and the children we will have one day. I’m so happy that Ron and I both have families that never once fretted over the race or ethnicity of the person their child was dating. My Mom and Dad recently joined a tour group through China and they met another Taiwanese-American couple who were upset that their son wanted to marry a black woman. My Mom and Dad told them that her race is besides the point — if they felt like they raised their son right, they should trust that he has the tools to make the right decisions, and that includes choosing the person to spend the rest of his life with. I hope they took my parents seriously. I’m lucky that our kids will be surrounded by relatives who respect all aspects of their cultural heritage.

5.16.2009 Ron & Catherine
Three generations: Mom, me, Grandma

I’m closer to my extended family now and I love learning more about them and their interests. For example, I didn’t know my yipo, or my grand-aunt, very well before I moved here, but she reminds me so much of my own grandmother, her sister, who I only get to see once every couple of years. Both of them like to knit (they mail knitting patterns back and forth and discuss them over long distance phone calls) and find all sorts of ways to keep themselves busy. My grandma tends a vegetable garden in her backyard, alters her clothing (she’s very exact about fit) and has such a busy social calendar that my Mom often has a hard time reaching her on the phone; my yipo teaches Japanese lessons from time to time (Japan’s colonialization of Taiwan only ended when she and my Grandma were teenagers, so they are both fluent in Japanese) and makes her own fruit wine (I just got a bottle of it. The stuff is strong!). I’ve inherited their love of needlework and keeping busy but, unlike my Grandma and yipo, I’m bad at seeing projects through to completion. Hopefully I’ll be able to use these two awesome women as inspiration and finally get a sweater knitted or a dress sewn!

“Meow computer. Meow human. Meow-ine!”

The knitting might be bit hard to do, however, because of the newest member of our family. When we found out that MeiMei had passed away so unexpectedly, I told my Dad that it made me worry about Taroko George, because my adoring parents are the best humans any cats could ask for and MeiMei was very well-taken care of. He told me not to be too pessimistic, because Taroko George is an extremely healthy, rambunctious, energetic cat and MeiMei was never particularly physically active or strong. We think that she might have had a congenital condition that escaped detection until it was too late. It makes me sad and anxious that it can be so hard to know when something is wrong with your pet, but next time I wake up in the middle of the night to find Taroko George using my bangs as a chew toy or declaring war on my ankles, I’ll be grateful for his energetic insanity instead of crotchety (while, grateful and crotchety at the same time). He keeps me from being too lonely while I work at home, and I often talk to him in Mandarin because I don’t want him to lose his language skills (he’s a great language exchange partner). Running after him before he climbs up our curtains or attempts to destroy all paper objects in the house is also good exercise for me, which is important because of my health.

Conquering a turtle
I present this photo as evidence of my absolute glee over life in Taipei. I mean, what other city has a zoo with a sculpture of a turtle that has fallen and can’t get up?

And, finally, I really adore living in Taiwan. Not just because learning about my heritage and family’s history has contributed to my own self-knowledge, or because I learn new Mandarin words every day (often filthy), or because I have a wonderful job that allows me to explore Taipei in great depth. I just think living here is fun! It’s an awesome country. Of course, I’m homesick for the US and every day I miss something random (a couple days ago it was fresh artichokes and yesterday it was the fruit leather section at Whole Foods… oh, and I haven’t found a bookstore with a single Mary McCarthy novel). But I’m happily settled in Taipei. When I first got here, I assumed we’d be back in the US within two or three years. Well, it’s been more than two years, and if you told me I had to leave within another year, I’d clobber you in the face. I knew I’d be challenged living here and I wanted to study Mandarin, but I didn’t know if I’d actually have fun. I do, and that is wonderful.

Happy Thanksgiving, my Thanksgiving celebrating friends!