Monday, July 27, 2020

Revisiting My Roots in Taiwan

Even though I was not born there, I almost automatically use the word hui 回, "return to," when referring to traveling to Taiwan because that is how my parents have always phrased it.  I have only had the privilege of making that trip a handful of times in my life, and each time has been different and special in its own way, with memories that I can still recall clearly.  However, Taiwan was becoming more and more of a distant "home" to me as the years went by, and even my dad had not been back in almost 20 years.  It was this thought of losing that part of me that urged me to ask my mom if I could join her when she returned for Chinese New Year in 2017.  She had been going back almost every year after us kids went to college, so she was at first confused about my sudden desire to come along.  Surprisingly, my dad also tacked on, and before we knew it, he and I were on a plane bound for Taipei!

This was my first time experiencing the Lunar New Year at my grandma Po-Po's place , and though I didn't know it then, it was also my last chance to spend quality time with her.  Wes did not come on this trip, and insisted that I take advantage of this rare opportunity to be 100% immersed within this side of my family.  I totally indulged in being a Chiang grandchild again, sleeping with my aunts and mom in Po-Po's bedroom, eating everything they put in front of me, and tagging along everywhere they went.  My complete lack of control was a refreshing and nostalgic way of experiencing Taiwan.  I brought my honkin' DSLR camera and took some pictures, mainly focusing on Chinese New Year traditions around the house and capturing my Po-Po at some of her favorite local spots.  I am so glad to be able to look back on these more recent memories of her and to have been able to feel close to my Taiwanese roots again.  My mother was worried that I would get bored, but everything we did felt significant in some way, whether it was something as mundane as picking up the dry cleaning with my aunt or as unique as sharing in Po-Po's delicious cooking on New Year's Eve.  

Po-Po and my mom

Katie, Aunt Nancy, and me

Aunt Kathy and my mom

Rachel, Katie, and me

Aunt Nancy, Aunt Kathy, and Aunt Karen

And how could I ever be bored around so many talkative, opinionated, and spunky women?  Aunt Nancy is the eldest, Aunt Kathy is next, and then my mom is the youngest of the four Chiang children.  We call their brother Jiu-Jiu, and he is possibly the most gentle and compassionate of them all.  My cousins who were there were Rachel (Jiu-Jiu's daughter) and Katie (one of Aunt Kathy's daughters)--many others like my sister were in America and unable to join.  So basically, the men were outnumbered and I appreciated that the Chiang house seemed to be perpetually dominated by women's voices.  My grandpa, Gong-Gong, passed away ten years ago, but even when he was alive, he sweetly catered to his wife, daughters, and son with grace and wisdom.  I wish that I had known him better.


My dad and I landed in Taiwan at the glorious hour of 1:00 AM.  My uncle Jiu-Jiu (舅舅) and my cousin Katie were waiting for us at the terminal.  Katie is also American, she just landed about an hour earlier than we did, so she waited with my uncle for us.   She and I immediately started chatting nonstop, in a mixture of English and Chinese, catching up about everything that we could.  It’s like meeting up with a sister who I haven’t seen in forever.  We seem to respond to things with the same mannerisms and have very similar personalities, since our moms are sisters.  When we got back to Po-Po's place, our moms answered the door and it was just a huge burst of commotion, at 2 AM.   Po-Po was lying down on the couch, wrapped up in a blanket like a run bing 潤餅 (steamed spring roll).  We hadn’t even noticed her there with all the excitement!  Immediately, we went over and I gave her a bunch of kisses on the cheeks – she is the cutest person.  My dad went and endearing called her Ma-Ma, or "mother." He clasped her hands and talked for a little, it must have been surreal for him.  I couldn’t believe that she stayed up that late to greet us.  We were going to go straight to bed but we started eating all of the wonderful snacks that were on the table: daikon radish pastries from the Yong He street market, huge wax apple slices, mochi-like layered rectangular sweets, slightly sweet puffed rice clusters with peanuts.  We then went to bed past 3:00 AM, all of us.  I vowed that I did not want any of this precious time to be wasted!


Despite the very late night, my internal clock woke me up at 7:00 AM to a dark and quiet house.  I figured it was a great opportunity to go to the bathroom and take my sweet time in there, while everyone was still asleep.  Right when I was about to begin my shower, my mom pounded on the door and said that we were going out, and that Po-Po wanted to leave immediately!  I was really shocked that everyone was already set to go, even though I was the first to rise!  I splashed through my shower and then with extremely wet hair (also because the towels here are small and thin – no big fluffy bath towels), wearing the same underwear and clothes that I had worn onto the plane, I stumbled out the door with my mom and dad (who had graciously waited for me) and power-walked to the Han Zhou Nan Lu street market (杭州南路路邊攤).  It wasn’t very far.  I didn’t realize that I’d actually be out and about at such an ungodly hour – it was around 7:30.  

