Early on the 20th of September, we boarded the subway to meet Kenny and make the trip to his family’s house. After a short ride and a 10 minute walk, we found ourselves in Uncle’s home. Uncle was a jolly man of short stature and an infectious laugh who took every opportunity to have his nephew translate his questions to us. He was filled with gracious hospitality and curiosity about his new house guests. He had many questions about our trip to Taiwan and how we liked it so far. We were also asked about Korea, our marriage, our lives, etc. It was fairly difficult to leave so soon after we had arrived, but our plans had a scope beyond meeting Uncle and exploring his neighborhood.
A van was loaded and we disembarked for Yilan on the east coast. Seeing as how it was still early and none of us had eaten, and to make the tag-along Americans feel at home, we made a stop at a McDonald’s for breakfast. After wonderfully-greasy sausage, egg, and cheese McMuffins were consumed, we slumped back into the van to continue on to the beach.
We arrived at the beach just before noon, after an hour and a half drive through mountains, cities, and tunnels. We pulled into a hauntingly empty parking lot for such a popular beach and parked. After walking through the jungle that predicated the beach we found a pristine and abandoned beach. We happened to come during a typhoon, and we were surprised to discover that Taiwanese people are deterred by wind and rain. We had been told to expect food vendors, beer peddlers, and the like, but instead had found all of the surf shops closed and proceeded to steal tables and chairs from under the tarps of absent rental businesses. We got everything situated and comfortable just before the first spit of rain began pelting our tent’s canopy.
Despite the 6-8 foot waves, we headed into the warm water with a reckless abandon. We have been to the ocean before, but never in such warm water, so we spent quite some time head-first in the waves. We spent the next few hours swimming, talking, and meeting ABC’s (American-Born Chinese) that joined our tent and merriment.
As hunger began to take hold, we eventually packed up and set out for barbeque at a friend of the family’s house. Upon learning this fact we became a bit concerned about our attendance at a family’s holiday celebration. We were, by all definitions, strangers coming into their home expecting food. After a short drive through beautiful neighborhoods with houses with paddies for yards, we came to a large house with dozens of people milling about in the driveway, and more coming and going from the front and side doors. We took a gulp of apprehension and proceeded to enter their party.
From the 6 year old children running amuck to the happily aged grandparents, we were welcomed with open and exited arms. Very few present spoke any English, but those that did relished in the opportunity to converse with the white giant and pretty blonde girl. People were everywhere. Some were cooking food and everyone else was bouncing from conversation to conversation enjoying their holiday. No matter what was happening, however, every person in that house made a point of saying hello and forcing new and exciting grilled food and beer into our mouths. These people bore their home to us and made us feel like that was the only place we should be. We encountered countless personalities, ranging from enthusiastic and drunk to polite and hospitable. Not a single person questioned our presence, and everyone seemed to be quite happy to make sure that we enjoyed ourselves.
After a spell of trying new foods and joining into conversations, we were summoned to the kitchen. It was explained that the family needed us to play a game. With great apprehension for playing board games in Chinese, we humbly agreed. After such hospitality and familial inclusion, how could we not? One of the women in the kitchen, who had been recruited to translate, began explaining the ins and outs of the game to us amidst a whirlwind of confusion on our part. Even without an inkling of an idea about how to play this game, CA$HFLOW gameplay began. I won’t go into the rules in detail, but an investment-strategy game is difficult to understand in a foreign language. We went round and round laughing about our lack of skill at this game that we never even approached understanding. Everyone found it to be quite hilarious that the Americans were so terrible with their game money and knew, apparently, nothing. Amidst all of the joking and laughing, there was never a point at which we felt like we were the butt of a joke. All of the jest was always the kind that you expect and appreciate from close family.
We lost terribly and hung our heads in bewildered shame.
The night had grown quite long and people were starting to leave. We found Kenny to be asleep in a random bed and informed him that his cousin was preparing to take us all home. After posing for Facebook photos with literally every member of their family, we accepted a few hugs and said our final goodbyes.
As I said earlier, there are certain times when you feel a complete connection with a place and its people. We encountered endless generosity and unquestionably huge hospitality in Yilan with strangers. These people opened their home to us and made sure that we felt welcome. There are rare moments in life where you find a place where you truly feel that you belong. For us, we found a home in Taiwan that reminded us what family is while we are so far away from our own. We will be forever grateful for this experience and the people that we encountered.