It’s been about a month since I’ve moved back to school, and this is the only thing that has made it up on my walls. I’ve never really understood the appeal of covering the walls of one’s dorm room with 4×6 prints of pictures that more or less revolve around the common, ambiguous theme of “good times with friends.” Call me a hipster elitist if you will, but it’s really not my fault that I don’t photograph well in social situations.
I found this picture on Tumblr a few months ago. It’s not the most creative, artsy-fartsy photo of Taipei city life I’ve seen, but I love it so much because it feels so real. The colors of the building signs, the sunlight, the slight tinge of white-gray fog in the air. The empty streets, storefronts that haven’t lifted the metal grates from their doors yet. Quiet mornings in the city.
I could name a thousand superficial reasons why I love Taiwan so much, but even a thousand reasons wouldn’t be able to explain the emotional attachment I have towards this place. I cannot call this place “home”; I hold no claims to this land and its people. My name is missing from the record books of my parents’ families. My accent does not give me away immediately — and even now I am unsure if this is a testament to my improved Chinese skills, or if I’ve just become more adept at mimicking the local Taiwanese accent, trying to sound more Taiwanese than Taiwanese-American. I wear my foreignness on my sleeve, however begrudgingly.
But even though my encounters with Taiwan always give way to inevitable internal conflict, it has never let me down. I’ve found that my mental well-being is heavily contingent to my environment and physical location, and Taiwan is the one place, the only place I’ve been where I have always been happy. Sure, I’ve experienced anger, sadness, and disappointment in Taiwan; I’ve gotten into some of the bitterest fights and endured some of the worst academic-related stress while in Taiwan. But the negative emotions from these experiences were always fleeting; they never overstayed their welcome, they left no bruises. They allowed me to carry on with my life without having to bear the invisible weight of my previous sins.
I wonder: does God pour His grace a little more thickly in some parts of the world than others?
I look at the picture affixed to my bedroom wall every now and then, and to be honest it makes me a little disappointed every time I look at it. The print didn’t come out exactly the way I would have liked; the colors are too dark and dull, and much of the detail has been lost. A part of me wants to take it down and redo it — adjust the color ratios in the original picture, decrease the dot size, increase the brightness a little. But even if I did that, would it change anything? I had hoped that having an enlarged version of the photo I loved so much hanging in my room would help replicate and magnify a bit of the fleeting happiness I get whenever I look at the original; that maybe if I looked at it once every day, I would be reminded that hearts can be mended as easily as they are broken; that perpetual joy is real and possible.
But at the same time, I wish that I didn’t have to look at a picture in order to know that.