What does home mean to you? As the old saying says, is it where the “heart” is? What about where you grew up?
This is a question that often vexes me. Sure, the above are the easy answers, but none of them fit all that well into my upbringing. Growing up, I never spent more than 6 years in any city. And no more than 4 years in any one house. By the time I finished college, I had lived in 16 different houses in 8 cities on 3 continents.
9 months ago, I sat d0wn to lunch with Somewhere There is Jeannie, another NYC-based travel blogger who was there, not only meet me for the first time, but to hand me a book. But this was no novel or even anything you could read. It was shaped like a rectangle, with a colorful cover and dozens upon dozens of blank pages. The book came with a question that demanded an answer:
“Write a personal story about leaving home at some point in your life.”
Who would ask such a question? An artist. Lee Mingwei, to be exact. This book was one of 100 that was to be part of an exhibit called “The Travelers,” currently on display at New York City’s Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA) through March 26, 2012. Before arriving at the museum for the exhibition, each book underwent a journey around the world, passed along from one individual to the other. The chance to partake in this exhibit? Where do I sign up??
My Meaning of Home
I thought long and hard about my contribution here. I mean, how could I write about leaving home if I didn’t know what home meant to me? So I started to write. The end result was a very different version of home. I’d love to share my piece with you below.
“I had an unusual upbringing. By the time I was 12, I had lived in 5 cities on 2 continents, so the only consistent “home” in my life was where my family was. Having moved away for college at 18, I never once looked back as I trudged into the unknowns of life.
But all that changed when I took up a study abroad opportunity that my university was offering in Thailand. This was not my first time abroad by any scope of the imagination, but it was my first time going solo. And I found myself to be absolutely terrified of the experience.
After arriving in Bangkok, where I stayed with a friend of a friend, I was to set off on my own for my very first backpacking adventure in Laos, which, at the time, wasn’t nearly the tourist hotspot that it is today. Even having spent a night in Thailand, I fretted about my imminent departure.
It wasn’t until I arrived in the northern Thai city of Chiang Rai and made my way to the bus terminal where almost nobody spoke English that I immediately felt at home in these surroundings that were completely new and unknown to me!
And right then and there, I realized something about myself. Home, for me, can literally be wherever I want it to be. My only stipulation is that I have to keep exploring and discovering anew. This could be my own, very large backyard (New York City) or somewhere in rural Bhutan!
“Leaving home” for me is when I fall into a routine. When I stop seeing things with the same childlike wonderment with which you experience things when you travel. This is not something I want to experience.
Now, when I set off into the unknown of a new place, I get incredibly excited because I know that I am going home!”
If you’re going to be in New York City, be sure to check out Lee Mingwei’s “The Travelers,” through March 26, 2012 at the Museum of Chinese in America (215 Centre Street).
Now, I’m curious. What does home mean to you?