I will admit: having family in my host country has its undeniable perks.
Even if spending the weekend with family often means sacrificing homework time, I consider it justifiable procrastination. Being around familiar faces, voices, and laughter makes the long bus rides worth it.
With a strawberry ice cream cream puff in one hand, I’ll use my other hand and the imminent sugar rush to recount parts of my Saturday.
I spent the first hours of my morning groggily turning off my numerous alarms as I failed to free myself from the lure of a comfortable non-dorm bed. By the time I had successfully rolled out of bed, my 奶奶(grandma) and 爺爺 (grandpa) were already hustling out of the door to get to their medical check up appointment. For breakfast, I had a few bowls of 糯米 (sticky rice, or, in my dictionary, one of my biggest guilty pleasures) and a bottle of 養樂多 (Yakult, but I’ll let your own curiosity take you to its Wiki page). Then, my 爸爸(dad) took me to the local Taiwanese market to try new treats and buy a new water bottle.
After browsing the market, I ended up with half a dozen cream puffs, a rotiboy (a Mexican coffee bun that was first created in Malaysia?), and a water bottle. With so many potential distractions around us, I was honestly surprised we achieved our main goal of buying a water bottle. When we arrived home, there was a moment of perfect family synchronicity as my grandparents followed us through the door. Soon, all of us were packed into the car, making our way to 烏山獼猴生態保護區 (Wushan Taiwan Macaque Natural Reserve).
Although the trip was superficially typical, with its winding roads up the mountain, the establishment of beautiful temples in the midst of verdant forests left a strong impression on my memory. One hairpin turn after the other, I saw the entrances to several temples until we eventually reached the end of the paved road. The mountain earned its name 猴山 (Monkey Mountain) because many monkeys had made it their home, but my grandma told me that it had been awhile since they last came, so she wasn’t sure if we would see monkeys that day. But, that concern vanished not longer after. As soon as we pulled into the temple’s parking lot, two monkeys sprinted across the road and effortlessly climbed onto the top of a building.
One of them carried a bright pink bag and, to my amusement, people were running after it. I managed to steal a couple of blurry pictures of this scene.
My dad told me that it was in our best interest to leave fruits and most of our belongings in the car unless we, too, wanted them stolen by the monkeys. At times, holding the foods wasn’t even enough, since more confrontational monkeys would startle visitors and scurry away with their looted treasures. In order to prevent the monkeys from consuming human foods, the reservation had posted warning signs for visitors.
To make some living money, the locals did sell buckets of peanuts and sliced bananas for tourists to feed the monkeys. Needless to say, the wild monkeys went bananas for the attention (probably more so food) they received from crowds of paparazzi. In a later conversation with a store owner, I found out that the smaller the groups, the rowdier the macaque monkeys got. As a result, the store owners despised bad weather because the hungry, macaque monkeys would get too comfortable with snatching things from them.
I could ramble on with the details, but as my sugar rush wears off and the room is reminded of blue hour, I will close this post. It would be wrong of me to recollect such beautiful memories without feeling thankful of and fortunate for my family. Despite not growing up with a close relationship with my extended family, our ties sustain my infinite love for them. That does not mean that it feels as if no time has passed between us. Years of expression have etched new wrinkles onto our faces; our bodies have both grown and shrunk. Nevertheless, conversations are more fruitful as new bonding experiences and childhood flashbacks coalesce into lasting memories. I feel at home wherever they are. Whether we’re lounging for a couple of quiet hours or they’re crushing me at 象棋 (xiàngqí, or Chinese chess), any amount of time spent together deepens my love for my family and, thus, my connection with Taiwan.
My family has been very welcoming of my “return” and so supportive of my desire to experience as much of Taiwan as I can. With them here, I cannot believe that I had ever considered going abroad anywhere else. Though my memories of them had been buried deep under the hustle bustle of schoolwork and friends, their resurfacing this semester has exposed just how much I have missed them and how desperately I need to use the next two months to their fullest. Can’t be left with phloem bundles and banana peels, right?