by Georgia Lin | March 23, 2022
I say, I come from an island
I am touched by salt,
separated by straits,
embraced by streams of motorcycle engines revving into side streets,
the names of which I can no longer read.
In Taiwan, we say the sun is going down a mountain when it sets.
I have always known the sun to set over a mountain
My childhood home stood perpendicular to a mountain.
Here, the sun departs in hazy purple swirls but leaves its stickiness; Taiwan is where time melts.
It is so easy to die in Taipei.
Breathe in the smoke from street vendors selling pig’s blood cake dusted with peanuts
The aromatics wafting into the corners of my grandmother’s linoleum-clad apartment.
Her mountain views have since vanished, replaced by tall metal buildings I wish could be toppled like jadeite, a stone fused to my grandmother’s wrist.
I choke on the incense vapours illuminated in roadside Buddhist shrines,
trip on folded cardboard housing corn husks or scraped red crates with leftover
daikon peels, anticipating heatstroke from the midday sun.
Broken air conditioning units melt out the weak.
I grew up without seatbelts on unforgiving roads,
Backseat, backstage meant unfounded liberation for a body always turning in on itself,
Lectured for unladylike leg crossing, heavier makeup, accented language, fiscal choices,
greeted with shame for glitter eyeshadow and orange lip gloss,
made to feel disobedient, disempowered, discombobulated from myself,
Strong enough to slice my cheek with a plastic skincare sample as I disembark from a department store escalator
Only to be told I am not meant to be here in my Asian democracy.
I return home to exit my body.
It is so easy to live in Taipei.
You can touch the mountains if your high-speed train lurches close enough,
to see a panorama of jagged tops in mist,
offset by never-ending lakes and drooping forest branches,
Mahjong tiles clinking together when the moon rises and the night markets come
sweat is omnipresent.
Metal barred windows proudly serve as clothing lines, with eager green bushes twisting between each linen blouse
Cheap bubble tea and sugared shaved ice is always waiting two blocks away
It is a crime to carry piping egg cakes in the open underground car.
The eyes of children wearing Doraemon backpacks follow the hilltops as the MRT soars above a highway
Nostalgia chokes me as I stumble past dessert vendors on my way to Eslite,
A bookstore I wish I could call home,
in this home.
Are gilded earrings gold?
Can I take a breath?
If I skin my knee, will my bones care?
Here, conservatism is quiet.
I arch my back to be more attractive to men
Scowling remarks on curved eyebrows
Being forced to answer where I am from when the stones beneath my feet pave my way home.
Cracks in porcelain become blinding under sunlight
I do not carry myself as if I can be swallowed.
Blurred lips and brown eyes, carrying paper umbrellas in the heat,
“When are you going to find a boyfriend to take care of you, 妹妹?”
My maternal line draws from a long line of criticism.
My mother learned how to whip words and I learned how to cower in the seams.
Instead of being accused of counting in Mandarin by my fourth-grade classmate
like the movement of my jaw must match in order to be correct,
here I am accused of having poor Mandarin. Even kin speak to me with foreign phrasing: “Here in Taiwan, we -”
like this is not my Taiwan,
like my father speaks the truth when he calls me a tourist and says this is not his motherland.
We count in Lunar years and by God, I remember three generations of double-digit birthdays and the luck of eight.
Instead of narrowing my eyes when a white boy calls the Chinese zodiac cute,
I preserve my island, with my most relaxed self
sipping an oolong milk bubble tea with tapioca, half sugar, less ice,
proving to myself the truth and the heart of Asia.
Words by Georgia Lin. Art by Faye Song.