Home Away From Home
Written back in January 2014, at the very start of my six months living in Hiroshima, Japan.
As I sit here in my hotel room in Hiroshima, my makeshift dorm room for the next six months, I think of yesterday, of the crinkly, sympathetic grandfather, the woman with laughing eyes and the soft-spoken schoolboys who, when I found myself stranded on a platform in the far east side of the city, helped me find my way home. And then, I think of home. Is home an inventory of one twin-sized bed, one desk, four hangers and a set of towels?
On the bus ride into the city from the airport, I held my passport in my lap. It’s blue and bound and embossed with gold. The pages itself are pictures and words: pictures of flags, eagles, battlefields, train tracks and quotes of presidents and inventors. In school, they teach you never to judge a book by its cover - which I never realized was true until overcoming my childhood fear of the old, bearded man on the cover of "The Giver", finally reading it and coming to know and understand that frightening, gruff man on the dog-eared paperback. If you judged me like I judged that book, you would see blue, bound and an embossed gold eagle. But if you looked inside, pored through its pages, you would see stamps in faded blues, smudged blacks, dark reds and light purples and dates that tell you I have not stayed in one country for more than three months at a time. You would see that a person cannot be understood by their facial hair and that home cannot be understood by the outside of a passport.
The question of home is everywhere, in every person that shuffles by in a crowded space, in every sad soul who sits on the sidewalk and we call “homeless.” Sometimes the answer is an easy, one word: “Toronto.” I can’t decide whether those people are the lucky ones, or whether the lucky ones are the ones like me. I used to glorify our house in California since it seemed like the right kind of place to call home. It had avocado trees in the backyard and palm trees in the front. There was your typical green hose coiled onto the wall and a peacock that liked to sleep in front of our garage. My neighbors to the right were a crabby couple named Steve and Claire and to the left was a family with two snarly Dalmatians. It is the only place we ever had a Christmas tree. But California is not home; it is the place of the lost years, the memories that were somehow left behind like the small things you lose when you move away, though you swear you packed it all.
Living in China made me feel like a tourist and living in Korea made me feel like an outsider to every distant relative who took pleasure in reminding me that though I was born there, I was also born in a foreigner-designated ward of the hospital. Singapore was where I grew up the most, in both age and soul. But because of that, it is also where I have the worst memories - those bad memories of adolescence that eventually become sweet. After I flew the nest and hit the road, Singapore is where I came back to in the small spaces in between trips and continents. It’s where I put scrapbooks together and did big batches of rank laundry.
Now, I’m in limbo, as my brother is off in his first year at college, my parents are moving to Seoul and I have only vague ideas of where I might be seven months from now. But home isn’t a memory - it’s not what you used to have; it really isn’t that tangible. It can’t be a place because it only takes one tornado or bulldozer to tear it down. Home is infinite and it is constant. I’m still sitting here, my thinking and writing almost synchronized. The heater is coughing warmth into the room. My bathroom amusingly resembles the toilets in airplanes. The television is on low even though all that plays are Japanese game shows that lack subtitles, because without it, the silence is too loud. My phone bleeps a Whatsapp message notification; it’s a photo of waffles from my mom.
This is what is true. Home is where the people you love are. It’s where I can take up two seats in the car and rest my head on my mom’s knobby knees. It’s where my dad goes to sleep before eight and my brother doesn’t come home until two. It’s where my dog wakes me up at uncouth hours of dawn so I can put her up on my bed. Home is where the five of us, furry ones too, go to brunch. ♦