On coming home 17 years later
When I was five my parents moved us to New Zealand.
I learned how to say Aotearoa before I knew how to write my own name in Chinese.
I knew how to spell New Zealand before I ever knew how to write the two characters that read ‘Taiwan’.
Yet I was always reminded of one thing:
Even if you grew up there, your skin is still yellow; they’ll never see you as one of them.
Don’t forget where you came from.
I know this because I’ve spent my life listening to people
yell go back to your country
from car windows when I walk down the street
and I want to yell back “this is my country, I know no other”.
I will always be immigrant in their eyes.
Politicians spit Chinese, spit foreign like we have not brought wealth;
like we have not paid dearly in both currency and dignity to make this place home.
I have heard the words bloody asians more than enough times,
so don’t worry, I’ll never forget where I came from.
Taiwan, I say, when people ask.
I’m from Taiwan.
But I wish they didn’t feel the need to ask.
Two years ago I moved to Taiwan.
(Or should I say back to Taiwan?)
My mother says when she looks at the sky here she sees her youth floating past,
and she knows the streets we walk down by heart.
She hears home in each step she takes.
She did not want to leave 17 years ago.
It was here, too, that I drew my first breath, spoke my first word, took my first step, learned the word home.
But I was torn from my soil as a sapling, and now my roots have all dried –
slice them open with a pocketknife and nothing spills out.
But if you cut open my veins I will bleed pohutukawa flowers.
I will bleed the salt waters of the south pacific ocean, childhoods at the beach fighting with seagulls,
and an expanse of long white clouds.
I will bleed quiet night skies filled with stars, the damp smell of bush walks in the Waitakere Ranges,
and the taste of cold L&P.
People here tell me how lucky I am to know how to speak English but
How do I tell them I wish I could exchange my tongue for one that matches my skin?
How do I tell them that when I try to speak Chinese, I often opt for silence because I struggle too hard to find the words;
I guess I just misplaced them when we crossed an ocean all those years ago.
How do I tell them that when I try to write Chinese, my pen is like a lost explorer, depressed and drunk;
each stroke is a maze that he cannot fathom so he sits down to cry.
How do I tell them I wish I could write the intricate characters telling stories in the language that should be carved into the walls of my brain?
My grandfather told me that each Chinese character evolved from a picture and each picture tells a story.
If a picture is really worth a thousand words, and there are over 50,000 Chinese characters,
there are 50 million stories to be told.
50 million stories I do not know.
I have only 26 letters to rearrange, but they work with me,
use my tongue as diving boards,
fall from my lips like fearless skydivers,
deliver my thoughts like practised messengers.
Nowadays I avoid mentioning that I don’t belong
but when people ask me what city I’m from I don’t know what to say.
I was born in Taipei
but Auckland nurtured me with its gentle fingers.
Auckland taught me peace,
taught me how blue the sky can be
taught me, how it feels to take off your shoes and run barefoot in the grass.
Do I say Auckland or Taipei?
I’m not going to point out that I’m out of place
but I can’t claim this city as home and
I don’t know how to talk my way out of this one and oh no my words are tripping over my teeth on their way out again.
I wish I could say what I’m trying to say in English –
no i’m not saying I’m better because I speak another language –
I wish I was one of you.
And when I say I miss home I’m not saying I don’t love my birthplace,
it’s just that the definition of home has always been fluid and
my search for belonging has made me an albatross,
gliding along the shoreline on switching currents,
my feet never touching land.
And even though I finally look like I’m home now –
a dark haired, yellow skinned puzzle piece that’s turned up as last,
my edges don’t quite fit as well as I’d hoped.
So I tell my parents I don’t think this is home and this city is a stranger to me,
and that it makes me want to run because they’ve always warned me against the unknown.
I tell them that before I left Auckland,
I ground my heart into sand and let the wind carry it away
so New Zealand would always have a piece of me
and now when my friends walk along the beach there,
I feel each footprint in my chest.
I tell them the sky in this city is thick with a collective memory that I cannot access,
and when I reach out to those around me I only grab empty air –
but my father insists that I’m home now and so I say
I’m home now.