We arrived at a loosely packed open-air sidewalk market comprised of many street vendors with very simple stands and carts, with their wares laid out on the sidewalk in cardboard boxes and crates.  We saw  lots of elderly people buying and selling fruits, vegetables, and snacks on the street.  It was a calm and casual atmosphere.  Po-Po always goes here early in the mornings to buy vegetables, and the stalls close at noon.  There must be a sense of familiarity with grocery shopping like this among people in her generation, before the advent of supermarkets.  

Likewise, prepared foods were almost exclusively sold in the street from stalls and carts back then, and so it is no surprise that Po-Po continues to faithfully frequent her favorite vendor for freshly made breakfast.  The owner smiled warmly when she saw the crowd of multigenerational faces that surrounded my grandma this morning, and prepared a total of five pudgy fan tuan 飯糰 (sticky rice rolls) for each of us.  She would spread the sticky rice out on a moist towel with the back of her rice paddle after digging it out of a big barrel built into her stand, and then she would layer in the pork floss, pickled radish, pickled mustard greens, peanut powder, and two chunky fried crullers.  Then, she folded it all up in swift motions and smashed the crullers to pieces within the rice.  Po-Po has been going to this vendor for over 15 years and she won’t get you fan 油飯 (sticky rice) from anywhere else.  Apparently, the lady had run out of you fan before we got there (yes, at 8:00 AM??), so we promised to come back tomorrow.  We also bought out the rest of her fan tuan – she was scraping the rice out of the bottom of her super deep pot.  No wonder Po-Po could not delay her arrival here!

My dad was very excited to be out and about – he kept trying to take photos of the motorcycles on his phone.  Mom mentioned that he seemed to be moving very slowly here in Taipei, as if he were taking it all in.  I also moved very slowly, taking it all in on the camera.  But sometimes I had to keep up to capture those priceless moments of Po-Po walking in the street, disguising her umbrella as a cane.

Then, we headed to Po-Po's favorite fruit vendor, which is in this building that she seems to frequent a lot.  The building only had a few businesses, and it seemed pretty dead.  She also would get comforters from a vendor there (all the blankets that I grew up sleeping under were apparently from this modest shop).  At the fruit store, the shopkeepers all greeted her warmly.  Picking up the fruit was quick and easy, as are all other errands that are run here.  It is quite inspirational – I tend to let my errands get out of hand at home, but here they make everything snappy.  The fruit was going to be for my dad to bring to his aunt and uncle, who we were going to visit later.

We got back to Po-Po's house and ate the sticky rice rolls and some other random things, like crunchy, sesame-coated kai kou xiao 開口笑 (open mouth laughing) crackers.  My mom says that these are commonly eaten around Chinese New Year to symbolize joy.

For the latter half of the day, I met my dad's uncle and aunt at their little place in another part of Taipei.  It was fun to watch my dad figure out how to get there with the bus.  We eventually arrived at a high-rise directly upstairs from another bustling market.  Their residence was much more cramped and cluttered than my Po-Po's house.  My dad had not seen these people in over 30 years...not since his own wedding, where their daughter was the flower girl.  The couple still keeps an old photo of their daughter and my mom in their glass cabinet – it is the sweetest thing.  The daughter now has kids and lives in another part of Taipei.  

My dad's uncle and aunt were not exactly a warm couple, but they grew on us.  They both were hard of hearing and rather snippy with each other, and they disliked going out.  But by the time we took them out for dimsum after running some errands together, the old lady was holding onto my arm warmly.  Then, of course my dad and his uncle fought over the check.  It was interesting to meet another part of my family today, even though I had never met them before.  It just goes to show that there are people in this world who share your family line who you may truly never meet.


