Updated: Aug 21, 2020
I’ve just hung up the phone with my “village chieftain”, the woman who will dutifully check in on me daily during my two-week self-quarantine. She calls me to pin my location. Already I squirm. I am a wind sign, astrologically speaking.
By now it's week two. The chieftain, also known as my health contact, had hung the plastic bag of quarantine supplies including bleach, masks, and various instant cereals on the door handle. She scurried off quickly as if frightened that I carried the entirety of New York’s COVID-19 crisis. I don't blame her; traveling during the crisis altogether summed up to a 48-hour ordeal. I must have picked up an airborne pathogen along with my life's worth of luggage. (We all have this.)
I laugh at our timid interaction as she disappears around the corner, without expecting to overlap on the humor. Taiwanese people are extremely efficient. There isn’t time to explain that cases have dropped significantly except in a few Western and Southern states. There’s even less time to explain my theories on the pandemic.
I would've started with how I am living alone for the first time since my teens, continuing to describe the shift in lifestyle, priorities, and working remotely. Austin, Texas is predicted to become an affordable hub for high tech workers to relocate. Politically, this is the bluest district in Texas, the Lone Star state. But I'm not keeping track.
The only other person I have seen during self-quarantine is my cousin. He lives alone in an apartment overlooking downtown Kaohsiung.
We are similar in a few ways. He is the one I could successfully drag to DIY shows in now-shuttered iconic New York venues such as Shea Stadium and somewhere late in LA two summers ago. We’ve both taught students.
He has a half apologetic way of flustered expression at the table usually over my mom’s opinions regarding Chinese authority. She is pro-China. My cousin is wary. In fact, he is adamant that much of the nation's infrastructural improvements over the last two decades of my absence are due to Taiwan's self-sufficiency. This applies to the rapid response in January when the Covid-19 crisis became global. He mentions Hong Kong; I listen to the Economist for updates.*
Besides listening, I’m noticing his fidgety way of folding the plastic bag on the table, ones I leave scattered because I am American and accustomed to shoving these somewhere invisible, into a tiny triangle. It’s meticulous; it's the way a flag is folded at memorials or paper into footballs in boring classrooms. I, too, like having something to do with my hands.
While talking, I swell with pride at his involvement in building Taiwan’s recycling program, despite the fact that I am inconvenienced by the granular level of separation, having to haul multiple bags to toss into their respective bins, in my building complex. There are few public garbage bins which is challenging for a-walk-while-cleaning-out-the-purse expert. I adapt.
I’ve embarked on learning Chinese characters, cutting together radicals I know the translations for with educated guesses at what multiple symbols mean combined; I love that this depends on the way radicals interact. The Chinese language is inherently poetic as a visual of symbols with stand-alone meanings that change when coming together. This dual association of pictures with meaning also serves to train memory. By attaching one "mu" or wood symbol to the image of a trunk, then combining two "mu" becomes "lin" or a forest.
My cousin had a penchant for writing poetry, probably founded around the same time as I, when he was most politically involved. I am no longer a millennial, but their voter turnout is predicted at record rates this November in the United States.
The pandemic feels like a forest, or canopy where the light becomes scattered on the way down. It’s so convulsive that I have to sketch out my version of the global political web from where I now live while weighing my politics against pragmatism. How can I call myself a writer without a stance?
The richest man in Taiwan is the CEO of Foxconn, the largest contracted supplier of Apple parts. Terry Gou has been known to have had discussions with Trump regarding US production. I look at the suppliers and factory bases located in Kaohsiung and in lesser detail the labor outsourced to Mexico. Greater outsourcing of production will depend on the victor of the US presidency. It’s expectedly hypocritical Trump’s plan to build an expensive wall while employing foreign labor at a lower cost. It’s just business.
But Trump could actually be beneficial for Taiwan economically, though they are closer to China culturally. Mr. Gou and Trump agreed on a production deal last year in Wisconsin which met delay.* The Foxconn CEO last year stepped out of the presidential race to maintain at least, technically, the separation of business and politics, while he blasts China’s non-state-owned companies. This is all old news.
Mostly automated production in Kaohsiung pushes young people such as my cousin to become highly educated and bilingual, leaving the island to study in the United States and Australia. He will attend my alma mater, NYU this Fall, expressing some hope that I will remain in his hometown instead of moving to Taipei which more closely reflects the environment I grew up in. He will study product management.
We’ve switched roles. I am a land snail by the sea minding my own business.
Check out this local project: https://udn.com/news/story/12681/4796618?utm_source=lineapi&utm_medium=share
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