Whenever I meet a new Taiwanese friend and strike a short conversation, I have an obligation to answer two standardized follow-up questions: 1. You speak Chinese so well! 2. Why are you in Taiwan?
And I reply with an equally standardized—but equally honest—answer: Thank you, it is because I love Taiwan. (This answer catches three birds in one stone by issuing a preventive strike against the third question: Do you love Taiwan?) Technically I am not answering anything but we both become happy and that’s what a conversation was born for.
To be precise, I love living in Taiwan because I can be myself in this country. (I do stay inside a special privileged category called “foreigners” where local people generally leave me unbothered.) The strange thing is that living here for eight years has been turning me into a “local” year by year, but at the same time my self-identification of “this is who I am” is reinforced. It is just contradictory: I am assimilating and identifying myself at the same time.
But anywhere in Taipei city, you may just stop in the middle of the street and look around. You will realize that despite being a bustling city with three million residents, Taipei is green. Plants somehow find a way to invade everywhere: on a porch, on a rooftop, and sometimes inside a house.
You will then realize that the old and the new, the East and the West, the soft and the hard, all occupies their places, welding each other across their boundaries, forming a symbiotic system.
I don’t care if I am a Japanese or a nomad or a translator or a business owner anymore. I am I. You may define me however I am, but I myself is just a fluid being, blending my identification like a chameleon, comprising a small part of this Taiwanese landscape.
I become this comfortable myself by allowing myself to melt into my surroundings, and vice versa. I have no doubt that various “Taiwanese-ness” is infiltrating my skin. I might even be thinking like a Taiwanese unconsciously. But no matter what, I am becoming free from associating myself with any label and am comfortable in my own skin. And that has been achieved by learning to co-exist with my environment.
In my olden days I defined myself by being separate. I had to “lift” myself up artificially to call myself, because I was in fact too weak and insecure and the only way to claim my identity was to put myself into a mentally sterilized cage. Imprisoning myself was how I claimed my independence.
I might look identification-less these days. I might not fit into any category. I might look no different from other “Taiwanese” elements. Yet I am being myself, more so than ever.
You will become more “You” by allowing yourself to be influenced, and to influence back. That is the beauty and power of Taiwan. I will continue to morph and melt into my surroundings. I might not remain distinct, but I will certainly broaden my existence—by fusing with others.