Pingxi, Taiwan, May 2014.
My mother and I set these sky lanterns/sky candles (天燈) into the air. They are about 4 feet tall paper hot air balloons which people usually write their wishes and messages for loved ones on. The night before driving from Danshui to Pingxi for our casual festivity/hiking day trip, she wanted to take me to this incredible seafood market (上引水產) for dinner. She was two hours late to dinner, or rather, I was one hour early to dinner, she was one hour late. I wasn’t early for no reason though, she suggested I arrive early to grab a number token and we would be able to be seated right away. For the first 90 minutes of my wait, the place wasn’t as crowded therefore any patron could be seated immediately. My inner anxious producer mindset (especially when it comes to dining out) caused me to circle the market for the umpteenth time, constantly checking up on the number tokens, then going back to browsing the seafood.
I counted the number holes on the shell of a South African abalone versus a Taiwanese abalone. All Taiwanese abalones have 9 holes, the South African ones varies from 8 to the most I’ve counted, 24. I observed a tank Geoducks melodically squirt in different directions to the point where I started picturing these phallic salt water clams as a giant gang bang and I could predict who was going to ejaculate next. I watched the boxes of take out sushi and sashimi get marked down from 20% off, to 30%, 40%, and finally anything that’s 50% off are the more generic types of sushi that’s less appealing to the mass, the simple salmon roll. I must also mention thatI’ve been extremely jet lagged the entire duration of my one week trip back to Taipei, so at this point I was just hungry and delusional.
By the time she had arrived, I had a already put on a bad attitude that I couldn’t remove even if I told myself to be cool. It wasn’t her fault I was way too early, it wasn’t her fault she wasn’t able to leave work on the dot, in fact she wasn’t even aware that she was “late”. Everything bottled up starting from the lack of her acknowledgement of being late. Anything I said during dinner was uncontrollably cold with all signs of disinterest. I was able to pick out the flaws of a conversation and then find something to argue about, I was easily irritated by the couple standing next to us, I could see me just being this shitty hangry person.
Her on the other hand, she could sense that I was vexed and responded the way she always did since I was a child. She was compassionate, soft-spoken, and comforting. Me being a 26-year old grown woman that didn’t like to be babied, this reaction only agitated me more. “Mother, why can’t you just acknowledge that you were late, acknowledge that I have a terrible attitude right now because of it, then you could tell me to stop it, so we can both move on and enjoy the food?” I thought to myself. This happens every time I visit her for a short interim, or vice versa, mostly because we only get to see each other once a year or less. For so many times, I’ve tried too hard to repress my negative emotions toward these various petty happenings to the point where it just overflows.
The next day as we were writing our messages on the lanterns, her friend who did not understand English asked her what I had written on my lantern. She looked up and saw my message and I could see her eyes get watery through her lightly tinted sunglasses. Her voice trembled as she responded in Chinese, “ah… she wrote a message for her grandma above lah…” We then lit the fueled center up and set our lanterns in the air in silence. It was then when I realized that my mother could no longer apologize to her mother, and I needed to apologize to my mother because I can.
The following Sunday morning was my departure day from Taipei. It was mother’s day. It was also the first time my mother and I hugged* since I was a child.
*later explanation; the lack of hugs in an Asian family’s behavioural repertoire. i.e. How my father picked up hugging a couple of years ago and have been doing it awkwardly since then.