A decade has passed since I last saw Taiwan, the island country where my parents are from. They spent their childhood until their early 20s there, before moving to the United States to advance their education and start a family. They have now lived here longer than they’ve lived in Taiwan, but as much as they love Texas and consider it home, I know how important their native country is to them.
Every few years when I was growing up, my parents would take my sister and I back to Taiwan to learn about their homeland and to know our family. We always stayed in the apartment of my puopuo (grandmother on my mom’s side), where she cooked with my aunts and spoke with a heavy accent. I often had to ask my mom to clarify her mother’s Chinese, but there was one thing I always understood: puopuo sweetly calling me by my middle name, Yen Tzu, and reminding me how good and wonderful I am.
One time I left my beloved teddy bear in her bed and flew back to Texas without it, crying. She assured me over the phone, “Yen Tzu, do not worry. I will watch him closely and take care of him until you return.”
I did return to see puopuo and collect my bear, but years later as an adult, I slowly started turning away from Asia and what I knew. When I first tasted the freedom of traveling on my own, I choose to explore the unfamiliar – such as Europe – wanting to create new, amazing personal experiences.
Over the years, my family has visited Taiwan several times without me. While I always wished I could go too, I never felt too much urgency, assuming there would be other opportunities. It was not until the beginning of this year, when my mom called me to say that puopuo had a stroke, that the need to return filled my entire being.
Unfortunately Puopuo passed away a few weeks before we arrived. (Fortunately my cousin had recently given birth to a beautiful and healthy baby girl, and puopuo had been smiling about this news before she passed.) So I was finally back in Taiwan, heavy with mixed emotions, missing the one person I wanted to see most. There was grief for my beloved grandmother, guilt for having waited so long to return, and curiosity to rediscover a part of me, to see where my parents grew up and how it had changed.
In the next JBU columns, I will share some of my thoughts and experiences in Taiwan. This beautiful country is full of wonderful sights, food and, for me, family. I know puopuo was proud as she watched all of us return, pay our respects, and explore our family’s homeland.