I never really considered myself a “family person” when I was a kid. I don’t think I was even a “people person”: I was usually reading or playing games or otherwise involved in some other imaginative realm that didn’t always involve another person. I was still a regular kid, though. I had friends at school during recess, I had friends at my neighbourhood playground, and I had a little sister who I kind of bullied into joining my world. But partly because I moved to Canada with only my parents, and partly because I’ve been awkward from birth, I found it difficult to feel connected the older I got. Specifically, with my extended family. Outside of my parents, my siblings, and my school friends, I had no other connections. It wasn’t that no one tried to reach out, either. It was just that they were too far away, and I was too far away, and also I was an insensitive little kid who didn’t understand anything.
From the moment I reached Shanghai until the moment my uncle watched me go through the lines at the airport, I was immersed in this feeling of… probably too much of everything. Aside from Shanghai being this massive city with too many smells, sights, things, and people in general, I also had a significant number of family there. I was considered a tourist in my birthplace, while simultaneously being welcomed “home”. Suddenly, instead of being the oldest kid-adult and middle person of my small family, I was one of the babies. It was kind of weird at first, but after communicating to the best of my ability with my Shanghainese skills (which I thought were stuck at the age I stopped speaking it, AKA 5 years old), my uncles and aunts and grandparents began to re-familiarize themselves with a 19 year old kid from Canada. And I began to familiarize myself with the concept of “family”.
People that I may have viewed as acquaintances (in terms of how close we were and how often I’ve seen them in our lives) were automatically supportive and welcoming just because we were related by blood. Just because of that shared DNA, if I needed help they would help, no matter what. I could rely on people, I could go to their houses for dinner, I could go to art galleries with them… it was just so nice! It also made me realize that my parents really did have it hard in Canada. I don’t know how they did it. The difference family makes in our culture really is quite significant. Since I’m accustomed to a more Western ideology while also being kind of alone from my own experiences, this was a very startling realization.
Of course, I also saw the similarities and differences between my dad and his older brothers. That was kind of funny at first, but also when my older cousins came back as well, we began to discuss our dads and learned even more about them. I enjoyed hearing about all of it. I got to experience first hand the way they deal with things in Shanghai. Everything was completely different, even the littlest things. When my parents and siblings arrived, that’s when I was probably happiest.
One thing that always makes me teary is when I see my brother. Even if it’s only been a month, he’s so much taller and I guess more composed of a person. He grows so fast, and he’s so smart. He’s a good kid, no matter how much I shame him for being a baby. He’s always my precious baby brother, though. This time during our trip, he really showed our relatives his personality, which was pretty amusing. Watching an 8 year old talk to 50 year olds…
I also miss my parents. They’re the first adults I ever met, and probably remain one of the few adults I can speak to casually. I’ve come to some new understandings of them when our relatives told me stories about them when they were younger. Also, when they left, I felt really helpless. I got home at 5AM that day, and spent a long time just moping. Logically, I knew that I’ll be fine when I wake up in a few hours, but in that moment I wished that I wasn’t so lonely. After being surrounded by the people I knew the best, to be suddenly thrown back into unfamiliar territory was kind of scary. Anyway, I was right about being okay in the morning. I still miss them, though.
Although I speak to Gloria frequently (probably too frequently), it was also clear that she’s changed, too. She’s a big kid (and not just like, physically). She has her own thoughts and perspectives and methods of getting her point across. She’s reliable and kind of too pure sometimes, and she’s also my number one right-hand man. That sounds kind of funny, but she’s really not that much like the annoying 7 year old I used to tolerate.
From my trip, there were a couple of moments that stood out to me, so I’ll briefly list them here:
- When I had a cold and heatstroke in Taipei and was sleeping in the hotel room. Everyone had gone out except my brother who was presumably watching over me. I woke up to him singing to himself in the washroom…
- That day the three of us children went to karaoke and the arcade with (Lulu) and (Mimi).
- Our grandpa’s 90th birthday celebration, of course. The scrambling to finish our last presents, and the family photos where I redeemed myself. (My 9 year old self was glaring in the picture from that dinner, and it’s still hanging out above the fireplace in Burnaby. I really hate that photo. It encapsulates the very edgy essence of being 9.)
- Once when my dad’s oldest brother was driving me back, he asked me if I considered myself more Chinese or Canadian, and which felt more like home. I said neither, and that I was a wanderer identity-wise.
- The last week with my older cousins (and my niece), featuring an escape room, them making dinner, me being a leech for meals, a cat cafe, and saying goodbye.
- The times I went to the hospital to see my grandpa. I was overwhelmed by other people’s emotions, but truthfully I wasn’t as sad as those older than me. My siblings and I could only watch and sympathize. We held his hand and made small talk. I’d like to think we did the best we could under the circumstances, but it’s hard not to feel like you’re a shitty grandchild. Even though we know it’s not something we could help.
- My mom’s friend! I lived in her house for a month. I was very well-fed. I remember specifically once my dad and I had a disagreement and I came home from work all angry and sad. She told me to chill and we ate crabs and rice cakes while I vented, and she just smiled and said she understood. It was very nice, and I got to practice speaking Chinese.
- One night my dad took Gloria and I to a street market in Taipei and we had beer and food and a pretty nice time.
- Every single time I was treated like a little sister. Technically I am, but it’s truly rare for me to experience it… and it’s… nice…
- Playing Tetris on the DS while sitting on my parents’ bed, in between them as they talked about stuff.
- When my grandaunt arrived and we had a dinner together. However, my older cousins were with the three of us at our home and my parents were somewhere else, also separate: so when we got to the restaurant first, we ended up welcoming all the older people in.
There’s still quite a lot else that happened in those 3 months. It was a very interesting time, and I encountered a lot of new things. I became best friends with the subway map. I got 71 mosquito bites. I climbed a couple of mountains. I went to museums and took way too many nasty photos of my siblings. It was a good time, and I realized that as long as I’m with my siblings and my parents, anywhere is fine.