Today was the day I learned to brave markets the day before Chinese New Year's Eve.  We went to two places, first the Yong He Market (永和市場) for vegetables and then the Nanmen Market (南門場) for sticky rice cakes.  While the Yong He Market is farther away and requires a trip on the bus, its prices and variety are unparalleled.  The Nanmen Market is walking distance from Po-Po's place, but it's expensive and rather touristy.  But what both of these places had in common was the sheer chaos.  It's impossible not to be completely overwhelmed as you are swallowed into the many stalls and vendors at these places, with barely anywhere to find your footing as people of all ages and missions flood the walkways.  I brought the big camera to the first market but ditched it for the second.  Even though it was nuts, I loved experiencing the holiday buzz in the atmosphere and got to taste some really awesome traditional street foods!  The night markets that are so popular with young people these days do not seem to have these oldschool items anymore, so it was nostalgic.  Of course, Po-Po did not join us on either market excursion and stayed home to peacefully start prepping some New Year's dishes.

According to my mom, the family only goes to Yong He Market once a year, solely for Chinese New Year.  My mom said that she always gets lost there herself, it's so big and deep.  I was amazed by it, it's like a farmer's market on steroids.  We have nothing like this here in the U.S.--not only would things be considered unsanitary, but let's not forget about the 8-year-old kid butchering meat or the teenager making paper-thin spring roll wrappers by using his bare hands on a burning hot surface!  Aside from some of those gawk-worthy moments, there was a wonderful assortment of exotic fruits, vegetables, flowers, decorations, herbal remedies, and food carts.

Luo bo si bing 蘿蔔絲餅 - shredded daikon radish root cakes, made to order and piping hot with fistfuls of radish roots inside each one

It's Mom's favorite.

Run bing 潤餅 - giant steamed spring roll with peanut powder, meats, bean sprouts, bean curd, cabbage, etc.

Red bean and peanut powder sandwich – recommended by my dad, who said that he used to have to eat this kind of stuff in secret because his mom placed such a taboo on him.

The Nanmen Market is a mixture of indoor and outdoor and maybe a little bit more put-together (even considered touristy), but still packed with people and noise.  It is literally across the street from where Po-Po lives, but she prefers the peaceful Han Zhou Nan Lu street market.  I remember checking out the Nanmen Market with Wes when we were here in 2015 and grabbing some yummy minced pork rice at a stall in front of it.  Today, Katie and I followed Aunt Nancy into the fray just for one thing--rice cakes.  But apparently they are another must for the Chiang family Chinese New Year feast.  It took several near-death crowd-surfing experiences to get in and out with a bag of them.  We got separated from our aunt and we freaked out just a little!  After that, we went to a small neighborhood supermarket and Katie bought some instant noodles (retail therapy?) while Aunt Nancy was buying rock sugar for Po-Po.  We took a small detour to the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial, picked up some dry cleaning nearby, some Lotto tickets (hey, maybe luck was on Aunt Nancy's side!), and finally walked home, feeling accomplished and beat. 

Always eating!

Charsiu pork pastry from our parents' favorite spot. So flaky and good.

Then, I watched as Po-Po showed my mom how to make the dan jiao 蛋餃 (egg dumplings) that she makes every year.  Literally, we just saw some people making and selling these at the Nanmen Market using little circular molds.  Still, Po-Po insists that we make them ourselves.  She gets a sore neck from cooking for long periods of time, so it was up to my mom to do these.  Basically, these pockets resemble yuan bao 元寶  (gold ingots), a symbol of Chinese New Year prosperity.  They are a must in our family every year.  Anyway, after Po-Po left the kitchen, I helped my mom make all of the egg dumplings in the wok.  It was fun but really painstaking – I wondered how much Po-Po is able to do on her own.  It’s like making 25 tiny omelettes, plus making your own ground pork filling to fold inside.  We spooned some oil into the base of the wok on low heat (just about a teaspoon), used a larger spoon to scoop out beaten eggs from a bowl (about 1.5 spoonfuls), and tried to make it shaped like a circle.  Then my mom dropped on a little bit of the marinated pork using chopsticks, and we would use a large metal spatula and chopsticks to fold the egg in half.  My mom was much better at this than I was, as I am not adept enough with chopsticks to pick up the edge of the tiny egg pancake to fold it over.  Then, you sort of let it fry for a little bit, flip it over, pry away the uneven sides of the little egg dumpling with the tip of the spatula, and then move it to the side wall of the wok.  We ended up getting better at it, so we placed the pretty ones on the top and hid the ugly ones underneath.  Po-Po nodded in approval when we brought them out for her to see.

We went out for dessert and dinner afterward (yes, in that order), and had many more laughs over delicious cake, coffee, and hotpot.


