Vivien Lee, Acudus Aranyian, Colum Bowyer, Kira Wei-Hsin Jacobson
Love in The Time Of is a poetic series dedicated to all of the romantic, platonic, neighborly, borderless, and familial love that show up in our lives — created earlier this fall with the intention to serve as an intermission from the follies of fear and fascism. To quote June Jordan, in a time when the powerful few tries to keep people forever inaudible and unknown to one another, Love in The Time Of aims get to know those around us, celebrating our differences and contradictions to reveal the importance of existing for something, not just against.
This series features a photo diary by Colum Bowyer and Acudus Aranyian, an interracial queer couple who originally met in Taipei in 2017, now living in Bushwick, New York since the early onset of the pandemic. Sharing words with FAR–NEAR, their story explores a long distance love turned marriage turned quarantine corner, accompanied with a selected poem by Kira Wei-Hsin Jacobson (許維昕), a conceptually oriented artist & poet based in Taipei and San Diego. Kira’s poem is one that reminds the couple of the time they began getting to know each other and expanding their newly intertwined lives in Taipei. Through language, Kira works to honor the complexity and ambiguity of identity. By reflecting on the body as a cluster of intensities that changes and grows they strive to disrupt the dualisms and binaries that limit our perceptions. Their writing has been featured in Impossible Archetype, Bitter Melon’s stay home diary, ‘Forms of Formosa’ published by TWG press, and on Radio Taiwan International’s Book of Odes.
i have loved you
from the crinkling of rain on our tin roof
to the lick of flames heating the sand
from the shuffle of covers
flipped over sleeping bodies
the wiggle of our little world
shaken by the earth rumbling
to the thump of bass
muffled by walls
and the stomp of heels dancing along
from crying to laughter
from fear to whispers
from joy and pain and exaltation
to grace and perfect beauty,
from shores and sunsets
mountain ridges and tall grass
blood shared by hungry parasites
love shared by generous family
fruit shared by a hungry household
fingers slipping into juice slipping
into fingers into finding each other
over and over and over again
taste the salt of the ocean with you
devour the sweetness of life
suck on sour disappointment
dissolve the bitterness of sorrow
all mingling upon our tongues
hold you into wild blue mornings
follow you into loud purple nights
gaze with you into soft pink dusks
shout into bright yellow noons
sit with you in deep green evenings
love you into sweet orange sunrise
we gift ourselves the time
to feel it all
as the light falls over our blue mountains
let it fill us with the promise
of tomorrow and tomorrow again
Vivien Lee How did the two of you meet?
Colum Boyer We met in Taipei in May 2017. I was traveling at the time, and we matched on Tinder. I remember we chatted a little bit after we matched, but I wasn’t in Taipei long before heading south to Nantou to work at a small eco-village. After I returned to Taipei, we arranged to meet at the record store where he worked on one of my last nights in Taiwan. A friend and I went shopping before I went to meet him — I was determined to get some nail polish (and I did! Some light pink that I kept for a long time after). I took the train to Acudus’s store, and immediately hid in the bathroom as soon as I got there. I was so nervous!
Acudus Aranyian There was another group of friends of mine in the store too and they convinced Colum to come with us to a cafe bar that I liked going to called Le Chat. My English was even worse than now, it was quite awkward. On the day we met, I was also having an argument with my family. The previous months had been pretty depressing because of the conditions of the world around me and several issues that had happened to me in that year.
That was my first impression of him: he was pure, I was truly lucky to get to spend time with him. And I still feel lucky now.
Vivien What was your first impression of each other?
Acudus His appearance was sudden. Because he only had three days left in Taiwan, I kind of kidnapped him from his hostel. We were just hanging out in my apartment in Tamsui the whole time. I remember we talked, and cried together, watched movies, and talked, cuddled together, and cried. That was my first impression of him: he was pure, I was truly lucky to get to spend time with him. And I still feel lucky now.
Colum I think we both have a quiet and gentle nature. We got back to his neighborhood in Tamsui and bought some stinky tofu from a roadside stand before heading up to his studio apartment. We sat on his balcony and watched Girlfriend Boyfriend. We spent the next 36 hours together — we hung out with his friends and my friend I’d met the previous week in Nantou. Everything we did that day was imbued with beauty; I could sense the world opening up in a way I hadn’t for a long time. On the night before my flight, we slept on his floor because his best friend was in the bed. There was a moment when I thought I would be sleeping on the floor alone; I felt so relieved when he set up to sleep next to me. He walked me to the bus stop – the R27 to Tamsui MRT station. It’s insane to think that that could’ve been the end. After I left Taiwan, I felt so heartbroken — I cried a lot on the train to the airport and in my windowless hostel room in Chungking Mansions. I felt an immense loss, even though we had known each other for less than two days. It seemed impossible to me that I had met someone like him only to have it end so abruptly and permanently. I’d really never met anyone like him. After a few days in Hong Kong, I realized there was no option other than scrapping my plans and returning to Taipei.
