Monday, February 28, 2011

Finding Home

When one lives in a country other than his or her birth, there is sometimes a curious struggle involved in answering the question "Where are you from?" It may seem like a simple question, but often is not. The correct answer may well be "It depends."

It depends on what one considers to be the definition of "home." For me the answer is easy if I am asked by a Thai. I always answer "Saha raat" (United States). Thais are not interested in where you may consider home, even if you have lived in Thailand most of your life. If your official nationality is not Thai, you are from somewhere else, no matter what. Come to think of it, that's the attitude in Maine: if you are not at least a third generation Mainer, you are from "away."

So back to the question: Where is my home? As one who has moved around quite a bit, that's a difficult question to answer. Is it where I grew up and graduated from high school, even though I rarely visit the town? Is it the town where my siblings spent their high school years, and parents lived there far longer than where I grew up? Is it San Francisco or Iowa City where I spent the most time in my adult years? What about the place where we now have our property and will spend much of our retirement years? I guess it is a bit more complex than if I had simply stayed put. If someone in the States asks where I am "from" I have a ready three part answer which I always trot out: I grew up in the Midwest, am now in New England, and work in Thailand. It takes a few moments for it to register, but usually makes for interesting conversation.

But an interesting thing has happened in the past year. Now in my sixth year in Thailand (although not all in one continuous time span), I realize that I feel the most comfortable in Bangkok. This is a weird realization, that for all practical and psychological purposes, Thailand is my home. I know the rhythms, both of the day to day ways of life and the seasonal weather swings; I wave to the banana man and security guards; I know the masseuses at the corner spa; the grocery checkout scanners know that I bring my own bags; my neighbors chat with me; and I don't have to tell the local taxi drivers where I'm going. Most importantly, I feel "at home" here, as one does when the comfort level is so high as to make coming home something to look forward to. The other day, we just looked at each other and said, "This feels right." It's the same no matter where you are: if you feel comfortable, you are "home."

In a way, I like the thought that I can move comfortably between such diverse places as Maine and Thailand, and call both places "home." It is difficult to explain to someone who has not had that experience. Simply put, I like having more than one home.