886, 886: A Farewell Letter to Taiwan

Dear Taiwan,

You know I’m not the type to get too attached to places. All you were supposed to be was a stop in between, a place to keep me sane while I was going insane, but you became a lot more than that.

Two times you stopped me from leaving and two years I stayed, but I understand now; I’d never have had this if I hadn’t. You can now lay claim to so many of my firsts – first proper job, which I loved so wholly until I couldn’t anymore, first wedding I attended, first time passing out from inebriation – handwritten pages in a diary, a collection of scattered memories, some so hazy they almost fade into the dim clubs in which they were created, some so vivid they are and will forever be seared in my brain.

* * *

Sultry summer evening. Outside a MRT exit by Taipei Main Station. Me in a red dress, tugging on your sleeve. That look on your face. You. Me. Knowing but not really knowing – or was it not wanting to know? – both of us, not wanting to believe. Things I could have foreseen: heart-shaped balloons and a shared hotel room, as if in a cruel twist of fate. This is all you get. Because it’s hard to write about a place without writing about the people – those who gave the meaningless meaning, the memories an ache, that song a pang I can’t shake.

Mid-Phoenix concert, everything changed. It was as if actually being crushed together by a stampede of fans somehow was the key to opening the door that was not only music, a love that would only grow stronger when I attended a Bastille concert – a mention was inevitable, I suppose – but also friendships with the people here; it was from the friend who I attended the Phoenix concert with that I learnt the phrase the title of this post is dedicated to – 886, pronounced ba ba liu in Mandarin, which in a way sounds kind of like “bye bye lo” (‘lo’ being an exclamation) and is coincidentally Taiwan’s area code. And so was the only way fitting to bid Taiwan farewell.

We went dancing. We spilled our guts in the bathroom at Korner, but Roxy 99 was my favourite; everyone says it’s trashy but I don’t care. New Year’s Eve was a blur, but I loved it all – the nonchalant DJ whose expression didn’t change all night and the one that would play all my requests, even when I hadn’t requested them; the meaningful full-circle moments that tended to happen for me there.

I watched as an island was rocked by the Sunflower Student Movement, multiple gas blasts, a MRT stabbing, multiple plane crashes, countless non-typhoons and a real typhoon, which resulted in us tackling a taxi when the storm was at its height at 3 am. I don’t usually get swept up (excuse the pun) with the events I am reporting on as a journalist, but I could feel my heart palpitating in my chest while on the ground covering the nine-in-one local elections. Perhaps this is the genuine joy and adrenaline rush that comes from doing something you love, even if you had to sort through the complexity of the Chinese language, my ability of which ironically improved at my second job at the begrudging expense of my English. Yet there were absurd stories, from panda watch, the giant rubber duck to Yony and Zony, that made me smile and I secretly loved, partly because they gave me a rare glimpse into a soft side of the gruff co-worker whose trust and approval I wanted so much to win, and did eventually.

Somehow everything just made sense, despite the crying at work, the crying on the high speed rail home and the almost crying at Road to Ultra: Taiwan. I might not have felt like I completely belonged here, but there were moments that sure came damned close to it. There was the time all of us YouBiked from Raohe Night Market to Maji Maji on a late-night whim, the time I classily threw up on the side of the road outside Tickle My Fantasy, the time we both matched with and met a visiting DJ on Tinder. I’ll remember when you sang me your favourite song growing up and recited my favourite poem, when we laughed so hard until we almost cried, when we spent seven hours straight inside Good Studio chatting until we were delirious. I may have watched as a company unraveled at the seams, but I made some lasting friendships in spite of. I may have been picked on for my terrible Mandarin, but this Mandarin-speaking island was funnily the place where I truly ‘found’ myself, which tends to happen here.

* * *

And so I leave not because I don’t care, not because I’ve come to hate, but because I get restless. Taiwan, you’ve been grand, but I’ve exhausted my options – although I can feel you trying to keep me, showing me things I could potentially love and opportunities I could potentially not turn down – and I guess in some ways, it just wasn’t enough, in some ways it’s kind of like settling. But don’t get me wrong – you’ll always be home to me. You’ve always been there for me; whenever I grew tired of the world, or the world tired of me, there you’d be. You’d offer me some peace, some solace and a place – no, a home – for me to think, to realign myself with my goals. And that’s why I love you but I must leave again. I’ll be back, sooner or later – or soon enough – and you’ll welcome me again with open arms and help me realize exactly what it is I want. You’ll figure out a way to cure me of my apathy, rejuvenate me so that I am once again ready to go out and face the world with bright new eyes, ready to try again, ready to believe again, ready to see if this time will be the time I finally discover who I am, figure out the meaning of it all, and maybe even find a place where I feel like I belong. And perhaps I won’t ever belong, but I won’t know until I’ve tried.

My favourite passage – the one that makes me cry – from Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch reads, “And just as music is the space between notes, just as the stars are beautiful because of the space between them, just as the sun strikes raindrops at a certain angle and throws a prism of color across the sky—so the space where I exist, and want to keep existing, and to be quite frank I hope to die in, is exactly this middle distance: where despair struck pure otherness and created something sublime.” And maybe that’s what you are for me, Taiwan – the space between spaces, the home between homes.

prozac balcony kassy cho the liminal