Los Angeles, CA

The View Outside My Window

James Shih

https://img.particlenews.com/image.php?url=0uOMi8_0floElSA00
Looking out my window. Taipei, Taiwan 2021. Camera: Canon AE-1. Film: Kodak 200.James Y. Shih

There’s a window in my room that opens out to Wanhua District in Taipei. It’s late February 2021. From here I can see a crane game store, the construction of a building a few blocks away, and my favorite: a sliver of sidewalk which allows me to watch pedestrians come and go. The rest of my line of sight is obstructed by the building corners of the quarantine hotel I’m staying at.

It’s day 8 and each day prior I make sure to open the window and stick out my arms to get some sunlight. My psoriasis has been getting worse, not getting enough sun I think. Today, I can see two older Taiwanese men talking with each other next to the bus stop in full old man regalia: hat, sunglasses, vest, and flip flops. They remind me of my dad back in California who I just saw a few weeks ago. I hope he’s safe.

A month ago, back in my home state of California, an elderly Asian man a few years older than my father was murdered.

***

I’m watching the video on my phone and I can’t believe what I’m seeing. This man was murdered while taking a walk. His name is Vicha Ratanapakdee. Seeing his picture I cannot help but connect his face to the face of my grandfather growing up, the face of an elderly man that traveled across the world to take care of his grandchildren, and this thought brings me to tears.

I feel helpless. On my phone, in my small apartment in Los Angeles, I make small steps. A post on social media. The changing of a profile picture. But I feel like it’s not enough.

***

Why am I here…

I ask myself this as I stare out my window at the sliver of Taipei sidewalk.

…stuck within these four walls with my thoughts?

The computer and my phone are experts in distraction. I snap photos out my window throughout the day, hoping to catch the subtle changes of light.

I remember how at the start of my quarantine, a blue wave of emotion washed over me. I think about what I’m doing with my life, if I’m running away.

From what? The U.S.? Myself?

Everything.

***

It’s summer 2020, I’m at a Dunkin Donuts watching an older white lady make me feel like shit.

“Asian people eat bats. White people have better diets. You should go back to China.”

She mutters this under her breath like a mantra. I walk inside the store to talk to the manager and he comes out and tells her that she has to stop or she will have to leave the premise. She stays quiet afterwards, fidgeting in her seat from time to time.

I went home that day with a writing assignment I had to do and I could just feel this incredible gnawing inside me. As if something was not right, as if somehow I was less human, less worthy of love.

I hated this feeling. Already I see my classmates and my friends excelling in so many different spaces: finance, career, relationships…and to have this experience today makes me want to run away.

***

https://img.particlenews.com/image.php?url=0Bwg0c_0floElSA00
Crane game store. Taipei, Taiwan 2021. Camera: Canon AE-1. Film: Kodak 200.James Y. Shih

It’s the 10th day into quarantine and I’ve established a routine. Without it I think I would fall apart.

I wake up at 8am and jot down any dreams I had the night before. Then I write down three things I’m grateful for. If I still have time before 830a, I do a morning Taichi stretch. At 830a the breakfast comes delivered to my door. Today I didn’t feel that hungry so I just combined my breakfast with lunch and used the morning time to workout.

Why am I here? I’ve thought about that question some. Sure, I plan to take classes and improve my Mandarin, but I think the real reason, deep in my heart, is that I needed to get out of America.

In California I attended some Stop the Hate rallies. It felt good to support something bigger than myself.

What do I want for myself? Over the years, I’ve taken thousands of photos and hours of video. Nature, cities, friends…I feel like I collect these moments because I’m afraid that these moments will never happen again. But when I take the picture or the video, I take myself out of the present.

These are some of the thoughts I have in quarantine and my brain is beginning to gnaw on itself. I’m feeling lonely.

***

Los Angeles summer 2019, I’m flipping through dating profiles on my phone. I sense there’s another racism that hides beneath the surface of life. It’s in the messages that go unanswered, the dates that never transpire, the comments I read on message boards.

I’ve been single more years than I’ve spent in higher education which I’m ashamed of. I’m also ashamed that even in the Anti-Asian hate rallies, in the grocery store visits, in the online clubhouses that I visit, that I hope I’ll find someone in these space that love me. Because I can’t seem to love myself.

***

Day 14 of quarantine I’ve decided to limit my phone and computer use, and I’ve cut out social media altogether today.

It’s so funny, I’ve had all these great goals set out to use my time in quarantine productively: rewrite a feature script, pump out some blogs, organize my photos, practice Mandarin…and yet most of my time has been spent watching anime, gazing out my window, and sleeping.

I did keep up a pretty good workout regime though and with social media out today I feel less drained which is good.

Yet, that gnawing emptiness is still there. I think that part of the reason is that I feel lost. I have this false hope that maybe, just maybe these issues of loneliness, racism, self doubt, will disappear being in a different country. Lol.

***

I’m out of quarantine in Tainan, Taiwan. It’s March 2021 and I heard on the news about the shootings in Atlanta. Here in the McDonald’s I’m sitting in, I cannot help be feel incredibly alone. I don’t think a Taiwanese person will understand what these killings mean to me and other Asian Americans. A friend that told me before that the violence against Asians was probably not statistically higher and I disagreed with, messaged me after hearing the news and apologized. I was right. I wish I wasn’t.

I have a presentation in Mandarin I have to do, but I can barely focus. I’m crying because it hurts. It’s as if though I’m thousands of miles away, this line that connects me to Asian America is unbreakable, is part of me wherever I go.

***

I’m boarding the flight to Taiwan, with my faceshield on. I haven’t boarded a plane in two years and I feel excited. I think about what brought me here and I wonder what quarantine will be like. It’s all something new to experience.

https://img.particlenews.com/image.php?url=0ICjDg_0floElSA00
View of the sky and buildings outside. Taipei, Taiwan 2021. Camera: Canon AE-1. Film: Kodak 200.James Y. Shih

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Originally published on the author's Medium page, August 2021.

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I enjoy writing about film/TV, travel, slice of life, language, Asian American issues, and other interests. Thanks for reading! Please leave a comment or message if you have any thoughts to share =).

Los Angeles, CA
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