Starburst cushion

One of the most bittersweet things about living in Taiwan is realizing how different the collective memory I share with other Americans my age is from that of most of my family. It’s not just the big things like growing up in different cultures, being schooled in educational systems that seem diametrically opposed to one another or speaking two completely unrelated languages. The things that evoke feelings of nostalgia and longing in my relatives merely stir curiosity in me, and vice versa.

I say bittersweet because this divide is not always a bad thing. It’s important for me to learn more about the daily lives of my family members as they grew up, down to the most seemingly insignificant minutiae. I want to know what they saw in their homes and as they strolled around their neighborhoods. I want to know what they took for granted. I want to see the mental pictures they form when they hear the word “home.”

Sometimes our mental pictures do overlap. These cushions were in the living room of the bed and breakfast Ron and I stayed in while we were in Tainan. I got so excited when I first saw them in some promo pictures because I remember seeing that pattern, in the exact same autumnal colors, on the sofas of some my parents’ Taiwanese-born friends when I was little. My parents’ generation grew up in a Taiwan that was still very poor, so if you wanted to brighten up your home or outfit your kids in warm sweaters, you had to know how to crochet, knit and sew. Starbursts, chevrons and granny squares are easy to memorize, and moms could sneak in some crafting in between washing clothes by hand or preparing three meals a day without a fridge. But I never thought of these cushions as particularly Taiwanese until I moved to Taipei and started seeing them in secondhand stores and cafes that have retro decor.

I know they aren’t “Taiwanese” in design. Plenty of American homes had round crochet cushions in the 1970s. But for me, that pattern reminds me of being a very small girl, surrounded by adults chattering away in Mandarin, feeling somewhat lonely and excluded, but also cozy, nurtured and crackling with intrigue as I eavesdropped on the grown-ups’ mysterious conversations. It’s a little bit like how living in Taiwan makes me feel.

(Want to make a similar cushion? The Loop Craft Cafe has a free online pattern here. I don’t know if you can tell from the photo, but there are eight yarn colors: pure white, eggshell white, goldenrod, tangerine orange, cinnabar red, brick red, sage green and forest green).