#COVIDCatLady, Day 515—Mobility and Identity

A tabby and a tortoiseshell in a cardboard box, symbolizing a comfortable trapped-ness.

515. This is how many days it’s been since I’ve been home. What used to be a 5-hour door-to-door commute is now a complicated calculation of vaccine, caseload, remote work, and quarantine. I had resigned to “resilience” at the beginning, and that held for about a full year. The homesickness didn’t really punch me in the gut until another Chinese New Year came with little silver lining in sight. I had a full-on foot-stomping, pillow-punching tantrum cry, yelling to no one, “I just want to go HOME!”

I got vaccinated 3 months ago. Shanghai Disney Resort had set up vaccinations on-site at the nearby Communist Party Union building. I was a bit fatigued after my second shot, but aside from that, it was uneventful. I didn’t walk away feeling anymore comrade than when I walked in.

I signed up for vaccinations as soon as I was able, with a visceral hope that maybe, just maybe, it’ll expedite things when quarantine requirements have loosened up a bit in Taiwan (the Taiwanese compatriots were the last in line… Ah well). Maybe one week at-home quarantine instead of 2 weeks in a hotel room?

Well, that didn’t work out. As I type this, Taiwan has had 13,831 cases, a stark contrast to the perfect scorecard maintained until early this May. So even if my new job will allow me to work remotely, that’s a minimum of 4–5 weeks of quarantine. Not impossible, but hard to justify the cost of travel, hotel, cat-sitter, and the health risk to myself and others.

This forced immobility has imposed a kind of… Identity lock on me. Those of us privileged enough to call more than one place home have the luxury of living aspects of our identity out in different locations. For me, this means 3 trips back to Taipei a year, where I reconnect with my roots and eat my way through night markets and clear out my mother’s fridge. It means maybe one trip a year to the U.S., where I can visit friends on the East Coast and family on the West. It means enjoying the metropolitan, multicultural, digitally advanced lifestyle in Shanghai with a VPN, with Taiwan’s leisurely-paced cozy deliciousness an easy 2-hour flight away.

This level of mobility is a recently acquired privilege for me. And part of me feels like I’ve had to relinquish it before I even really had the chance to treasure it properly.

I have friends in Shanghai who haven’t been home for even longer; friends who have missed weddings, funerals, graduations, birthdays, even the birth of a child. I have friends who have stayed but struggle because China is so different from home. And I have friends who stayed because China is one of their homes, but now they feel forced to perform one side of their identity, and miss the grounding effects of connecting with other sides of the cultural heritage.

I don’t know which one is harder, but maybe there’s really no point comparing.

In other news, I really would have liked the chance to taste-test this monstrosity:

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