Tomorrow morning I'm flying home
and after three weeks at home
I'll go back home
I've been living in Taiwan for a year, eight months, and nine days. This is home now. This is my normal. This is my every day. Signs with Chinese characters in front of every store. Overhearing Mandarin and Taiwanese everywhere I go. Speaking it with people. Everyone is Asian around me. Chinese, Hakka, Aboriginal, some Korean and Japanese, and of course – TAIWANESE. I can't blend in. I'm too tall. People take my photos not-so-candidly. People force their children to speak broken English to me.
I buy lunch on the street and dinner too. I pay for things mostly in coins, some paper, never plastic. I don't drink the tap water. I don't put my trash in a dumpster, I wait for the truck playing cute music to come by and take it down (or more often than not my roommate does because I'm at work).
I alter my mother tongue. I slow it down, enunciate more. I don't use my native accent, nor any of my many “isms” or affectations. I speak Mandarin poorly, but better every day.
I drive a scooter everywhere and am surrounded by scooters. I pay my bills at the 7-11 which is just down the road from the Family Mart and across from the OK Mart. I buy drinks at any of the five tea shops per block and hang the bag they come in from my scooter and drive on.
Rice lunch boxes. Steamed buns. Cold noodles. Ramen. Beef noodles. Coffee shops on every corner selling too-sweet too-white coffee in tall cups, no walls at the shop, lots of shops with no walls actually and just tables around.
Last month I went to eat at a western restaurant. UK style, British fare with a Welsh chef. They gave me a knife and fork. They felt heavy and awkward in my hands. I dropped them loudly on the floor. I asked for chopsticks.
What happens when I go “home” now?
I'll be experiencing my native land but it will feel foreign. It is not my normal anymore. It is not my every day.
There will be white people everywhere. There will be black and brown people, too. They will be much larger than the people I see here. I will understand every word said around me all the time. No one will stare at me nor try to force a photo with their kids. I will not be special or different. I will get inside a car and be surrounded by other cars and we will all park them in … parking LOTS? There will be signs that say “parking for xxxxx customers only” and they may even be enforced.
When I read a price, that is not what I will pay. I will pay a nontrivial percentage of tax. I will pay an even less trivial percentage of tip.
I won't happen upon a random circle of locals sitting roadside sipping tea and eating fresh local seasonal fruit, chewing betel nut and spitting the thick red juice in streams on the asphalt. In fact, people won't be outside too much at all. All inside in their central heat and air fortresses. Rushing to jobs to pay bills multiple times more expensive than my own.
What else will be different? What will surprise me, astound me, frighten me, offend me? What if it's so foreign in fact that it's at the level where I'm going to catch a wee cold or something when I first get there from foreign bacteria?
I'm nervous to go home. I'm afraid to learn I miss it too much and must return quickly; I'm afraid to learn I miss it none and never want to move back.
The first thing that happens is I go to my father's home. After a few days of down time there, I'll go to my high school 15 year reunion in a town I consider my hometown. I'll swim in the second cleanest lake in North America, which also happens to be one of my favorite places on the globe I've been to in my life. I may go up to the NY/NJ area. I may also just spend the whole time hugging my dog and talking with my beloved father.
I'm not sure what this trip will bring or even feel like. I know this and feel it in a way I never have before any other trip.
What happens when home becomes foreign?