Ron and I passed a man intently taking photos of these leaves today. I walk by this tree every day, but never stopped to marvel at its changing colors. As I stood there and looked at it, however, each ocher leaf became a visual Madeleine for me.
When I finalized my decision to leave New York City and move to Taipei, I’d already thought of all the things I would miss once I left. I figured Ron and I would most likely repatriate to the Bay Area, so moving away from the east was really saying good-bye. I haven’t had a chance to return on a visit; when I go the US, I want to see my family, relax and do fun things like go on car trips with my parents, watching the beautiful golden hills and deep blue ombre sky roll by. When my friends from New York City came to San Francisco for our wedding it was a wonderful gift, like two disparate pieces of my life were finally connecting, if only for a few hours.
Like many college freshmen, I was very conflicted when I first moved to the east for school. On the one hand, it was good for me to live across the country from my family. That separation was obviously difficult, but necessary to start fostering the independence and confidence I needed as an adult. But, in many ways, New York was the complete opposite of California and everything I’d taken for granted growing up. I missed my home and my family more than I was willing admit. Once I checked my messages in the school’s cafeteria and heard my Mom’s voice asking me how I was; I hung up the phone and went into the restroom to cry because I was so homesick.
After college and grad school, I really began to love my life in New York City. Of course it was marked with constant periods of uncertainty and doubt — I’d chosen a competitive career in a city with ridiculously high cost of living. In fact, the undercurrent of my emotional life there was constant uncertainty and doubt. But I was happy. I had a good job, co-workers who became my friends and I’d fallen in love. When Ron told me he’d received a job offer in Taipei and was moving back in a month, I saw all that falling apart. But I knew how hard it was to survive in New York City and I couldn’t begrudge him the opportunity.
It took me a few more months to decide that I would join Ron in Taipei. It was a really hard decision to make and he said he’d move back to New York City if it was really impossible for me. That period intensified my appreciation for New York City; I’d never appreciated it and my friends as much as when I knew I might have to say good-bye to them soon. But eventually I thought, why not? I felt I’d never done anything really brave or exciting in my life up to that point. I felt like I was the kind of person who kept her head down and studied and fretted about girding against possible calamities to the point of missing out on life (as my parents put it, “You worry too much!”). I figured it’d be hard for me to move back to the country of my parents’ birth while barely being able to speak the language. I’m sensitive to issues of race, ethnicity and self-identity and I knew I’d have some difficult experiences here. I had no idea how successful I’d be at learning Mandarin. I had no idea if I’d find a job. But I figured that whatever I did, it’d be an adventure. I’d be with Ron; we are a team in life. I was scared, but everything has worked out so far, and I’m happy I took the risk.
But there are still times when I see something that reminds me of my old life and I feel a touch of longing. I’m happy here, even happier than when I was in New York City, but just as uncertainty and doubt underscored my time there, yearning and urgency are my constant companions here. Yearning because I miss my home country; urgency, on the other hand, because I want to stay in Taiwan for as long as possible and I’m doing everything I can to ensure that (in case you can’t tell, I’m always a bit paranoid about my plans going awry). But at the same time, I know that one day we’ll move back to the States. And I’m already mentally preparing myself for the day we leave Taiwan — for missing yet another place, for the moments when I unexpectedly stumble upon something that reminds me of the alleys here, the bustle and the little moments on random street corners, and find myself thinking, once again, that you can have everything in life you’ve ever wanted, just not all at once.