chinese is a language in which the word “return,” hui, always refers to a homeward journey. thus to say, “i’m returning in a week” or for someone to ask, “when did you return?” is a performative statement: by saying it one creates the truth of a place of return, a home. so there is always the risk that someone might not recognize the warrant you have to make such a statement. such is the danger of the simple phrase, “i am returning” for those of us who do fieldwork in the same place over several years during the typical nomadic life of graduate school, postdocs, temporary posts, and other jobs on the way to–if we even are on the way to–tenure, the field comes to be a place of return. our relationships deepen, we get older and, if we are lucky, see our work mature in tandem with our friend’s children. sometimes, that worries me: what if the place where one does fieldwork becomes too familiar, to homey, to produce anthropological knowledge, knowledge which, as we know, has something to do with the life of the other?
yet, as behar notes in the vulnerable observer, anthropologists practice a discipline of displacement in which we feel compelled to “seek rootedness elsewhere.” ironically, perhaps, i’ve always studied movement and displacement. my first book length project was on pilgrimage and i am currently writing on far ocean fishermen. still, i must admit that there is something in behar’s statement about an anthropological displacement of roots, memories, and affect to the elsewhere places that we work: not just their rootedness, but our rootedness there. and so, it’s always been to a little corner of lukang, a house built on far ocean fishing money in a’tolan, and even to the taipei ymca hotel that i repair when i want to return to my roots
arriving in taipei early in the morning presents the difficulty of hotel check in times, but fulbright booked my hotel for the night before. i checked in and took a shower, but in the way of returning–and from a desire to combat jet lag–i walked the few blocks down from my hotel to new park (yes, it is what you’d call the 2/28 peace park now, but remember that those of us who remember it as new park still call it that) and bathed myself in the songs electric of summer cicadas. the squirrels are a new addition to the park and a welcome one. as you walk in this park, it’s easy to see (if you are attentive) why allen (2011) considers the park a place where all of the traces of taiwan’s history, all of what he calls the figures of a city of displacements point out the passage of some colonial juggernaut or another through what used to be a large shallow lake, the taipei basin. where else would one find a neo-classical structure from the japanese colonial period, a bronze horse moved from a shinto temple, kitschy traditionalesque chinese pagodas that became a notorious gay cruising ground, a modernist concrete band shell painted in rainbow colors, a qing period memorial to a virtuous widow, a few remains of the temple formerly in the place of the park, a memorial to victims of the 2/28 incident, and–for a postmodern touch–an edge of green landscaping in native plants? and with the transfer of the 1930s bank building across the street to the museum complex, a restored japanese period art deco structure, now with a ca 2011 pavement outside featuring indigenous motifs, joins this profusion of layered histories. now that i’ve been coming and going long enough, i’ve seen the park, to which i walked on my very first morning in taiwan nearly 30 years ago, go through many changes. and i am able to read its many traces. these displacements are good friends for a displaced person like myself. still, there is pleasure in a walk there in the morning, watching as people hit taichi, and listening to the cicadas.
i meet friends for coffee, for lunch, for coffee, trying to keep awake and in the tried and familiar places. no 101 or surrounding district for me. and oddly, the uncanny quality of seeing the post office restored to its 1920s appearance or noting the addition of indigenous traces to the pavement near the bank building is the unheimlichkeit that says all the more loudly that you are home
after a couple days, i’m back in a’tolan. my friends and the parents of friends stop me on the street as i go to breakfast or wait for the bus to taitung: minokay a malikoda han? shemma shihou huilaide la? it’s good to take the risk of saying in response, yes, i came back to dance.. just yesterday afternoon