Husband Dave and I recently discovered a tasty little Korean food place just around the corner from our house. Holla! For months we had lamented over the lack of Bibimbop in our neighborhood, but as I have said before and will with certainty say again, these alleys are always a surprise. On that day, we stumbled upon an oasis of Korean cuisine in the otherwise dry desert of Yonghe. My initial perturbation at this oversight was relieved by one of the most satisfying meals I have had in Taiwan.
We followed our noses through the front door just as the lunch hour was coming to a close, though our waitress seemed happy to see us. She didn’t speak much English, but we all took an interest in each other from the get go and so Dave and I had a great language practice session filled with laughter and, it goes without saying, embarrassment.
I easily forget the degree to which Dave and I stick out in our neighborhood. Dave, with his tall and skinny stature, shaggy brown hair and the welcomed return of his beard towers above most everyone. At least I can get lost in the crowd. Inevitably, there is always some event that serves to remind us that we definitely don’t blend in.
On this day, I noticed that our waitress gazed at Dave with wide eyes and wonderment. Naturally, my first thought was – Hey! Is this girl gonna try and steal my man?! Just kidding, that didn’t even cross my mind. But it was clear after a few moments that she had a message to convey. People have this universal look painted across their face when they want to speak in a language that they are only vaguely familiar with. You can see them organizing their thoughts and plotting out the right words. Usually their eyes are shifted upwards and their head is tilted slightly off center – I should know because I wear this face most everyday here in Taipei. So when she had her words all lined up and ready to go what came out was this – “he (pointing at David) looks like Jesus!” Now that was a good laugh! But come to think of it, it had only been a few days earlier when I had an interesting encounter with a Taiwanese man. Perhaps you can imagine the interaction simply by its conclusion – which was me informing this man that I was married, followed by him then informing me (in English) that my husband must be “the son on God.” At the time I found this comment to be a bit on the dramatic side but looking back on these two events I have to ask myself – Wow, do the people of Taiwan know something that I don’t?
A little further into our meal the waitress and her friend seemed surprised to learn that I was American. News to me as I assumed I had a Made in the U.S.A stamp across my face. I took it as a compliment when they said I had a European look given that it played into my long held notion of some parallel universe where I existed as a cooler, multilingual European that could be found hanging around French coffee shops donning all black, or perhaps traveling around Italy on the back of my sexy European boyfriend’s motorcycle. It was disappointing to learn that I only looked European to them because they had the impression that American girls were tall and blond.
After that little conversation at the Korean place, I got to thinking about how limited my knowledge is regarding my bloodlines. David has the benefit of his grandmother, an amazing genealogist, and so his family lineage has been traced all the way back to the vikings. I once enlisted my grandfather’s assistance in an elementary school family tree project. We sat in his living room with a 4X6 index card dialoging every fraction of my background so far as he knew. As I recall, I was 1/8th of far more than 8 nationalities, as well as 1/16 and 1/4 of a few others. It was around this time that I was first learning about fractions, and this sure threw a wrench in the pizza analogy my teacher was pushing. Hence, a lifelong love/hate relationship with mathematics was born alongside the realization that I was a mutt. The index card holding the key to my past is long gone. These days, the best I can come up with is this – an explanation of my very Italian last name.
My great-grandfather, August Peruzzi came to the USA in the early 1900’s. He married and had one son, my awesome grandfather. Sadly, August died when my grandfather was only 4. Prior to his death, what was possibly the worst earthquake to ever shake Italy occurred in his home town of Avezzano. All of August’s relatives died either in the earthquake or shortly thereafter. At least, that is the how my grandfather understood it. August is, so far as I can tell, my only link to Italy though of course this story, along with my surname makes this kinship feel like a significant part of the person I am today.
I have thought about undertaking a family tree project for a number of years but the task feels gargantuan. The problem I face is always one of multi-tasking, which I fear I will forever remain inept. My weakness dictates that this endeavor could only be realized if I were to up and relocate to Italy. Sounds like a great idea to me, but I recently told myself that this decade will be less impulsive than the former. Besides, based on my track record, it is just as likely that I will run into some long lost cousin; journal of our great, great, great someone conveniently tucked away in his side bag, in the least likely place one could imagine.
So before I pick up everything (minus that wretched couch-bench) I will start by planting a seed of encouragement in myself and my family members (eh hem, brother Michael are you listening?) Who knows, that seed might one day grow into my very own family tree.
And now… take some time to enjoy the scenery – brought to you by Sun Moon Lake, Taiwan.