I was on the MRT in Taipei on my way to a rock concert when I overheard a few words in Tagalog. Since I’ve arrived in Taiwan, I’ve been swathed in Chinese conversation. Being a long way from home, the familiar accents piqued my homesickness. I slowly worked up the courage to approach these three Pilipino women and as soon as I greeted them, the women started beaming. They introduced themselves, and after a bit of small talk, I asked them: “Do you miss the Philippines?” One of the women bit her lip, looked up at the ceiling on the train and murmured a quiet yes before she quickly changed the topic.
“Do you go to church?” she asked me.
Normally, it would seem a bit brash to hear such a question from a stranger, but it was one of the most Pilipino things I had heard in awhile! I nodded vehemently and said that I would try to go to the one in Little Manila. The women smiled and gave me directions. Soon I was at my stop, so I told the women that I’d see them at church as I scurried out of the MRT.
My first excursion to Little Manila was my first time traveling around Taipei alone. Within an hour, I was overwhelmed by the rain; my phone’s GPS was going haywire. As I was just about to give up, I saw a sign that was unmistakably Pilipino, and in that moment, I swear my heart dropped.
Little Manila is true to its name. With four stores and a church scattered on the corner of two streets, Little Manila was under- and overwhelming at the same time. Having been away from anything remotely Pilipino, I was craving some comfort food. I inched into an empty restaurant and spotted an elderly woman pop out from the kitchen at the back of the restaurant. As I ordered tocino and rice, I kept staring at her with teary eyes, wondering if she was real. She noticed my obvious homesickness and smiled. She chatted with me as I ate, and we discussed our respective homes, our families, the Philippines, etc.
As I was leaving, she told me to come back on Sunday.
“I’m now your lola,” she said, and I beamed back at her, trying not to look like an idiot.
Unfortunately, I didn’t end up seeing those Pilipinas from the MRT when I went to church, but I hope to cross paths with them again soon. According to the Manila Economic and Cultural Office, there are over 90,000 Pilipinos working in Taiwan; they are the third largest minority group in Taiwan. Most Pilipinos, like the ones I met on the MRT, work in factories. With so many overseas Pilipino workers in Taiwan, you would think there would be a larger Little Manila. The impression that I received from the neighborhood was that the Pilipino residents were trying to make do with what they had. The women in the MRT and the lola in the restaurant both spoke about the Philippines with great nostalgia, a little sigh of longing in their voice.
Perhaps the women feel the same as me. As tiny as Little Manila was, it’s big enough to fit the small, homesick hole in my heart.