Tag: family

“A Little Life” (or, more straightforwardly: “Taiwan”)

“You couldn’t relive your life, skipping the awful parts, without losing what made it worthwhile. You had to accept it as a whole–like the world, or the person you loved.”

— Stewart O’Nan

It’s amazing how a little tomorrow can make up for a whole lot of yesterday.

— John Guare

阿姨 sits down next to me and notes admiringly that I have been glued to my book the entire trip. “You’re so studious,” she said. I’ve always loved to read, I confessed. My parents would scold me at breakfast and dinner and in the car. “Stop reading at meals, pay attention, your eyes will go bad if you read while the car is moving.”

I told her I am currently reading an excruciatingly sad novel. “Doesn’t it color your mood?” she asked. “Of course,” I responded.

“Why don’t you only read happy things then?” I laughed and shrugged. I’m reminded so much that I am too emotional anyway, why not face it head on? Someone once told me that the world is wrong to frown upon emotion and vulnerability. So many people deem it weak, but perhaps it can be considered bravery that one opens herself to feeling. I admit I probably also want reassurance that writing about sad things doesn’t preclude becoming a good writer.

I know I will always be a person who thinks about feelings too much, but there are worse things to be in this world (as we are reminded daily by the news). The sad literature and events in life are what provide contrast for us to know what contentment is. The adversity we face is what prepares us for what we need to do to attain peace.

I guess the thing about the sad novel is that it reminds me of the obscure details, the tiny things that make waves. The tiny obstacles that can turn ships, but also the tiny miracles that can turn tides.


For months after I bought the plane ticket, I was anxious. I was convinced that my family in Taiwan would scold me:
1. Tell me that I’ve gained weight (which is senseless to say since: of course I was going to look different. The last time I was there was over a decade ago).
2. Comment with dismay about how I am “still single” and childless.

The way I’ve learned Asian families do.

My mom insisted that my arrival to be a total surprise to everyone. I was concerned about this, too. What if grandmother is out somewhere else when we arrive? What if I give her a scare? My mom reassured me. “Don’t worry, grandmother is always there. Where would she go? And don’t worry, her heart is very healthy.”


Grandmother was sitting in the yard with her friend when my father and I first walked up. She did not see me at first. When it became clear the visitors were here for her, the friend helped her to stand up. Her face was cloudy, her eyes squinting through the distance to see. I called out “Grandmother, it’s me, 樂樂.”

Read More

glass jars

i walked to the coffee shop that makes matcha teas the way i like them (yes so bougie). and  while waiting, i looked carefully at all the too-fancy glass jars of jam on the shelves. rose petal preserves, traditional quince preserves, organic fir honey, bergamot preserves (which is a type of citrus).

i reminisced about when people would still spend time in the kitchen to make things based on grandmothers’ handwritten recipes, and not just drink or eat ready-made things out of a plastic container. i remember the way my grandmother would cook meals in her tiny apartment in Tainan. it was always dim, they never turned the lights on (to conserve on energy bill). my grandfather always sitting at the small table kind of grumpily, surrounded by his calligraphy paintbrushes. his face was always stuck in a strict, mean expression. i was absolutely terrified of him.

when he was dying, i sat by his bedside at the hospital and stared at his white hair and sunken cheeks. the strong mouth i was terrified of because it was always saying too-mean things in Mandarin, it lay silent. when he did gain consciousness, he would tell me about my childhood self, not knowing i was the same person. not recognizing the adult version of the girl he talked about. he would ask me to fetch his paintbrushes so that he could practice his calligraphy, though he was too weak to even hold them.

i was overwhelmed at how it felt. i wondered how to treat this sudden lack of terror towards him. we tell ourselves that keeping the uncomfortable parts of someone’s presence would be worth it, just let us keep them. please, just let us keep them here by our sides on earth for the rest of this lifetime. “these are the things i would trade for him to stay,” we shout into the void.

at the altar where my elders’ photos hang, i felt the universe moving, adjusting to the loss of a soul. the fishbone that had been caught in his throat led to the discovery of other cancers that had invaded his body.

such tiny, invisible things that alter us.
such huge things that change us, that can in no way be contained or understood.
the mystery that hangs in the stillness between worlds, between us and loved ones lost.

i wondered what we could do, put their souls in glass jars, keep them safe, preserve them? mix them with rose petals and bergamot, pour in all the sweetness stocked up in ourselves that we saved up thinking there would be a better time in the future to say the necessary, come up with a new name for the concoction. give the soul-preserves a forever shelf life, and keep them present within every food we eat and at every meal we share.