Language of the Night Market (Letters to Candy Bird)

Dear Han,

When you left us at that rabbit hole of a bookshop, I just knew you could truly see through my heart. We passed by a young busker before we parted ways and I began to feel so cold.

Surprisingly, it felt like Spring on our last day in Taipei. We were blessed with a week of sunny days that allowed us to walk a lot and really touch the thighs and rib cage of your hometown – someplace you call urban graveyard.

“Is it easy to find her in this city, Han?”

“That is a good question, but I never think of it in such a way that much, actually.”

The first time your street art appeared before my eyes, I instantly felt we’re kindred. Moments like this happen in my life more often now. And they happen intensely with a tender touch of magic.

I have always wondered about Formosa. It was one of the most beautiful-sounding country names I have ever read from my high school textbook. I have always questioned why it had to be changed to Taiwan. Back when I was around nine, I remember stories from my Mama B who worked there as a domestic helper. She told me about the interesting markets. She also never hid the fact that many Filipinos go there to work hard. Most of them end up looking after the aged or working in factories.

“It’s very difficult to live as an artist in this city. Rent is so expensive. Even more expensive than Tokyo. Gentrification is a major problem”

Before we met you in person, I read an interview about how as a delivery boy, you managed to paint walls along alleys and crannies. Perhaps, I have seen what you have gazed at as you drive around the city – the homeless people dotting random storefronts, the old women working so hard all day long, the young people flocking inside 7/11 and hip places, the stressed-out office workers having a ciggy break, and the long stretch of crematorium around sleepy areas.

But Han, I have to admit this, Taipei gave me this alluring kind of beauty.

The kind of beautiful that does not overwhelm.

Living in Banqiao District was more than we could ever ask for. As a residential area, we were the only foreigners there – Marrz and me. I have been living twenty years of my life near the public market. My parents own an eatery – where I sometimes wipe tables and serve food for customers, and play cashier. Wet markets can be found in the nooks of my being and my culture as an individual. Taipei made me fall in love with markets more.

Nanya Night Market filled our stomachs and souls. Some street food reminded us of the Chinese influence in our own cuisine, but yes, trying stinky tofu for the first time was such an amusing milestone. I can still vividly sense it in my mouth now that I look back. Some of our favorites would have to be: the milk tea stalls, the street bakeshop, and the fresh fruit shake cart – I honestly felt we need more freshness in our street food, and not solely rely on deep frying and extreme white sugar content in our drinks. Our people need to savor authentic flavors more like how we go through life as Filipinos – feeling all the cultural and historical confusion, struggling in between familial and personal pursuits, and keeping it hopeful amid the sociopolitical stir.

Taipei markets were brimming over with stories, doodles of things in the air because of the language barrier, laughter out of good embarrassment, and kind smiles. My family thrived because of this Han, this way of communicating not just to sell, but to let people experience what you create and work hard for. My grandmother Eting was the first woman to sell bananacue in our town. She would wake up very early in the morning to prepare her stove, the cooking wares, containers of cooking oil, packs of brown sugar, and barbecue sticks. With all her might, she would stir bananas, mixing them thoroughly with oil and sugar. With all her might, she supported her twelve children single-handedly. My grandfather Erning died when their youngest daughter was just one year old. So walking around observing all these men and women religiously prepare and market their products felt like home. How I wish we won’t ever forget this beautiful collage of colors, culture, and identity. I wish we won’t ever get too lured with air-conditioner and glass walls. I wish we won’t ever lose respect and appreciation for our farmers, fishermen, and vendors.

I guess I have told you this on our night out together, being inside your temples made me feel immense. I had goosebumps on my skin, and tears in my eyes. It must be because of the intricate details of Longshan, the sensuous smell of incense, the powerful presence of monks, and the interesting ritual practiced by the temple-goers. People would hold two pieces of wood, close their eyes, whisper something, open their eyes, look up above, let go of the woodblocks, and do it again. It was calming to observe the mindful repetition. So I had to ask our local host J if what is the ritual for.

“The two pieces of wood stand for yes and no. We set an intention or ask a question to the Gods and whatever is revealed from the falling of the wood pieces is the answer.”

When we were about to land in Taoyuan, I did think of your street art and wondered if we could ever get the chance to meet you and have a glimpse of your country from your truth; from your unique sensitivity.

Exchanging stories, eye contact, and some hugs with you in Taipei reminded me of why I have always believed in the power of connecting. In believing that one is never alone- dreaming of a much enjoyable and bearable world not just for the privileged few.

I’d write to you more in the next days, Han. I have to go out and get some vegetables for dinner. It’s pretty gloomy here now, which is great because I’ve been having stomachache in the past two days due to extreme heat and humidity. I wonder if it would also be this hot in Kaohsiung.

Thank you.

Loving the drizzle,

Kristine

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