It should be a simple question, until we read too much into it. I read too much into it.
Once, on the flight heading back to London from Hong Kong, a middle aged English lady sitting next to me posed that question. She was bored and trying to be friendly at the same time. Where’s home, she asked. I just said goodbye to my ageing parents and didn’t know if I would see them again. I wasn’t in the mood to strike up a conversation with a stranger. I put on a polite smile. She pursued. Where’s home, Hong Kong or England? Both. She paused, decided that the one word answer wasn’t what she expected, and turned her attention to the book she was holding all along. Little did she know that it wasn’t my desired conviction either.
It is not a simple question. Not since I took up permanent residence outside my birth place twenty five years ago. Apparently now I have two places I can call home. Ain’t I lucky? Then why is there an unspeakable sadness lingering deep down?
Every time when I was supposed to be coming home to see my parents, I needed to follow the line of ‘Visitors’ through Customs. The city met me with forever changing faces and continuous tearing down of buildings and traditional values. Nothing is familiar any more. I cannot find my way around. I constantly get lost in the city I grew up in.
Often my dear friends welcome me back with a feast, but would no longer allow me to share the bill. I am grateful for the privilege yet can’t help feeling a little out of place. I yearn so much to be part of the gang again, doing what everyone else is doing.
Back in England, I am often being asked on the phone if I spoke English. I can understand that. With my given name and my accent the person on the line can deduce that I am not local. Even though I have tried to celebrate Christmas like everyone does, am I being forgiven if I secretly missed the red packets, the moon cakes and rice dumplings?
I have tried to take comfort in the saying: home is where the heart is. No matter where you are. Home is where the heart is.
Not a place to belong.
I have now two places I can call home, and I do not feel like I have a place to belong.
It has taken a poignant dialogue between Clooney/Bullock in the movie Gravity to make me realise:
“Where’s home, Dr. Stone?”
“Lake Zurich, Illinois.”
“Is there somebody down there looking up, thinking about you?”
There is my mother sending reminders, that the weather is autumnal and I need to pack my jacket and jumpers before heading back to Hong Kong. There is my sister getting the bed ready. There are my friends making diary notes for our reunion.
There is my girl in London booking her weekend off to spend time with us after my trip. There is my neighbour looking after the house while I’m away and emailing to wish me a happy stay.
I am homeward bound.