I spent the earlier part of this day with my parents.  Jiu-Jiu drove us to see Soochow University, where both of my parents attended college, and Wesley Girls' School, where my mom went for middle school.  It was so nostalgic to see them there.  Then, Jiu-Jiu dropped us off at Yangmingshan National Park, where we indulged in nature and fresh air.  Mom and Dad seemed to really enjoy the fields at the top of the mountain, with billowing clouds blowing by.  My favorite part was the forested area, with trees so enchanting, covered in green moss.  My dad and I hiked down to the "silken" waterfall while my mom waited for us--it was much harder than we thought it would be to get there!

When we got back to the house (after a stop into Mos Burger and Starbucks at mom's request), cooking was well under way, but things were not crazy.  All seemed very calm and systematic.  Aunt Kathy and Po-Po were in the kitchen with Velma, Jiu-Jiu's housekeeper.  There were many plates and bowls of sliced up food, like mushrooms, vegetables, and bean curd.  There was a pot of beef tendon bubbling on the stove, some chicken soup with free-range chicken (apparently all chicken in Taiwan is free-range), and a bunch of other things in various pots on the floor in the narrow little tile hall around the corner from the stove.  I was super curious and stuck around in the kitchen, watching them cook everything.  Basically, many things were skillfully done ahead of time and they were just throwing everything together at this point, with Po-Po orchestrating the culinary symphony.

Katie arranged every ingredient that went into this dish!

We randomly had to run an errand and grab flowers at the family’s go-to flower shop with Aunt Nancy.  On the way, I observed people in the street getting ready for the New Year, burning paper money to send to the deceased, hanging up red banners, and preparing their dinners (some directly by the sidewalk).  It was cute, they all knew her and Aunt Nancy seemed pretty experienced with buying flowers.  Quickly, she got the flowers and arranged them in a vase while I showered.  It is believed that you cannot shower on the morning/day of New Year, and you also cannot clean anything for that matter because you’d essentially be washing/sweeping away your good fortune.  

We put up our own chun lian 春聯 - celebratory red banners for the New Year.

I got out of the shower just in time to start rolling up chun juan 春捲 (spring rolls).  Someone went and got some fresh roll wrappers from the Nanmen Market, and believe me…that freshness made a huge difference in taste.  There were bowls of the filling and little bowls of flour and water spread out on the dining table.  We’d spread out the wrappers on the table, add a bit of filling in the middle, and then roll it up once from the bottom, dab some flour/water mixture and fold in the sides, and then dab some more flour/water along the top rim and fold the rest of the roll all the way up to the top.  It was pretty easy actually.  Dad helped too.   Then, Aunt Kathy shallow-fried them and we ate them as an appetizer!  They were so amazing.  The filling was made of thinly sliced pork strips, bean curd, carrots, mushrooms, etc.  Katie said that they did this at home, too, but not for Chinese New Year.  Since Aunt Kathy always goes back to Taiwan for Chinese New Year, they do it for other holidays or occasions.  

We gathered around the round table as dishes began to materialize from the little kitchen.  After everyone had a chance to stand on chairs to take photos of every magnificent dish on the lazy susan, the grabbing began!  It was a mad rush, haha.  We had so much to eat and everyone was excited.  My favorite was those porky lion’s head meatballs with cabbage and the pickled bamboo shoots in the pork belly dish, but of course everything was downright awesome.  I will need to bother Aunt Kathy for the recipes at some point!

After dinner, we FaceTimed cousins Joseph and Carol in – they were both for some reason up at 4:30 in the morning in America.  I talked to Carol for a good 30 minutes at least in the bedroom while everyone continued to chatter and eat desserts outside.  It was so nice to talk to her!  She and I are close in age and we used to see each other more when our families both were on the East Coast.  She still sounds pretty much the same – that cute, practical, dorky personality is still there.  I realized how much I have missed my cousins from this side of the family and how that really is a missing piece in my life.  This trip made me feel like I do have a home in another country, and that people somewhere far away truly care about me and know a lot about me.  

It is customary, if not necessary, to end the night with a small bowl of tian tang 甜湯 (sweet soup) made of lotus roots, dates, and chestnuts.  It tasted sort of medicinal but still very good.  I had a small bowl of it with extra lotus roots, and watched the adults play Mahjong in Po-Po’s room.  It was pretty intense – they are super fast and super furious.  My cousin Katie tried her hand at it, and she actually kept up, but she had to stop because I’m sure that her brain was hurting.  I sort of wanted to try too, but Mom actually told me not to because she thought that I’d be a burden on their fun.  It was a little off-putting that she said that to me, but I guess I can see what she meant after witnessing the way they play.  She also discouraged me from taking photos because it would be "bad luck."


