Where are you from?

I think when one lives “abroad,” there is some upside-down U-shaped curve about feelings towards one’s home country (or passport-holding country).

Before you leave the national borders of the land that you grew up in, you don’t consider that you could be from another country. “Where are you from?” is usually assumed to be the state or province that one is from.

Once you set foot outside, whether to study, live, or tour, at first, you feel proud to answer I’m _________ or I’m from _________ and state your nationality or home country with pride. It’s almost as if it is in these instances that you yourself become explicitly aware of your country of loyalty. In particular if you don’t look like what people usually assume to be the look of a person of such nationality–usually because of your race–then, in these instances you may feel you have to defend your legitimacy with an overcompensating force and each time someone accepts what you say without further questions is a triumph. It’s something that can warm your blood and make you feel more patriotism then you ever felt because sometimes in your own country you may have hunches about some portion of the population simply assuming you are not local and does not bother to inquire.

But hey, after living abroad for over a year, everything begins to change. The concept of being a citizen of a country seems increasingly arbitrary and elusive. “Where are you from?” is now answered with increasing nonchalance and you no longer give two shits about whether people question it or not. You are not bothered by a further explanation if need be. Everything goes. Without your overly confident answers, people feel free enough to even use the term “passport country” as a follow-up clarification. What does it matter, really, on a human level?

I am a citizen of the world. I believe in global interests. I don’t think war is ever the answer. Why do we draw boundaries?

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Snippets from 21st Century Vagabonds, No. 1

Intermittently, I will post snippets from my observations and interactions with travelers that I have met on trips to southern Africa in the past year. I have decided to affectionately refer to them as “21 Century Vagabonds,” which I hope is not offensive to any party.

The first traveler that I met on my journey was an American in his 60s who has been sailing solo around the world for the past ten years. We met in the lovely city of Johannesburg. Johannesburg has quite the reputation for crime, but for me it was the place that energized me and motivated me to travel on, keep seeing, and keep learning from travelers. Like in life, one’s impressions of a place is ultimately down to the people one meets. I was a lucky one. The white bearded and leather-skinned traveler had an easy and approachable attitude towards life that enticed me to find that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow that he had seemingly found.

So, this is the story that he told me.

As a young man, he had spent a few years as a Peace Corps volunteer in Kenya. Following the international stint, he returned to America and worked as an engineer for Nissan all his life. Finally, he was offered early retirement at the age of 50. When he realized that living on his small sailboat was cheaper than living in his house in California combined with his lifelong goal of traversing the world, he sold his house and began his journey. First, he sailed south, hugging the coast, making it down to Latin America. He would dock at a place and live there for several months or years before moving on. For the last couple of years, he has been docked in Southeast Asia. He enjoys the tropical climate of Indonesia. Every year, he returns home to celebrate Christmas with his elderly parents.

“Wonderful” is the only way that I could describe my response. I was awestruck when he relayed his story. Without much prior sailing experience, he simply just up and went.

I want to keep these stories of carefree bravery, always.

Moonlight

Got on the bandwagon rather late and only just watched the film, Moonlight, tonight. If you have not seen it yet, I urge you to. You are short-changing yourself and your human experience. **Forewarning of potentially not-so-PC language to follow.** Moonlight is the first all-black cast film that I have seen that transcends race and other categories of identity politics, to be, above all, about the human experience. Watching the film is itself a human experience. It will make you engage within yourself and consume you with questions and just pure awe. It is a film that makes me wonder if I am not getting the most out of this human life by not having explored my potential in art more. It is also during these moments that I know what is art and why art is important. Art is about expression. Not any expression. But, the ability to express what a lot of folks want to, yet cannot express well. And it’s about expressing in a manner that captures you, captures your senses, and makes you question your values and your premises.

Americanah

To all those interested in Africa or humanity, broadly, please check out Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche. It is novel that has affected me greatly. It has been eating me inside out, almost like how Camus’s The Stranger did for me in high school. Adiche’s novel resonates with me and at the same time, challenges me. It raises a very personal question for me, that is, to what extent am I being authentic? Instead of simply living life as me, am I creating various eccentricities as a means to feign authenticity?

Forgetting to breathe

So far, I have found at least one similarity between Third and First World living, that is my forgetting to breathe.  However, the differences behind it are starkly different in each setting. Living in a city in the Third World means walking on dirt pavements or no pavements, directly adjacent to passing vehicles, and constantly being enveloped in a mist of dirt, dust, exhaust fumes, smoke, and other pollutants. After a while, I became so accustomed to holding in my breath as soon as my nostrils caught a hint of strong exhaust or backyard trash-burning that I found myself breathing less, taking shallower breaths, or forgetting to breathe from time to time. Perhaps, my body adjusted to a new equilibrium of lower oxygen intake?

Back in the First World, today I have realized that I am also forgetting to breathe as much I believe I should. In the life of endless to-do lists and ceaseless ways to be more productive, breathing almost takes too much. Perhaps, that is why so-called mindfulness seminars and meditative practices such as yoga are so popular in First World cities? Through the development process we may lose some aspect of our primal humanity in the quest of becoming a superior homo rational?

Divisions

New experiences and knowledge brings us closer to humanity lived in ways differently than understood to us previously, yet also breeds division between our previous way of life and people therein. How to establish balance between the new and old? Is there a way to keep both or is it a zero sum game to some extent?

Communication is a beautiful thing

There are not as many moments in life where there is raw and forthcoming two-way communication as there ought to be. It’s beautiful and liberating. I hope everyone can practice this more often, losing our facades and just let ourselves and let others be.

Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. These inalienable rights as put forth in the Declaration of Independence by our founding fathers have become truisms. But, being a truism doesn’t mean that these freedoms are always there for us to enjoy. Yes, there can be forces from the outside which threaten these rights, but do not underestimate the forces from within. Sometimes, unbeknownst to our conscious, we create an internal system of shackles that impede our potential freedom and happiness in this life. Let your inner authenticity thrive.

The greatest feeling in the world

…is simple, spontaneous, unconditional happiness.  To feel happy not because one has accomplished a big goal but for no reason at all is in my opinion the sensation to live for. It is an acceptance of ourselves and appreciation of the forces bigger than us. The glory of a clear sunny day after consecutive days of Spring showers is not to be underestimated. We can be happy just to exist, just to be a minuscule part of this magic. Perhaps it is the motivation to witness another clear sunny day that drives us to carry on.

Snobbery and aspiring to roughness

Can they coexist? Well, 21st century hipster culture has certainly proved itself capable. Hipster culture is embodied by food trucks cooking up instagram-friendly fusion foods and coffeehouses serving pricey brews in an industrial setting, among other examples. This culture of juxtaposition is at the heart of the millennial generation. Perhaps, it is a call for help? A sign of being lost and confused? Of having no firm traditions to hold onto for comfort as when one opens up anything and everything to objective analysis, almost no tradition of yesteryear seems like they were founded on firm grounds. Alas, to build anew involves pairing previously contradictory items to bring shock to the system, in hopes that this experimentation will yield something that can be held onto. Perhaps the millennial generation will not find a single yield from the process to be satisfactory, but rather what defines them is this journey of innovation instead. Of course, innovation is not new (*chuckle*), but it is the particular class of millennial innovation, which is not often first-order innovation such as inventing the wheel itself, but rather innovation of the second or third order, such as using old wheels as legs of a cafe table.