Dad leaving Taipei, Songshan Airport, 1978
Dear Photograph,
In 1978, my father boarded a plane
and flew to a place where it’s always sunny
In this new land, many things he did gain
Including a daughter who speaks Chinese funny.
This afternoon, I printed out a copy of the photo my Dad’s family took before he got on a plane at Songshan Airport (台北松山機場) and immigrated to the US so I could take the picture above. I was inspired, of course, by the blog Dear Photograph.

The exterior of the airport has changed very little in the last 33 years (the most obvious difference is the addition of two MRT exits).

 One of the entrances to the international departure terminal. 

Songshan Airport mural 

I also did a “Dear Photograph” with a picture of my mother, brother and me at the Sun Yat-sen Memorial. We took it during a vacation in 1990 and I’m struggling to write a poem about it because I’m too distracted by the GIGANTIC HAIR my Mom and I are both sporting in the snapshot.

Man, I miss being an Asian with a perm. I got my hair permed a few months after I got here in 2007, when “dolly hairdos” (娃娃頭) were trendy. It was great, except for the part where my stylist told me I could not wash my hair for THREE DAYS.  I was already baking under the dryer at that point, so I decided not to freak out. But I cried on the inside. I am a little obsessed with having squeaky clean hair. I am not happy until I’ve scrubbed my scalp with so much product (I usually mix a couple of shampoos and a conditioner together in the palm of my hand) that it whimpers for mercy. I hate myself when my hair starts looking stringy, so I keep a bottle of dry shampoo on hand for emergency touch-ups during the day. Sometimes when we are out and I am staring into my compact mirror, frantically trying to fluff up my greasy side-swept bangs, my husband will try to convince me that my hair totally does not look filthy. YES IT DOES.

What was I talking about? Oh yeah. Before our visit today, I’d never been to Songshan Airport. I had only passed it on bus or MRT rides. It was a very interesting experience to stand where my Dad stood before he set out to establish the American branch of the Shu family. He studied architecture at UC Berkeley and when I was doing my college visits during my junior year of high school, my parents took us on a drive through the hills north of the campus.Since I had grown up in northern California, I was completely oblivious to the blooming flowers and gorgeous weather. I just wanted us to head over to Telegraph St so I could dig through the racks of vintage clothing at Mars Mercantile. But then my Dad said, “When I first arrived in Berkeley, I thought I was in heaven. I had never seen any place so beautiful.” I was really struck by that, because I had never thought of California as heavenly. Now that I’ve spent a third of my life away from my home state, however, I realize he was right.

No matter where I have lived, from Astoria, Queens, to Taipei City, I have always seen things that I think are lovely:

Looking into Harlem
The view from Socrates Sculpture Park
Groovy concrete
A wall in Da’an District


I’ve realized, however, that I’m always searching for something, no matter how small, that reminds me of California, even if I’m okay with being away. The connection might be tenuous, but it’s always there.

Flowers near my parents' house
Boat in Monterey
San Jose International Airport
Mural in Santa Monica
Santa Monica
california copy