Monday, May 31, 2010

711 Homecoming: A Personal Memory

711 Homecoming: a Personal Memory

(TAIPEI) -- The trip's nearly over and we're making loose plans to return to the US. Now, late in the game, comes a long-expected rumble of thunder, signaling not a rainstorm but a possible redefinition of "home." Angela wasn't born here, but here is where she was raised. And she'd like to stay. Can't blame her. It's a wonderful city, filled with intense and vibrant people, hurried people, people who are generous and outgoing and engaged as were the New Yorkers of my own youth.

We may decide, eventually, to divide our time between this place and somewhere in the states. Many people with ties to this island are half time residents. Maybe have the best of both worlds. Angela doesn't want to die in America. This is a sentiment heard from many a newcomer to America, even after living more years there than wherever they were born.

So, where is home? It was easier to adjust to Taipei than it had been to central PA. But neither is home. Home is Queens. Not the Manhattan of birth. Not the Bronx of first residence. Not the Nassau County of longest residence. A father who never was able to put down substantial roots in America. A wife who never was able to put down substantial roots in America. A daughter from Korea who may eventually feel the same.

The question "where is home?" is different from the question "what is home?" That's a tough one to answer. But the people of this city have extended themselves for us beyond expectation. And family and friends here have extended themselves beyond the imagination.

Angela's family has been as giving and warm as it is possible to be. Mentioning each in a long line of cousins and nephews and her friends from the old days doesn't convey the feeling we've all gotten. But there are a few:

Uncle Kung the younger (age classified, but probably older than you are): He is a tall, intelligent, well-spoken, accomplished man of respect, a loving and hearty soul with a gentle exterior and a core of steel. Has to be. He came here in '49 as a young man and made a life for himself and for Angela and for his wife and for his two children. He is a highly regarded retired government official who walks proudly and lives proudly and should.

Cousin Heba (pronounced HEE buh) who is Uncle's daughter, an intelligent and generous woman, respected in her profession and as an educator, and a good soul -- who has spent the month making sure we are happy and satisfied and well and have seen much of what is worth seeing here. If she were an American, she probably would be the head of big company or a professor of something or other.

Angela's younger brother Tn Chi, pleasant and outgoing and -- I'm working this word to death -- generous. it's fascinating to watch the dynamic between the older sister and the younger brother. He tries to dominate. She is indomitable.

Some miscellany that hasn't made it to the page and should:

--Musak, or whatever that kind of service is called here is fond of the American Pop Standard song book in English. So we've heard countless renditions of "What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life," "The Shadow of Your Smile," "Unforgettable," "Take the A Train," things in that vein. Except near the gondola, where a bunch of places for kids were playing (ever so slightly) younger music -- instrumentals of "Georgie Girl," "Sugar, Sugar," and a bunch of John Denver stuff.

--A company you never heard of is doing something you wouldn't dream of doing in today's economy. The Yulon Group assembles some foreign car brands here in Taiwan... Nissans, Mitsubishis as well as some Chrysler and GM products. They have started building their own brand car, now, called the Luxgene, pronounced LUCK-jeen, a Chinglish name combining luxury and genius. All kinds of tech promises for the road ahead. For now, they're pretty conventional, but home grown.

--Our Chrysler count is up to one. Our GM count is up to two, both of them Buicks. The only American brand with a real presence is Ford. The most frequently seen vehicle is anything made by Toyota, including some models we don't see in the US, like the Corona or the Corolla-Altis. There's a good sprinkling of Benzes and BMWs, plenty of Nissans and Suzukis. But we've yet to spot a Subaru.

--But regardless of brand, the fastest way around town seems to be those pesky, bug-like scooters, which get enough MPG to get you to Mars and back on a single tank. They weave through traffic and scurry up to the traffic lights. But do they really gain any time? The jury is out.

--Electricity is 110 volt ac with the kind of plug standard in the US until the arrival of the two-different-size blade plugs we use now.

--They have some of the oddest museums. One is built around a 100 year old pump house constructed by the Japanese during occupation, and dedicated to the history of H2O in Taipei. The Water Museum. Really. There's a museum of paper making and another of puppets. The home of the American Ambassador has become a movie theater and Afternoon Tea restaurant. We don't AmbassNote to native speakers of Chinese reading this in English: "Ambass" is not a real word, I made it up. to this place any longer. And there's a Customs Museum, stocked with all the illegal stuff the government found without a Homeland Security department, drug sniffing dogs, Bernie Kerik, Rudolph Giuliani or even a metal detector.

This is the final dispatch from Taiwan, or at least the last one deserving of a Taipei dateline for having been fully written here. Thanks for traveling with us. Other stories will follow.

I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you're welcome to them.®

©WJR 2010

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