In the morning, we all put on something red and refrained from showering.  I tried to sleep in since there was nowhere to be, but I couldn’t help getting up at 6:30 or 7:00.  Po-Po had made another type of sweet soup for breakfast.  This time it was with lotus seeds (fertility), longan, dried dates, and glutinous rice balls.  This signifies a sweet beginning to the year, with perfectly round ingredients to symbolize unity and wholeness.  The whimsical white and pink rice balls reminded me of my childhood, when my mom would add them into her delicious red bean soup.

On New Year's Day, it is customary to stay home and enjoy family time.  We burned some incense for Gong-Gong and chatted over snacks and spring rolls.  The family would normally go to Gong-Gong's gravesite on the third day of the New Year, but unfortunately that was the day of everyone's departure, so we didn’t get to do that.  Another tradition was to burn paper money on New Year’s Eve to send up to him, but Aunt Nancy said that because it had been so many years since he passed away, it was no longer necessary.

My parents and I did eventually go for a stroll to Chiang Kai Shek Memorial, which was amazingly so much closer than I remember from being a child.  You just make a left out of the front door and it’s pretty much right there!  Yesterday, there was much chatter and running about for last-minute things in the street.  Today, every shop had its metal shutters down, and all was very quiet and calm, like Christmas morning.  At the Memorial, we just walked around the perimeter, through a nice garden, and watched a big group of people of various ages doing Tai Chi.  My mom commented that the weather was rarely this cooperative on New Year's Day--it tends to be rainy at this time of year in Taiwan.  I felt so lucky!

We came back in just as everyone there was finishing up with prepping lunch.  It did seem like we were always eating!  My mom said that we’d be literally eating leftovers for days here, and so this was Round 1.  I totally did not mind eating everything all over again – the only things missing were the sea cucumbers and the prawns, plus we now were able to eat the fish (ji yu) that was purposefully placed aside!  It was cooked with tons of spring onions and soy sauce, and eaten cold.  Saving a whole fish for the next day symbolizes having a surplus of food in the New Year, much like it would be nice to have a surplus of money.  In addition, the word for "fish" sounds the same as the word for "surplus," so you would say, "年年有餘!"  Another phrase that is commonly thrown around is, ""歲歲平安!" which means "peace year after year."  The word for "peace" sounds the same as the word for "broken pieces," so if you do happen to break something on New Year's Day, it would be seen as good luck.  As luck would have it, someone did drop a plate somehow, and we all laughed.

My parents and I ended up going up to Jiufen Old Street (九份老街) for a few hours.  This is a super cute, but also touristy revitalized historic area in the mountain.  My parents have heard of it but have never been, so we went to check it out, hoping that it would be less crowded today due to the holiday.  It was still pretty packed, but it definitely could have been worse!  We enjoyed some Taiwanese shaved ice and old-fashioned candy which my parents recognized from their childhood.  The ones shaped like the cigarettes, yes.

We realized during the long bus-ride down the mountain that we were hungry, so we spontaneously got off at the Raohe Night Market stop.  I was really excited to be going to a Taiwan night market with my parents!  They never took us when we were kids, claiming that the food was unclean and the crowds too wild.  I think secretly they've always been curious themselves, and now they had a good reason to go -- all of the restaurants are closed today, but the night market never sleeps.

Shenkeng style stewed stinky tofu - pee-ew!

I did not have good pictures of the food or the atmosphere there because we were either elbow to elbow with strangers or eating on the go, as is expected of Taiwan night markets!  We tried the Shenkeng style stinky tofu soup, a traditional oyster pancake, some herbal lamb stew, delicious fresh green onion pancake, steamed yam leaves, hand-made black sesame/peanut mochi, and various desserts: dragon fruit juice, real taro milkshake, and white fungus soup.  Everything was made right on the street, and though it was cramped and loud, we enjoyed the food.  Mom was totally beat by the end of this very busy day, proud of her for coming out!


After starting the morning off with some delicious battered glutinous rice cakes and fruit, my dad and I got on the MRT and rode it to the very end of the Red Line to Danshui District, where he went to college. 

