An Ode to the Emerald City
There is a city in the East where the streets are paved with emerald. To the south there are the tea mountains, where the streets smell like jasmine and oolong. To the north is the ocean, and maybe it’s the saltiness in the air that inspires the night market hawker stands. (A city surrounded by mountains and water – sounds like a place I know.) I say emerald, because the city looks like it was built with the forest in mind. In the Old Town, every sidewalk is lined with potted plants and the walls are dipped in vines. The trees back home grow thick-ringed and reach towards the clouds. But here the trees grow like twisted lightening bolts that lean towards the ground; bent over as if they want to hold you.
Our last night in Taipei, we ate a dinner so fresh that it still tasted like the sea. It was the kind of meal where everyone quiets down to eat. Bare fingers were needed to pry open shells, and time was taken to taste every bite. It was the kind of food that needed your full attention to enjoy.
1. This is the story of Amy Ma and Rebekah Ho. I thought it would be appropriate to write this not only because I’m in the city where we met, but also, because Amy graduated from UPenn today!!! Congratulations Amy!
In the summer of 2008, Rebekah left her home in Vancouver for the first time on her own to live at camp called OCAC for 6 weeks. She arrived in Taipei, a city she had never been to before, with no family, one friend, and no idea how to speak Mandarin. The very first friend she made at OCAC who’s name was Amy Ma (which by the way is a palindrome). The details are unclear of how their friendship really began, but it started with a kind gesture and a pack of UNO cards. Amy liked stripes and was very pale. She wore her heart on her sleeve, which meant that if she liked you, you would know, and vice versa. Thankfully, Rebekah felt very loved by Amy (and didn’t have to face her wrath). That summer, Amy made Rebekah try a lot of new things like dance onstage to a song about chocolate and befriend people that she usually wouldn’t talk to, which all generally turned out to be challenging but valuable experiences. Amy also introduced Rebekah to her kryptonite: shopping. And with that, a best friendship formed. Every morning, Amy and Rebekah would walk to breakfast together, and on the weekends, they would go out with their friends for karaoke and hot pot. They spent just about every waking moment together from the first day of camp until the last day of camp. When Amy went home to Philadelphia, Rebekah cried harder than she ever did in all 15 years of her life. They kept in touch via Skype, Facebook, and snail mail, and they promised to see each other again in the near future.
Two years later, Rebekah and Amy planned to go to camp together again, but Rebekah didn’t get in. Rebekah was discouraged but determined and decided to fly to Taipei anyways to live with Amy for two weeks. They were both very nervous at first, because a lot can change in two years. It was hard to keep in touch, and they weren’t able to keep Skyping once a week like they did before. But when Rebekah walked through the airport door, and Amy hopped a railing (that Rebekah was pretty sure was taller than her) just to get to her quicker, they knew they would be just fine. They spent those two weeks eating and shopping together, and somehow, Amy managed to make Rebekah take a not-so-fun hip hop class with her (there seems to be a theme of dancing in their friendship).
In 2011, Amy and Rebekah went to OCAC again together. It was the same, but different. Amy and Rebekah’s friendship grew even more that summer, and they learned a lot about honesty and vulnerability. They learned how to grow with each other and how to grow without each other. They learned that it’s okay for things to change while they’re apart as long as the friendship changes with it. Long distance relationships/friendships/anythings are never easy, but Rebekah has always and will always be confident in this friendship, because Amy and Rebekah continue to be invested in each other’s lives despite the miles between them.
To be continued… IN NEW YORK THIS JULY!!!
2. Today we went to the biggest bookstore in Taipei, where I disappeared into the shelves for a little while. When I came back, my dad had picked out this book for me. Unfortunately, it’s all in Chinese, but the photography is stunning, and it outlines all the best coffee shops in Taipei. He said it was because he knows one day I will probably live here and visit all those coffee shops. I have always told him that I’ve felt more at home in Taiwan than I do in Hong Kong (even though our family is from there), and today he told me he finally understood why. It made me realize that all these years, he’s been sending me to Taiwan without understanding why I wanted to go. He knew it was a good opportunity for me to see the world, but he never had the full picture until this trip. I’ve always been frustrated that my father has never been a man that asks me why. He rarely asks me how I’m doing and often says no before hearing my reasoning, but when he gives me his yes, it’s a solid yes. He doesn’t need a reason why. He just supports me, no questions asked.
3. We somehow managed to pack in almost all of Taipei into one day. We went to Yong Kang St. for lunch and shaved ice, the National Palace Museum, the Miramar Ferris Wheel, and Shilin Night Market. By the time we got to the night market, I thought I was going to pass out, but I was suddenly rejuvenated by oyster omlettes and the thought of new shoes. I was going to write an actual third story, but we did too much today, so goodnight!
A haiku about Xi Men Ding, because that’s how happy I am to be back in Taipei:
Bubble tea and shops
Only good memories here
Fifteen once again
But for real – the city feels emptier this time around, but I’m more than grateful that I have stories to tell whenever I turn a corner. If there is a good type of ghost, that is the kind that haunts me while I’m here.
And just for kicks, this is a picture of me eating ice cream and embracing all things Taiwan in Xi Men Ding circa 2008: