“Do you remember anything about Taipei?”
“No,” I said as I looked out the airplane window. Beneath the cloudy cover, the twinkling city lights of Taipei were just visible. “Not really.”
I meant that. I really did. But even before I got on the bus from Taoyuan International Airport to get into Taipei city, I realized that I had lied.
Because I remember almost everything about Taipei — and each of those memories lead me back to you.
When I was first in Taipei nearly three years ago, I made a promise to myself (and you) that I would stay off social media during my visit. I wanted to make the most of my short time with you, but it came at a cost. I have no records of what we saw, where we went, or what we did. I also have hardly any photos; the ones I do have are those you sent to me a year ago after I asked for them. (I only looked at them once, right after I opened the email.)
It didn’t help that I was more interested in you than anything Taipei had to offer. Long distance has a way of diminishing everything else.
We were only in Taipei for a few days, and I never knew the specifics of what we saw. I think you told me the names of the places you showed me, but I’m really not sure and either way I can’t remember them anyway. But I do remember being underwhelmed by the Taipei you showed me, and how hurt you were when I told you so. I still don’t understand why you were so surprised, because now that I’ve been to Taipei again, I realize that you were holding Taipei back from me.
The places you and I visited were small, obscure, hole-in-the-wall. Ordinarily I’d love those sorts of things mixed in with the big and famous sites. But the only big sites we saw were the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial (we didn’t take any pictures because we arrived there in the middle of an argument) and Spark, the nightclub in the base of Taipei 101 (you nearly punched a man at the bar because he whispered a comment in my ear that you thought was a slight against you). The cynical part of me wonders if you took me to where no one could find us only because you were afraid of running into anyone you knew, those who made up the double life you were leading — like your Taiwanese lover.
This time around, I was determined to do Taipei right. I saw all sorts of places and things, from big tourist sites to local shops and everything in between. I took pictures, lots of them, to document my time in Taipei and to make up for the ones I didn’t take when I was with you. I drank bubble tea almost every day and ate all the dumplings and noodles I could get my hands on. I realized what a gem of a city Taipei is, and could picture a parallel universe where I saved up, quit my job, and then relocated to Taipei to study Chinese once again.
I learned that for better or worse, I enjoy Taipei infinitely more without you.
But my breath still caught a little when I exited the Ximending MRT stop and saw the dazzlingly bright billboards and cluster of stores and restaurants. Because even now, all this time and history later, I could close my eyes and imagine walking hand in hand with you, completely besotted. I haven’t wished for you in years, but I do wish for the girl that I once was — hopeful, in love, and positive that everything she knew to be certain was true.