I worked at a hostel in Dongmen and we spent most of our free time together. I fell in love with him during those weeks. Facing another departure, I again felt that the situation was impossible and unfair. There was so much uncertainty and sadness when I went back to Virginia. We talked on the phone for hours at a time – sometimes we didn’t talk, but just had the connection open while we lived our separate day/night/day. It wasn’t long before I decided to go back to Taiwan, this time to make a home and see where it would take us.
Vivien Tell me about your favorite moments living in Taiwan together, what your life looked like there.
Colum I’d never lived in a big city before, so moving to Taipei was really exciting for me. The first month there was so sweet. It was August and extremely hot. I stayed at Acudus’s apartment while I looked for my own place, and, for the first few weeks, rarely ventured out on my own. I felt so shy about living in a country where I didn’t speak the language and didn’t even know how to order food. It was difficult, and I had no idea what I was doing, but I was so, so happy. Every long hot day felt precious. I remember smoking on the balcony in the late afternoon, listening to the jingle of the garbage trucks making their rounds in Tamsui, and looking at the high-rise buildings against a blinding sinking sun. I remember buying mangoes from the sunset market down the hill from the apartment. My whole world had shrunk into Acudus’s room, the streets around Tamkang University, and the paths along the Tamsui River. By the end of the month, I’d found an apartment and a job and the world came rushing in with it.
Acudus We used to go on rooftops a lot, especially the one we love the most near Guting station. We liked to get snacks and cans of Taiwan beer from the FamilyMart downstairs before walking confidently into the building and past the security guard, like we belonged, even though we didn’t live there. We took off our clothes and danced with friends or just lay up there and watched the sky. Our rooftops stretched from Tamsui and Guting to our new neighborhood in Zhonghe. These roofs brought me the best moments I had in Taipei. Life was beautiful there even though I was depressed all the time. I had to rely on some medication, and I also worked hard to avoid military service. After I dropped out from school, I quit my job at the record store. I encountered more racists throughout my job hunt. Until living these uncomfortable experiences for myself, I didn’t really realize that being indigenous in Taiwan meant I had to face all these problems. So I kind of didn’t have a stable job during my last year in Taipei. I spent more time focusing on photography – documenting daytime protests (for Marriage Equality and Transitional Justice for Indigenous Taiwanese) and queer nightlife in the city. Korner was gone after mid-2018, but then there were more techno venues blooming all over the city.
We protested on Qingdao East Road outside of the Legislative Yuan. On the day the Constitutional Court announced the decision that prohibiting same-sex marriage is unconstitutional, I was wearing traditional Paiwan clothing that my grandmother made for me. We cried in relief once on that day, and cried again on the day after the referendum in 2018 showed most Taiwanese were anti LGBTQIA+. Even though love won at the end (same-sex marriage in Taiwan became legal on 24 May 2019), we got the right we need, and our government seemed like it did a great job throughout the ongoing pandemic, I’m sure there are still a lot of issues we need to focus on and take care of now and in the future.
Colum One thing I really love about Taipei is how accessible nature is. The whole city is surrounded by mountains and forest and the ocean is just to the north. There was this beach, Shalun Beach, where we would go camping with friends. We’d gather a lot of firewood — from the woods behind the dunes or from the broken-down bamboo windbreak fence — and make a big fire. The woods between the road and the beachfront were a well-known cruising area for gay men. Condom wrappers strewn over the leaflitter and pine needles. There was something lawless about those nights on the beach, about fiercely dragging tree limbs across the sand and stripping the dilapidated fence, about wondering if passengers on low-flying arrivals to Taoyuan airport could see our flames. Acudus was always the DJ and we would all dance. Those are some of my favorite memories.
Vivien What was it like moving to New York right before the pandemic?
Colum When we arrived to the US in September 2019, our plan was to move to New York in January or February. This was pushed back to March. By late February, we’d found a sublet for the end of March through May or June. We got train tickets and were all set to go. Then, only a few weeks later, we canceled everything. It was a blow for us. We had a comfortable life in Crozet and got to watch our niece grow and celebrate her first birthday. But while we were very connected with family, we were disconnected from the rest of the world. While I had a job I loved, we both felt that our lives were on hold in a sense. Still, I consider us lucky that we could stay in Virginia through those early days of the outbreak in the US. I kept working and life carried on. Still there was a growing feeling that we needed to push ourselves out, as soon as it felt reasonable to do so. That moment came at the end of May, but it’s debatable whether it was a reasonable time or not.
