Today I went back to my old neighbourhood, Xindian, where I used to live in Taipei. I stepped off the train and found myself walking up the same steps I’d traversed so many times before. I saw the public telephone where I rang my mum in tears more than once and I smiled as I took a photo of the entrance to my old apartment building located above the station. The people walking out were new, but everything else was just as I remembered it.
I walked out onto the street and couldn’t believe that the same crazy man who was always high on betel nut was still selling sugar cane juice on the same corner. I walked over the suspension bridge that crossed Bitan (The Green Lake) to the other side where my friend had once lived. The little restaurant where I used to eat oyster omelette was still there, run by the same family. I remember my housemate taking me there the first time and then on the second visit, me pointing to the words, ‘oyster omelette’ in my guidebook because I wasn’t sure of the pronunciation.
I walked back over the bridge and along the riverfront where I’d sat with friends one night and had dinner at one of the fancy and slightly pricey restaurants. I noticed how most of the shops were the same, but the area had been upscaled. Streetart now decorated it and the trees had grown and almost formed a cooling canopy overhead. Before I knew it, my feet had led me back to the Old Street where the fresh food market was. There’d been a cafe called, ‘The Green Hornet,’ which was run by a Canadian expat. I thought perhaps I’d missed it or that like many places in Taiwan it wasn’t in existence anymore. Then I saw it.
That was when it hit me. I was overwhelmed with the realisation that despite me leaving (and others too), life goes on. My heart actually leapt with joy when I realised that it is possible for things to continue. Things don’t have to end. In that moment it was like I’d been stuck by a lightning bolt. I had regained my faith and most importantly, trust, in knowing that relationships can be the same. Even after many years (in this case, four), it is possible for people to still be around and still love me and me love them. Not everybody leaves.
As I continued walking with a smile that can only be described as one of peace, I suddenly wondered if my favourite breakfast place was still there. Yes indeed. I recognised one lady but the other girls were younger, probably family. I ordered 葱油饼 (spring onion pancake) and smiled when the girl understood my Chinese.
Funnily enough, the entire time I was walking around prior to that, I was thinking in Japanese and automatically exclaiming, “懐かしい [なつかしい (natsukashii)],” which basically means nostalgic. Years ago I had stopped trying to learn Chinese because no one could understand my pronunciation; now, I just gave it a shot. In Japan, I don’t often speak a lot of Japanese because I’m shy and afraid I’ll make a mistake and people will laugh. It took a trip to Taiwan to realise it’s an unfounded fear and even if someone were to laugh, I wouldn’t care anymore.
Eating my pancake I looked around, taking in everything with my senses. The same menu was there, but with small changes. The slightly higher prices are evident, but the core remains unchanged. It’s a metaphor for who I am.
I’m essentially the same person that I’ve always been, but I’m a better person. The me four years ago and definitely 10 years ago would never have eaten something like that at 10 o’clock in the morning! It was a breakfast or lunch food; fruit was more appropriate.
The rigid life I had woven for myself no longer exists. I’ve finally learned not to walk away from chances or opportunities and I seize them and enjoy them. The way I was living was NOT living. I deprived myself of all joy.
I came to Taiwan for what I thought was a holiday; a well-needed rest (and it has been!), but more importantly, it was incidentally, a revisiting of old emotions that needed to be felt and fully experienced and worked through in order to let go and move on. I’ve finally grown up.*
*And just for your information, the pancake was just as good as I remembered it. I didn’t have any expectations but I wasn’t disappointed either. I took things as they were and I was greatly rewarded. I think there’s a lesson in that…