Chopsticks are an early memory. I remember as a toddler, eating baked salmon, using those two wooden sticks to carefully pick up and select each flake of fish. As I’ve gotten older, it has been a huge comfort to me that wherever I go, as long as there are trees, there could be an offering of utensils.
My story has always been around land. It’s hard to know where it’s story starts and mine begins. My mother moved over to England in the mid 90’s after she met my dad, who was working with a travelling circus in Taiwan at the time.
Being a child to both a travelling showman and a first generation immigrant parent, it often felt like we were all learning about the land that we were on, together. Our explorations and discoveries were always exciting, regardless of who was bringing back the news. Learning about the foragable mushrooms, fruits and vegetables was fun – but turning them into traditional Taiwanese dishes was just as good; roving through the woods foraging for ramsons to returning home and having brimming baos full of fresh garlic heads.
I spent a lot of my childhood in limbo between being in deep connection with a small piece of land in the fens, to hopping from one town’s recreation ground to another.
From the land I learnt important things, like how sheep sit in circles to watch sunsets, and how much a varied diet affects peafowl health. I mourned and reared and respected, and sometimes disrespected – when, in the youthful lack of knowledge I disturbed and interfered with processes such as incubation and habitats – but learning the repercussions of doing so. This taught me to see forms of communication that are borderless. From moving from town to town I learnt about how much a big top tent, some caravans and some brave people forming a community could totally transform an otherwise unloved space. Changing locations meant changing where we slept, ate, laughed, and where we were able to relax, and where we weren’t. Home was wherever we went together.
The landscapes around us aren’t stagnant or unalive – but full of reciprocity and life. Each encounter with another being is an exchange, whether we consciously intend for it or not; the landscapes change us, as much as we change them.
Now as an adult, I have often though about ways to be connected to the land as much as my family might have been in Taiwan or on the farms and sites they grew up on. Or how the ancestors of those who lived on the fens (where I grew up) foraged or worked in common before knowledge was lost when the fens were drained. I initially dabbled straight into how to take care of myself using the gifts the other species of the land gave. I tried to use wood ash as shampoo, conkers for soap, and sage leaves to clean my teeth with. Memories are so tied to the land – memory maps are a leading tie into the way land and people are interwoven. When living without connection to the land, stories and memories that are cultivated so strongly together are lost. Starting to use these things opened my eyes to what my relationship was in the landscape, and how much these relationships are interdependent.
This realisation gave me space to reflect on the previous notion I had of being separate. For most of my life, people had taught me that you are alone, that you are an individual, separate from all webs of belonging. This is and was never true. This had not only painted my relationship with myself in a negative hue, but also dulled my relationships with all I interacted with. Disconnections hurt. Belongingness is crucial, as it has been made so easy to feel lost.
Removing relationships with other beings is so much easier when structural systems deny people a relationship with any type of land. We all have the ability to make spaces for each other, with each other. But if we are denied that space to begin with, making the space is a very hard thing to do.
I love people. I love seeing people’s potentials be embodied and radiant. I love seeing people use their creativity to flourish. Unequal access to spaces stifles that. The work I want to see and be part of realises and feels those connections. I’m very grateful and excited to be working with Shared Assets. I hope to continue creating and strengthening connections already made.
‘Goulay’: a Taiwanese verb meaning ‘to squat’ was one of the very first words that I learnt. A comforting crouch-like action taken when needing to be stationary for any period of time. For example, in my memory, used when sorting out purple elderberries from their stalks, or when playing – eye-level – with small children. A cultural habit that has been passed down to me; I often found myself close to the ground, reclaiming space.
In English, to squat also means to occupy without permission. Being here feels like merging them as one – and I like that.