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What We Carry (Everything, Everywhere, All At Once) 客家

Updated: Mar 30, 2023

擂茶 (lei cha), a Hakka tea consisting of a variety of grains (which was all we had back then) due to impoverished conditions, ground with pestle and mortar to produce a fragrant and filling beverage Taiwan has been a time of being with family, soaking in the richness of a land that's always been near, yet elusive to me. Especially with age I am learning to cherish these moments. Blood is thicker than water; there is so much tension, strife, and the unsaid that echo in our bodies. We carry this with us everywhere we go, without knowing. My grandfather looks at me and I see his eyes so clearly. They pierce through me and yet hold me firm at the same time- know who you are- -we are one bloodline- we are not alone.

Maybe to survive, we grow calluses. Like hands worn over time, our hearts learn to defy wounds, all the more as they consume us. To survive, we choose bread over intimacy. Instead of “I love you”, grandfather put a house over our heads, a place of refuge. He isn’t the most affectionate person, and I don’t know what to say sometimes- but I wonder what kind of warmth I can bring to him in the dusk of his life, even as the stars falter. My grandfather grew up as the son of a farmer, coming from a long line belonging to the Hakka clan (客家 (ke jia)- translated "guest families") Taiwan consists of mainly Han Chinese who immigrated from China, and aborigine people who are the indigenous, original settlers of the island. Of the Han Chinese there are two main groups: the Hokkien and the Hakka. Hokkien (or Minnan) people come from Fujian, China and make up about 70% of the population. Hakka are the minority and make about about 20%. My ancestors fled social unrest, upheaval and invasions in northern China during the Qing dynasty. We are considered the most diasporic of all the Chinese ethnic groups and the only one not named after a geographical region. Throughout history we were subjected to alot of discrimation and even genocide by other subgroups, called "gypsies" even. In Taiwan the Hakka were known to make their homes in the mountains, who had to savor every grain of rice because of how poor we were. Hakka. I’m a foolish child in his eyes, a girl who hasn’t even birthed nor raised her own yet. I don’t know yet of the mountains and valleys he went through for me to exist, and yet he is proud of me, somehow. He calls me his granddaughter, the only daughter of his eldest.

A feeling I can’t place washes over me at times, looking at decrepit buildings overcome by moss, watching fresh linen sway on a rooftop. And it’s unique to Taiwan, something absent in LA or anywhere else. I wonder if hurts and pains can pass through generations, like rainwater to the sea. If I’m honest, it feels like I’m standing in a downpour at times. I recently went to my first “sao mu” ceremony with my grandparents in Miaoli. I visited the tombs of my great grandfather , and more ancestors. Is this what history feels like? There are so many stories untold that hang in the air. I’m breathing it in, and however small my lungs are, I feel alive in this moment. To contain all of this, and to move forward.

The pain of losing your youth, the landscape of a body that nurtures every scar, and learns to bend to the whim of every storm. I think of this now too, as I eat grandmother's rice, and walk beside her. I am my own person, yet I belong to a clan- and these roots stretch much deeper than I will ever discover in my lifetime. 客家 (ke jia)- translated "guest families" Nomadic blood Swallow the dust to preserve Clear eyes, a vision of freedom A child learns the sound of a heartbeat Afloat across borders We have no land but are as swift as wind, agile The earth has swallowed our footprints Brazenly Even as we have sown our lives Like wildflowers on high rock

*Snip from wiki:

[ The early Hakka immigrants were the island's first agriculturalists and formed the nucleus of the Chinese population, numbering tens of thousands at the time.They resided in "savage border districts, where land could be had for the taking, and where a certain freedom from official oppression was ensured." Back then the Hakka on Taiwan had gained a reputation with the authorities of being turbulent and lawless.]

On my mom's side, my great-grandfather was a farmer. On my dad's side, my grandfather was a pilot. Many of the Hakka were farmers and stayed in mountainous regions, and were known to be extremely poor, hardworking, and frugal. Back in China many of the Hakka took up many positions in the military.

It's interesting to think that the first section of "Blueprints" is called "roots", the first poem in the collection asking "What is home?" and now realizing my entire ancestry was nomadic. We even have our own language! I do not speak Hakka nor Taiwanese, just Mandarin, but it fascinates me to learn this part of the culture.

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