A Conch Shell Away
Joy Xie, Division 2, 10th grade #ws16e-s2d2

The soft whir of the air-conditioner permeates the small study room as I lay on a bamboo mat, staring up at our makeshift mosquito net with my sister breathing quietly beside me. I can hear the shuffling of my grandmother’s feet in the kitchen, the grating snoring of both my mom and grandfather, and the whimpering of my baby cousin in the next room. Our entire family from my mother’s side is crammed into my grandparents’ two-bedroom apartment, but this is the place where I dream to be everyday. Over 7000 miles away from my home in America, Taiwan is my conch shell with its creamy comforting color but with a redolent sound reminiscent of my happiest moments. In my favorite place, I can learn about myself through my culture while relaxing and seeing my grandparents whom I can only visit once in a few years. Taiwan is the place that I think of when I am at a loss in this rampant world.

In an island across the world, I can discover who I am as I find out about my culture. Before I visited Taiwan, I had only heard of these unbelievable stories from my mother as she described her childhood, and in her words “Even though it was mostly sweltering hot, it was my home where I could buy rice cakes and fry them at midnight.” When I got to see the city, Taipei, where my mother grew up with its busy streets, racing motorcycles, and small apartment, I could finally understand more of where I came from. The culture in Taiwan is oceans away from America with huge differences in food, music, and lifestyles. Everyday I went to a local market with my grandfather to buy fresh fish and vegetables, while in America we go to a grocery story for frozen foods. However the most startling and thrilling part of my discovery into my culture was the night markets. Held outside with flashing lights and individual stands, they delighted me, saturating all my senses with a multitude of trinkets and voices of numerous people. Every time I take a trip back to Taiwan, I realize more about my culture and, therefore, myself.

As I run my fingers along the creamy shell to find my culture, I come upon the pink streaks inside the conch. These streaks portray how my favorite place gives me an opportunity to relax, to take a break from my rote schedule during the school year. In Taiwan, during the evenings I got to sit outside in the terrace next to all my grandmother’s pots of flowers in red, pinks, and yellows and the clothesline with our garments fluttering like ghosts. While drinking milk tea and letting mosquitoes bite me, I rested besides my grandma, who told me about her life during the Chinese Cultural revolution and gave me advice for my own endeavors. In Taiwan, I could take a vacation from the rules and classes that awaited me back at home. In the infrequent years that I got to visit Taiwan, I was able to go to my favorite place to relax .

Most importantly, behind the swirls of my conch shell is the ocean whispering, and that is where the rest of my family resides, across the ocean. Unlike most families, my grandparents do not live across the street or even close enough to visit them during weekends. For me, I have only seen them three times in person, not even enough times to understand their beliefs and know them. However, I always talk to them on the phone, but being able to see them in front of me is one of the best gifts I have received. Every moment that I get to spend time with them; I cherish. I love that I know the stentorian sounds of my grandpa’s snores and the touch of my grandma’s weathered and wrinkled hands stroking my hair. These are things I could never have known without going to Taiwan. An ocean away, my conch shell can bring me to my family.

The mosquito tent still encases my sister and I on our last day in Taiwan. At four in the morning, we have to leave for the airport. We leave the same way we came, riding the elevator down four floor and walking past the shallow pool and the black gates. My grandparents hug me for one last time, reminding me to call and urging me to come again as soon as possible. Teary eyed, I wished that I could see them everyday. In Taiwan, I discovered more of myself through my culture and had an opportunity to rest, but the chance to see my grandparents was ineffable. However, I have not slept under the mosquito tent for three years, but my conch brings me to my favorite place. As I listen to the echoes of the shell, I can hear my grandpa’s snores and my grandma’s shuffling. Taiwan is my home across the ocean.
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