Read an excerpt from Beyond Two Worlds: A Taiwanese-American Adoptee’s Memoir & Search for Identity below.
It was my second week in Taiwan and a morning I had greatly anticipated. My sisters and I planned to visit our parents’ shrine. We would leave early for the two-hour drive to the mountains. My excitement was dulled by a compelling sense of foreboding. What was up with me?
I stepped into the shower. Surely a nice, hot shower would revive me. Afterwards, however, I still felt fatigued and out of sorts. I hoped that after eating, I would feel better and noshed on a protein bar before heading downstairs to meet Christina and Amy. In my imagination, I tried to envision the shrine where my birthparents laid at rest. The word, “shrine,” sounded so mysterious to me, eerie. Christina alluded previously that the shrine was built along a mountainside. Would it look like the colorful temples I had seen throughout the city? I imagined it to be a very peaceful place. I visualized a mountainside with a stone path and bold archway leading to a sacred space enshrouded by forest greens. It was no doubt a place of reverence. Ancestor veneration was an ancient, honored practice in Taiwan and China steeped in love and respect to reminisce the deeds of the dead. It stemmed from beliefs that the dead had a continued existence. I wondered, “What would it be like to honor my birthparents at the site of their tombs?” Ironically, I learned much later from a Taiwanese friend of ours in Arizona that many Taiwanese when they travel to the U.S. are horrified that big, beautiful homes are built on the sides of mountains. In Taiwan, mountainsides are for the tombs of loved ones, not for multi-million dollar homes.
I finished my protein bar and took the elevator downstairs to the lobby. It was a beautiful, crisp morning, and the sun shone brightly. Christina and Amy were dressed warmly and greeted me with smiles.
“Are you ready to go, Marijane?” Christina asked.
“Yes, I’m ready!” I answered. We walked outside where a taxi was awaiting us. The driver appeared good-humored and pleased to take us on our special journey. As I stepped into the taxi, a strong odor of smoke mingled with cheap air freshener assailed my senses. It made me feel queasy. I sat cocooned between Christina and Amy. The backseat was surprisingly deep and roomy, and my sisters chatted happily as the taxi slowly pulled away from the hotel. I smiled weakly.
Buildings and concrete whizzed by as we left city limits and headed towards the countryside. Majestic, snow-capped mountains loomed in the distance. With every turn of my head, the queasiness increased. I forced a smile and attempted to talk to my sisters, but feared that a full- blown episode of nausea would overtake me if I continued.
“How long is the ride to the shrine again?” I asked Christina feebly.
“Ah, it’s a little ways,” she replied.
“Okay. I think I need to stop talking for a bit. I’m starting to feel a little nauseous,” I said trying not to sound too offensive.
“Are you okay?” Christina asked, concerned.
“Yea, I think I just need to rest,” I replied. I laid my head back on the seat. The odor in the taxi became noxious. I worried that I was not going to make it to the shrine without getting sick. Christina and Amy talked quietly while I closed my eyes. The nausea only worsened. Not more than an hour into our drive, I asked my sisters if we could find a restroom.
“Yes, yes,” Christina said. The taxi pulled into a gas station. As I got out of the taxi, I felt the world spinning around me and stumbled into the restroom. “Oh great. Another squat toilet.” At least it was clean. I willed myself not to get sick, taking in slow deep breaths, relieved to be outside the confines of the taxi. “One, two, three. Breathe in, breathe out,” I said to myself, focusing my attention on anything but the nausea. My fingertips were tingling and started to feel numb. I walked cautiously back to the taxi.
“Christina, I don’t think I can go on,” I said regretfully, leaning against the taxi. “I’m feeling really sick. I don’t know why. I don’t know what happened. Do you think you could take me back to my hotel?” I asked. “I’m so sorry.” Christina and Amy looked at me, their brows knit together in worry.
“No, no. It’s no problem!” Christina quickly replied. “We turn around.” They took hold of my arms and helped me into the front seat of the taxi, explaining to our driver that we needed to turn back. They continued speaking in Mandarin rapidly, and I wondered what they were saying.
The drive back was torturous. Every stop, turn, and bump jolted me further into nausea as our driver drove precariously back to the city. I leaned my seat back as far as it would go, eyes shut, the backside of one forearm resting gingerly across my forehead. I tried to stay as still as possible and quiet my mind. “One, two, three. Breathe in, breathe out.” I felt cold and clammy, as though I might pass out, my heartbeat echoed in my ears. By the time we made it back to my hotel, I was so dizzy, I could not move. My sisters again spoke rapidly to our driver. I could hear the concern in their voices, despite my inability to understand what they were saying.
“Marijane, we think you need to go to hospital,” Christina said.
“No, no!” It’s okay. If you could just help me to my room,” I whimpered. When I attempted to open the taxi door, however, nausea overtook me, and I slumped back against the car seat. I could not stand up. My sisters stood by the door, wondering what to do.
“Marijane, we take you to hospital,” Christina said firmly. I was feeling worse by the minute and agreed reluctantly, feeling awful that I had put my sisters in such a position. The taxi driver was also concerned and drove as quickly as possible to the hospital, which was a short distance from the hotel.
When we arrived, a gurney was brought to the side of the taxi. My fingers were completely numb, and I could no longer feel my legs. Cold crept through my body, and it felt as though my heart were slowing down with every beat. I feared losing consciousness and tried to focus on breathing to prevent myself from passing out. A hospital employee reached inside the taxi to pull me out and placed me on top of the gurney, strapping the belt across my waist. The white sheets of the gurney felt cool. I could hear my sisters speaking to the employee as he wheeled me inside. I was maneuvered first into one room, and a hospital band was hastily placed around my wrist. I opened my eyes weakly as I was rolled away and took in the faces of small Chinese children and strangers staring at me. I closed my eyes again. We reached another room, a much quieter space. I just wanted all movement to stop. Each time the gurney turned a corner, I felt a new, sickening wave of nausea. I kept my eyes shut knowing that Christina and Amy were close by. When the doctor finally arrived, she greeted me in English. My sisters explained to her what happened.
“Marijane, I’m sorry that you’re not feeling well. We’re going to take some tests, okay?” the doctor said. I nodded my head and half opened my eyes to see a thin woman wearing hospital scrubs and a white coat, her face obscured by a surgical mask. A few minutes later, a technician came to draw blood.
“Don’t worry, Marijane,” my sisters assured me. “This won’t hurt much.” I was too nauseous to care. The tech rolled up my sleeve and administered the draw. I barely felt the prick of the needle. Several minutes went by before another technician visited.
“Marijane, they give you a shot,” Christina explained haltingly. “You need to turn to your side and unbutton pants.” “Oh man,” I thought miserably. As sick as I felt, I was still slightly embarrassed. I felt the cold, wet swab of alcohol on my hip, following by a sharp pinch as the tech injected me with some unknown medication. Afterwards, I rolled back over. My sisters were standing very close, talking over me. I hoped that the nausea would subside soon and wished for sleep. Then one sister reached over to poke my hip bone. I was not sure which sister because I continued to keep my eyes closed. Did they think I was too thin? Several more minutes went by before the doctor came back with the test results.