Nǎlǐ shì wǒ de jiā? The Double Life of an Ex-Pat(ish)

I was nervous to return home after being away for two years (not including two actual trips I made that combined were less than one weeks time) I was returning as a visitor, and subconsciously was not ready to face the prospect that I would potentially be a spectator in my own home. An outsider, where I was once a part of life. And the first week confirmed my fear. That life in the little village and the small world I used to know, had promptly continued without a second thought and could function perfectly fine without me in it. Things were familiar, just slightly out-of-place.

In my mind is a picture of the home that I existed in, that I used to know, and in my mind it has not changed in two years, so I expected to pick up right where I left off, not to have to weave my way back into the framework. In each of our minds the only world that exists is the one that we are presently in, so if you are a part of two worlds, it is hard to understand that life goes on without you, time does not stop on one plane of existence if you are busy visiting another, it will not wait. We all know this of course, that the world does not revolve around us, but it is very difficult for our minds to fully comprehend this. The only lense we have to the world is through our own, and as much as you try, there is no actual thing as being purely selfless, because all we have is the self. And it is a great thing, the self.

Unlike most moral codes, instead of trying to escape the self, I think we should be embracing it more than we currently do, accepting it, because this physical being is the basis of all that we are, all that we know. We can only perceive what our eyes see, what our brains think of, we can get a sense of what it is like to be other people but we can never really get a sense of living in someone else’s brain (until virtual reality entertainment becomes commonplace and we can spend a day in the life of someone famous and I cannot predict how in-depth it will go but I doubt it will be brain probing, just a glimpse of someone else’s material world).

This is especially hard to face when it comes to the concept of home. Home is this construct of stability, so much to the point where a lot of times, primarily in the ex-pat community, it can also represent a negative symbol of stasis. So that there is this general stigma that returning home is to digress and that one can never find growth or change in the place where they came from. After my own return home I find this to be (mostly) false.

Of course for some people, “home” is an unchanging face of structure in one’s life and they have no desire to change, which often times equates with no desire to leave or experience new things. And no, you cannot change without experiencing anything new, at least I believe, in a positive way, but there is the opportunity to change in your home environment and have new experiences in your home setting. It is much more difficult, and you have to be a very self motivated person in order to seek out change in such a comfortable environment. In contrast to the common stigma I think it can be done, and I think it shows almost as much bravery reaching out in a space that you are comfortable to make it uncomfortable, that to go somewhere new and have that be your uncomfortable space and keep home as a comfort zone in your back pocket.

One of my coworkers asked me upon my return, “So, how was going home” and I responded “It was great, so nice to be home” and he said (with a slight grimace) “But you don’t think you could ever live there again right?” I wasn’t quite sure how to respond to that so I just shrugged. But this week being back in Taiwan I have thought a lot about this question. Do I think I could live there again? Yes. No. I feel both ways, which has been leaving me with a profound sense of displacement. The duality of being an expat. I don’t solidly belong anywhere.

Always being an outsider takes its toll. I’m only 26 and I’m tired of the outside. Maybe that is human nature, as much of an anti-social human I am, we are social creatures and have a natural instinct to form tribal like bonds with other humans. And when we don’t have that we don’t feel quite fully human. People were once nomadic, but nomadic tribes not individuals. Today there seems to be a large number of nomadic individuals, for a variety of circumstances, but we are becoming more and more detached from each other and feeling less and less human. Yes I feel like I could live at home again, surrounded by people I have a special bond with, people who are like me. It dawned on me this week, in my predominantly male work environment with my predominantly male circle of friends, that I miss female companionship. I miss being around girls that I share similar interests with, who have had similar life experiences. It’s taken me two solid years to come to this conclusion. In most cases a home environment is where you are going to find people most like you, at least a home country. After leaving the best people I have ever met and will ever know it was hard to come back to Taiwan and realize how acutely alone here I really am.

Do I feel like I could ever live at home again? No. In some ways visiting made me realize how the space I once held in my home environment had been erased, the position you hold is no longer necessary, your role has been filled by people in other departments. I feel like I don’t have the personality to force myself back into people’s lives again and I am not one of those self-motivated people who can seek out change in an environment that is already comfortable to them. For me that would be an immense challenge. I’ve always had to force myself to do constructive things, especially when it comes to comfort zone, I know myself well enough that I know if I want something, I have to put myself in a situation where I am forced to do it, I won’t go for it on my own, I always have to fool myself into improvement.

Home is always equated with a sense of nostalgia, and it was. It made me happy to see the people I love, it made me sad to feel I don’t belong there. It made me worried that I don’t know where the future looks like if it is not here and not there. Too much is uncertain, too much is unknown, and there is the cliché that the “uncertain future” is exhilarating and frightening all at once, but really it is just stressful and anxiety inducing so the only solution is to do whatever you can to keep yourself so busy you forget about it, until you remember and then you have a panic attack. Which is at least how I feel most mid-twenty-somethings deal with it.

So now I am back in Taiwan, facing my country commitment issues; it’s been three years I should get a scooter,I still buy phone credit at 7-11, two more years and I can get and APRC and be a permanent resident, Chinese lessons, buying appliances I don’t know if I will keep, how much emotional investment do you put in to a place when you don’t know how long you will stay? If you put your whole heart in, and you don’t stay it is surely to get left behind. If you don’t put enough in, you will never really be in the present, always thinking about leaving.

As we go through life there are some things that require you to put in emotional investment, primarily people, but places, and career paths as well. None of those investments guarantee any kind of return. That’s why getting attached to anything is terrifying, it is giving away a part of yourself that you are more than likely never going to get back. And if you keep giving yourself away, what will you have left for yourself? And what good will all this have done for you? On the other hand, if you don’t put your heart into anything and you always leave yourself guarded you end up lost and alone, kind of like me. So what is the right thing to do? I literally don’t have a clue where to start.

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