Thursday, August 21, 2008

home sweet home

Long-term backpackers are a really cool, interesting bunch. in the same way that I started seeing NYC from a new perspective after being away for so long, I think that being jolted back into the travelling world after a month in my old routine has gotten me thinking about what the common denominator is. I've had the "travelling conversation" (ie where are you from? where have you been? where are you going? why did you leave? etc) with hundreds of people, and the number of stories out there is staggering. but everyone left family, friends and everything else they love and are familiar with, and regardless of the story, it takes a special kind of balls to do that. so they must be searching for something that is, at least temporarily, more urgent. I used to believe I was above all this and that I was just travelling because it was the natural break in my life, but after a month and a half back home in NYC, I think the majority of travellers, including myself, are looking for a place to fit in. a home, or enough time away to be reminded of how great home really is. not that I think people are necessarily aware of this. I only realized that it was home I was truly searching for after I actually came back home to NYC only to leave it again a month and a half later, one of the more painful things I've ever had to do.

I've always raved about NYC to anyone who would listen, but I never really appreciated my life there until I left for places that were completely different, and met people who were on a totally different wavelength. I thought this year would be a scouting trip of sorts, a time to find cities where Michael and I might want to live abroad one day. well, it turns out that I didn't fit in anywhere, and while there are a few places that are so cool I'd definitely live there for a couple of years tops, none of them would ever feel like home. I never achieved "blessed, blessed anonymity" (to quote a friend from India, Matt), and everywhere I went, I felt like an other. in Asia, sometimes I'd get mistaken for Indian or Chinese or Thai and I'd think ahh finally, I'll get treated like a local, but when I started speaking I'd get treated like a tourist anyway. even in the Philippines, my own motherland, I still couldn't blend in like everyone else -- I'd speak the local language and I still couldn't get a break because my accent was all wrong.* I was stoked for Europe, the new melting pot where at least I wouldn't be hassled if I wanted a taxi or went to the market, but I found that there were still issues. Cultural attitudes were pretty disparate from mine, and I was even more aware of how "American" I was. not that anyone's attitude was a bad thing, but you know. I was just different.

so after feeling like a total wandering vagrant without a community for 6 months, mildly distrustful right off the bat and grizzled from getting ripped off/hassled so often, I was pretty apprehensive about getting back to the city I'd originally thought was my home -- after how I'd been treated everywhere else, who knew? but it took exactly an hour for me to get over that apprehension. I was going through NYC passport control, and the border officer was rifling through the pages. He asked me where I'd been, told me that he and his wife had loved Berlin (small talk?! wow!), gave me a big grin (an unnecessary smile?! soo American!), and said, "Welcome home." and in the following 6 weeks that I had in NYC, I was half local, half traveller rediscovering it all. home means something different to everyone, but the combination of Michael, community, Brooklyn, vibe, excitement, food and parties was everything I wanted in a happy life. the city just seemed shinier this time around.

then I left, to finish up travelling. 3 months is a drop in the bucket compared to the year I was away from NYC, but somehow this is more painful. if you love your home, you know what I'm talking about -- you think about it constantly whenever you're not there and can't wait to get back. I had to take a detour through 12 countries to find my way back home, but better late than never.

*(I understand that in these developing countries, the way locals treat tourists is often a matter of necessity. everyone has a family to support, and whatever they're overcharging me is tiny relative to my western dollar. but still, it was hard to reconcile that with a gut feeling that had been instilled in me as a child: treat others the way you'd like to be treated, and everyone should be treated equally.)


aww, Brooklyn. I don't live in any of these houses, but I wish I did.

1 comment:

corazon icasiano-francisco said...

Can't wait to see you back home-- even in Brooklyn--