Acudus It was interesting when we moved here in June. People were still clapping on the streets or from the windows at 07:00 PM every day. Protests for Black lives were happening all across New York. And then there was a curfew in New York City, it was crazy! I finally understood how it was like in Taiwan during martial law before I was born (I’m sure there were still a lot of differences). We were looking for jobs when few businesses were open. Meanwhile, we were back on the streets to protest. It was amazing to see people stand on the streets to talk about racism in America, which is still hard to bring up and discuss in most countries in Asia.
Vivien What is your favorite part about building a new life here?Acudus Even just thinking about building a new life here with Colum feels unbelievable. My favorite part is to fall asleep with his heartbeat, and to wake up and see he’s actually with me. I’d never expected that I’d be able to be in love and live with another living human being. Especially when he’s asleep, just to look at him and touch his hair, I can’t really find a way to express the feeling of it. But it can always surprise me about how crazy it is.
Colum We make meals for each other, and Acudus has a way of making even a simple meal like grilled cheese and salad feel like a whole gorgeous experience. Our bedroom holds so much love and so many memories. It’s a foundation. I look forward to meeting more people and to living a more vibrant life when we can all revel together again.
Vivien What are your favorite qualities about each other? And the least favorite?
Colum Acudus is one of the most emotionally intelligent people I’ve ever met. He is really perceptive to how those around him are feeling. When talking about how he is feeling, he always takes his time and uses deliberate language – he’s so in touch with himself. He’s also really thoughtful and considerate. Sometimes I can be careless or a little tactless, and his honesty and consideration balances me out and reminds me of how I can be better. Being so emotionally in tune comes with challenges, and his tendency to shut down when he is upset or sad can really throw me. There’s a switch and he can become inaccessible and unreadable to me, which I now know is a time when I can only give him space without withholding affection or attention or reacting defensively.
Acudus He’s good at planning long-term strategies; and I’m not. He seems born with this ability. I’m not joking. If you could see him planning stuff and see how he leads me working on our plans, you’d understand why it’s one of my favorite qualities about him. But when we’re talking about short-term stuff or need to make a decision immediately – this situation is my least favorite. Most of the time he can’t even tell left and right (same with east and west). The good thing is that we have opposite abilities about making short/long term plans. I know what to eat for dinner tonight, and he knows when to visit Taiwan together next time.
Colum Acudus has little tolerance for bullshit or disingenuousness. He’s not one for insincere small talk or fakeness – he simply doesn’t make time for fake or self-serving people. I think this has its strengths but also its pitfalls. Cutting through the bullshit is extremely important and refreshing; but it can sometimes be limiting, I think. It could perhaps cut off friendships or collaboration before they have a chance to develop past a sort of bantering, superficial level. Sometimes you have to put up with a little bit of that to get to something deeper. Still, recognizing fake-acting people is invaluable and I always pay attention to how he feels about someone, because he is more often right than wrong when it comes to judging character.
Acudus The most important quality about Colum that I like is that he still has that kind, pure, and soft heart. Even after all the arguments we had and how much time has passed. As long as the smell behind his neck is still the same, he’s always pure in my mind.
Colum There’s so much I adore about Acudus. He has impeccable music taste and an excellent sense of style. He’s a talented photographer. He’s curious about the world and the lives of other people. He appreciates comfort. He is clean and organized (and puts up with me when I am unorganized). He likes singing and lip-syncing Rihanna songs while wearing a wig and bathrobe in our living room. Acudus also always knows when it’s time to leave the party! Something I still haven’t learned.
Vivien What does devotion mean to each of you?
Acudus My trust in this relationship, the time I’ve spent on this relationship, and my expectations of this relationship. I wasn’t expecting to have anything like what we have before I met him. I didn’t know I’d decide to keep living before I met him. He lit a little hope on the first night we met when we were having stinky tofu and watching Gf*Bf on the balcony of my apartment in Tamsui. After two years, we made a goal to move out of Taiwan to start a new life. Now we’re here, and the hope is still there when he’s holding my hand. We both put our devotion to this hope, wishing for a better future for both of us. And there will be a day when we think maybe it’s time to move back to Taiwan.
Colum Beyond commitment, I think devotion in love and relationships means always seeking to learn more about the other person. We are all so deep and complicated, especially in ways that aren’t visible or readily shared. As individuals, no one can ever know us as we know ourselves, just as we can never see ourselves as others see us. Devotion, in part, means coming from a place where you understand that you can’t know everything about your partner and that it’s ok. It’s only when we stop seeking understanding and start holding fast to a fixed idea that devotion will decay. My devotion to Acudus is grounded in loving and honoring all of his person and soul, even those that I can’t see or that I may dislike or disagree with.
Kira Wei-Hsin Jacobson