As fallen leaves return to their roots, my hands traveled to distant and foreign lands, learning Canadian rules of hand etiquette, across the ocean to Tanzania, in the warm hold of strong-hearted women, and finally, to finding myself where I have always belonged, in my Taiwanese heritage.
Taiwan was a mythical place I only heard my parents reminisce about, a familiar story of a far away land told thousands of times over. Even though I lived in Canada, at home I was governed by the strict traditions and customs of my ancestors. I was taught to bear the bitterness of life silently, to bite my lips in pain, and to show restraint in happiness and love. My free and unfettered spirit was a clash to my conservative culture, and as a child, I was chocked by the expectations and duties of a “good” Taiwanese girl. Tragically, I was also blind to the beauties of my rich inheritance.
Meeting Khan Chhiu in the melting heat of Taiwan last summer, however, saved me.
In a reserved culture where couples rarely walked hand in hand, let alone kiss in public, “Khan Chhiu” is the name they chose to call their life’s other half. Khan Chhiu is the Taiwanese word for “holding hands,” and the same words for “wife” or “husband.” Palm to palm and fingers intertwined, it’s a promise to walk together until the end of time. We are carrying our lives dutifully, yours in mine and mine in yours with honesty, respect, and courtesy. In the Taiwanese culture, the basis of love is lifelong devotion and commitment. We do not sing romantic ballads, whisper an affectionate, “I love you,” or squeeze each other in a passionate embrace, but in the ripples of everyday life, “I promise to be here with you.” Khan Chhiu showed me the full and ever giving heart of Taiwan.
In the cracked hands and wind-stricken faces of farmers and fishermen, the unreserved smile of a grandma frying up an “o a jian*” at the night market, the sweet aroma of roasted yam, and the endless sea embracing the sandy shores, I found my Khan Chhiu. Not a man, but a people and a land to share life’s cup of green tea.
Wrapped in the hands of my roots, “I promise to hold you in my heart.”
*Taiwanese oyster omelet