thoughts from home
I've been home for at least eight days now, and I've been using the time to catch up with family and soak up being home. To be honest, I've been slightly overwhelmed with the adjustment, and I haven't spent much time preparing for this upcoming summer project. Tonight at a casual dinner with family friends, amidst reminders about how quickly time flies and how tall my sister and I had gotten, I found that the "uncle" and "aunt" (when you address family friends in Mandarin, you find that you're all related) I had known for years have multiple contacts in Beijing, including a Vice-Minister of the Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council of the PRC.
The project is taking a vibrant life of its own. Right now I'm editing my travel plans to include a week-long stint in Beijing with my father in mid-August to conduct key interviews, network with students in Beijing universities, and follow leads. Standing in the park by the library I used to bike to for years, this family friend told me the story of her husband's family separated - in the chaos of the Cultural Revolution, a father, mother, and four sons sent to different places, an uncle who committed suicide by setting fire to his home, an aunt who committed suicide by jumping into a river.
As I gathered what I could with my Chinese listening comprehension, she herself couldn't bring herself to articulate the nature of that time era: "To be honest, that time era... I don't know how to describe it. I'm not sure what words to use, what to say." Are these thoughts unarticulated because no one's asked? Or is it simply of such a great magnitude that words cannot capture it? As we draw breath, organize our thoughts, and let the weight of expectation from a listener seep into our consciousness, how do we explain the silences? As much as I appreciate this amazing potential connection with an official, it was the words exchanged in the parking lot behind a bustling Chinese seafood restaurant that struck me the most.
My father recounted to these friends how he watched a youtube clip I had e-mailed him and declared loudly to them, to the parked cars that lay blocks away from my house, to the night sky, how the accounts recounted and narrated in Taiwan were biased towards the Nationalist Party. "Biased towards the Kuomintang. So biased! Really!" And as he, someone who grew up in the southern Taiwanese province of Pingtung, let out a huff sympathetic to the inadequately respected perspective of his mainland friends, the family friend who grew up in Beijing, chimed in, "And our high school textbooks! All biased towards the Communist Party!" As I witnessed this exchange between friends, I like to believe that this mutual indignation served more than to confirm their social bonds and ties to each other, and served more than a social expectation of understanding based on years of friendship.
I like to believe that there was a degree of honest sincerity, and a shared dissatisfaction with the divergent histories narrated by the various perspectives. I write this entry in the comfort of my home, in the house built on the soil where I've spent the majority of the 20 years of my life. My sister and my mom sip red wine from glasses and critique the images and products featured in fashion magazines (including a brief conversation about Emma Watson). As my sister speaks to my mom in a mixture of Mandarin and English, I am struck with the blessing of our hybrid heritage, one I continue to struggle with. This summer research project has effortlessly combined an exploration of my background with an academic question, conceived within the framework of a Strait Talk peace project. I am grateful.