Dad wanted to find his old dorm room in that area, so he Google mapped the street and we followed the directions over to there.  I can’t imagine what he must have been thinking, walking up the same street, and into that alley.  He said that he remembered that uphill curvature of the street so well, and how he had to rev the motorcycle in order to get up, or else he’d slide downhill backward.  We huffed up the hill and then he randomly stopped at an alley and looked into it with a bewildered expression on his face.  He walked through it and at the end, he looked up.  It was here!  He showed me the gray four-story, narrow concrete building that shot up into the sky, jammed next to the rest of these buildings, with exposed pipes and phone lines.  He lived on the very top floor, and he said that his view of Guanyin Mountain was the best.  He could see clearly the silhouette of the Guanyin Buddha: bosom, chin, lips, nose, and forehead.  I could just make out the outline in the haze – the weather was not the best for viewing.  It really did look like a figure lying down from here!  He said that his room would get extremely hot in the summer and cold in the winter, with the windows facing outward and being exposed at the very top, but it was so worth it.  He said that he actually wasn’t meant to have this room at first.  A blind student was supposed to have that room, but because it would have been super difficult for him to climb the stairs to get to the top, he needed someone to switch with him.  My dad agreed to be that person, sight unseen, and was pleasantly surprised when he was shown the place.  He says that a lot of these buildings here were not there back then, so his view was even less obstructed.  He was just amazed that the very room was still there, intact.  It was cool to see for me too.  My mom apparently has been up there a lot too.  Then, we walked to the Tamkang University campus, which has a side entrance that is literally across the street from my dad’s dorm alley.  He noted that all of it looked pretty different now too, and it was very sweet to see him reliving these moments.

We also biked around Danshui for a bit and then we were joined by Mom.  We had a nice, touristy day, eating the infamously tall softserve cones, barbecue seafood, stinky tofu (again), gua bao (pork belly sandwich), and mochi donuts, ending with riding the ferry to and from Bali Island at sunset.  

The mangroves are awesome – trees that grow right out of the water and thrive in moist climates.  This preservation happens to be the biggest preserve in the world.  

The owner of this shop also went to Tamkang University!

We returned only to eat more, at Din Tai Fung for a last dinner with the family.  It all came to an end so soon!


After spending the morning chatting for a heartfelt three hours at a cafe with my dad's best friend from college, who he had not seen for twenty years, we went back to Po-Po's and had our last lunch there.  I said good-bye to everyone, shocked that the time had flown by so quickly.  I remember thinking of how much I would miss them, especially Po-Po.  She was getting ready to fall asleep for her afternoon nap.  How surreal it had all been, to be under her stead, living as an inhabitant of Taipei for a week.  I valued every little thing that I did here, from picking up dry cleaning with my aunt, to climbing up the hills through Yangmingshan National Park with my parents.  I hope that I will remember everything that everyone showed me and told me, and that I will be able to do this again sometime.  This is a part of my life that I don’t want to leave behind or take for granted.  

I noticed over the last few days here that Po-Po was truly the matriarch of the house and was treated as such by her children.  They respected her and always tried to ensure that things were done the way she wanted them done – such as making the bed instantly after getting up, grabbing the clothes right away after they were washed (she still launders every day!), eating all the food and not having leftovers cluttering up the fridge or the dining table (that was annoying because sometimes I just wanted to save things to eat later), bringing a jacket to go out even if it's not cold, refraining from using plastic bags unless absolutely necessary, etc.  They did not ever argue with her, and they never coddled her, either.  It was inspirational to see their family dynamic – I think that at 90 years old, that would be how I’d want my children and grandchildren to act around me, too.   Po-Po was not a mushy or emotional individual, but she showed her love through tireless acts of service, despite her age: cleaning, organizing, laundering, cooking, washing dishes, folding linens, nagging (haha), watering, and the like.  The least we could do is to be as little trouble as possible.  


Po-Po passed away on July 8th this year at 5:18 AM, which is May 18th on the Lunar Calendar.  It seems like a coincidence, but her children say that she wisely planned it.  She was a wise woman; she never learned to read and write because of the limited educational opportunities available to Chinese girls in the 1940's, but she was always mentally sharp and ran a tight ship, even down to her last days.  She memorized everything because she could not write--phone numbers, addresses, names, dates, schedules.  She bravely escaped China by herself as a teenager during the Communist takeover and arrived in Taiwan.  She had no choice but to leave her family behind.  It was a very, very bitter escape, and she had to start from scratch in Taiwan, a totally foreign island.  When I came into her life, I had only ever known her as the cute, independent grandma in Taipei with the thick Yang Zhou accent, the strong-willed head of household of a happy and high-achieving family.  It is incredible to think about what humanitarian obstacles she had to overcome to get to that point.  I am so grateful for her life--needless to say, I would not be here if it were not for her resilience.  These photos are only representative of a few days in her long and eventful life, but I hope that I captured some of the happier moments that we can all remember her by. Rest in peace with Gong-Gong forever, Po-Po.

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