When people ask me where I’m from, I can’t help it. I take a deep breath in, and I roll my eyes slightly.
Where am I from?
What a pointless question.
I think people ask it because I have a hard-to-place accent. I think people ask it, because they are trying to put you in a box in their mind. I think people are trying to categorize you. Do the places we are “from” define who we are? I suppose in some ways they do. Where you hail from is a cultural touchstone, a window into the type of person you might be.
Canadians and Americans are similar but different. If you are from Toronto, you are different from someone who is from Montreal or Vancouver. If you are an Australian, people generally assume you are friendly and outgoing. If you are Irish, you like the drink and you can get a bit crazy. Am I stereotyping? Stop me if you disagree. Are people asking you where you are from to hint at who you are? What your roots or heritage might reveal?
There are endless ways we divide ourselves, label ourselves, identify ourselves. In Toronto, I’ve heard people tell they are “from” a specific suburb. Like the area within the city, within the provence, within the country, might help signify more about them.
So where am I from?
I tell people, short answer form, that I am from Australia. I have the (slight) accent, I have the passport, I have the birth certificate. When people ask me where in Australia I am from, I tell them Sydney, because it is the place in Australia I lived most recently (for University) and spent the most years.
In reality, I was born in Perth, on the West Coast, where my father now lives, and where my cousins, Aunts, Uncles and Grandmother have always lived. I think I have spent a total of 6 months in that part of the world in over 25 years.
My mother is a New Zealand citizen. Am I from New Zealand? No. I have never been there and she left when she was 7.
Where am I from?
I spent the greater part of my life in Asia. If I told you I was from Hong Kong, you would laugh in my face (it has happened, people have done a double take and then asked me seriously… “Are you Chinese?”). I am a blonde haired, green eyed, Caucasian woman. My brother is a 6″1 hairy, caucasian giant. He was born in Hong Kong. Where is he from?
My other brother 6″3 currently blonde (or pink) haired (I think) was born in Kuala Lumper. Is he from Malaysia?
I remember a childhood of sweaty hot, monsoony nights. Street food and night markets, grinning faces that looked very different from mine, and conversations all around me in languages that I couldn’t understand.
My Mother has packed up her apartment in Hong Kong, and plans to move to Thailand this month. I am excited for her, for her new adventure. After a decade and a half in the hustling, bustling Fragrant Harbour, I know she is going to enjoy the peace and tranquility of Thailand. I know that she is chasing her dreams, and entering the next chapter of her life. With three fully grown children and another forty years in her, she has definitely got the right idea, jumping into the next adventure.
But a part of me mourns.
For someone who is a self-proclaimed Expat Brat, who moved to Canada without a backwards glance, Hong Kong was in many ways my “Home.” As culturally confused as my family and friends are, Hong Kong is a backdrop where we can all fit in.
Sorry to sound like I’m excluding, but you wouldn’t get it unless you’d grown up there, or lived in another major Expat City, (Kuala Lumper, Shanghai, Singapore, Dubai, Seoul…)
And Hong Kong will always be there. My Mothers departure does not mark the end of the existence of that city. It is simply the last, torn out root of that chapter of my life. I can always still go there, I will always have friends there. I just won’t go “Home” to Hong Kong when I visit my parents.
My parents will be in their chosen cities, and I will be in mine.
Hong Kong is our central location, geographically a middle ground, or halfway house, for my family which is spread out across the Northern and Southern Hemispheres. And while Thailand is close by, it does not hold any of the memories for my family. It will not feel like “Home” for me. Perhaps it will for my brothers who spent a year at Boarding School there. I don’t know. Even between the siblings, with only five years between the youngest and oldest, there is a vast ocean of experiences and childhood memories.
Where am I from?
Home is a word. It embodies a feeling. It cannot be one place because if you asked someone in Cairo where home was, and asked someone in Chicago the same question, both people would point to different spots on the map. It is not a charted destination. It is not physical. Maybe that is why I have always found the concept so confusing. Maybe that is why I think about it more deeply than those who ask:
Where are you from?