Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A Personal Note: Biking Along the Da Han River

Hello to my (one, maybe two?) loyal readers. :)

A couple of chapter translations are on its way -- things have been a bit hectic on my end recently, mainly because I'm preparing to go back to New York for a couple weeks to celebrate Chinese New Year with my family. It's been almost one year since I left New York for Asia, and I find myself to be fairly anxious to be coming back home... like I'm blanketed by this nervous energy. When I was still in the city, everytime I came back to Flushing I'd always find something new/different/gone with my dynamic neighborhood. Things change, that's a fact. Another fact is that my previous statement is especially true in this particular half-century, as illustrated in Big River Big Sea: Untold Stories of 1949. Our young generation is a mobile one, and this has become the standard, the status quo, even the expectation. Personally, I'm incredibly grateful for this mobility, but with new opportunities come hard choices. Or perhaps it's only hard because we have so many to decide from...

Last week I biked from Wanhua (萬華) to Yingge (鶯歌) with my father. Recently he's taken to staying in Taipei for months at a time; this city has truly become a very comfortable (and cheap!) place for an old retired man to live in. We explore Taipei's bicycle paths quite often because they're extremely well-paved, thought-out, scenic routes. Anyway, this particular trip was special to me because we passed by my father's old neighborhood of Shulin (樹林) on the way to Yingge. Here are some thoughts that I would like to share with you all --

We passed by a sign that said "樹林高中" -- my father was quite the delinquent back in the day, the kind of kid that none of the teachers expected anything out of! Apparently his grades were so low that his teacher told my grandmother that he would never pass the High School Placement Exam and should just shoot for a local high school -- 樹林高中. My grandmother was a formidable lady who fiercely loved her children... one of those rare Chinese parents who never let a teacher beat their child with a ruler or exact any sort of punishment what-so-ever. She basically said "F you" to that teacher and pulled my father out of school for a year to better prepare for the placement exam. I was totally shocked, "You got LEFT BACK?!!!!"... to which he responded, "Taking a break from school for a year isn't the same as getting left back, okay?!!" Not a convincing argument there! I am the proud daughter of a middle school delinquent. :)

What's my point here? My dad not only eventually went to high school, but passed the College Placement Exam, which was a huge deal during his day. Most students couldn't pass the exam back then. Afterwards, he came to the United States to get his Masters Degree, became a computer programmer, worked at Wall Street, raised two children in New York, sent them both to college. Surely his teacher never expected this out of his worst student. I write this to remind myself that current setbacks don't determine your life path, and that success can also be loosely defined.

I asked my father, "Why don't you ever go back to Shulin and take a look at your childhood home?" He let out a sad sigh, paused for a bit, and said, "Things have changed so much since I left. My childhood home doesn't exist in this particular world anymore... only in my dreams. That's why I never want to go back, because then I'd see that everything's gone and changed, and because I'd rather keep living in this dream."

And as if the world wanted to prove him correct, right after he said this we came upon this section of the Da Han River (大漢溪):

"Oh my god! I used to play here when I was a kid! This used to be a waterfall, like Niagara Falls, with huge boulders and the cleanest water. The kids who were stronger swimmers could jump in right where the arc is, while the weaker swimmers would play in these shallow pools farther downstream. During sunny days, you could jump into the water and look straight to the bottom. There were so many fish, all these schools of fish! Even your grandmother would come play sometimes... she'd put on a bathing suit and catch shrimp."

"Clean water? That's a far reach... how about just WATER?" I thought to myself. Readers -- can you imagine this place teeming with shrimp and schools of fish? That is the Da Han River that exists in my father's dream.

My father took this picture on January 20, 2010. Check out this website that I found that shows pictures of this section of Da Han River just a couple years ago. Shocking stuff.

I feel like this experience with my father closely mirrors some of the themes that Lung Yingtai conveys with her stories of Mei-jun, Chun'an, and the Xin'an River. Change is a common phenomenon -- it's a catalyst for improvement, a opportunity to reflect upon choices. I could feel my father sadly ruminating upon the past for those moments, but then we biked along to Yingge and marveled upon the vast improvements Taipei has made since he left the country in the 1970s. Overall, it was one of the best days I've ever had with my father, and I'm sure he feels the same way too.


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