What’s the first thing you ask someone you’ve just met?
“Where are you from?” Or “Where’s home for you?”
Especially if you’re an expat, right. The words literally roll off your tongue, after, “Hi, I’m So and So.”
And even if you’re not living overseas, it doesn’t take long for the inevitable question to crop up in conversation, “So, is this your hometown?”
I never quite know what to say to that – “Well, I’m from Australia, but I was born in New Zealand….but we’ve been living in Asia, ummmm.”
Recently, I went back to my place of birth, New Zealand. It’d been 15 years! Needless to say, I was taken aback when the friendly lady at Customs said “Welcome Home!” And just quietly, it had me feeling a little bit nostalgic.
Living overseas, as in not Australia, for a significant chunk of that 15 years, meant it was no longer a hop, skip and a jump across the ditch and well, life just got in the way.
This time though, I had my husband, my Small Person and my mum along for the ride. I invited (some may say coerced) them into taking a trip down memory lane with me. We went back to the suburb I grew up in, we did a drive-by past several of my old houses, my primary school – still looking startling familiar after 40 years, and we pulled into the carpark of my old high school… which was also my mum’s! (Oh the memories!) We even, at my insistence, went down to the beach, where I made my first sandcastles and spent hours wiling away the dreamy days of an idyllic childhood with my grandparents, who’ve long passed.
The trip back, got me thinking about the importance of place.
Psychologist say, memories are cued by the physical environment. When you visit a place you used to live, these cues can cause you to revert back to the person you were when you lived there. The rest of the time, different places are kept largely separated in our minds.
(Sorry if I reverted back to that sulky teenager who lived on a diet of potato scallops and milkshakes.)
Does our birth place hold a piece of our heart, indefinitely?
Growing up spending many a school holiday on my granddad’s boat, I’m definitely at my calmest and happiest when there’s water within my eye’s reach.
Obviously, the factors that influence our identities are too numerous and complex to investigate in this single post but just how much or how little our birthplace shapes us, it seems, after doing some research of my own, is still debatable.
For me, after 31 years in Australia, give or take a few, I feel more like an Aussie than a Kiwi. There’s little trace left of the former ‘fush n chups’ accent (except when I’m tired or have too many vinos); the sunburnt country long ago captured my heart.
But here’s the clincher, I’m still not an Aussie citizen. Gasp! (Luckily, I’m not going into politics!)
A couple of reasons have stopped me, mostly I credit laziness to this inability to take the citizenship test! I mean, I’ve covered more Australia Days as a journalist than I’ve had burnt sausages on a barbie.
And in those early days, being a Kiwi in Oz, didn’t have much of an impact on those all important things, like free university tuition, etc..
But maybe, just maybe there’s a little bit of guilt or is it reluctance to let go? Does giving up your allegiance to your home country mean you’re saying goodbye to your past? (There was no dual citizenship back then.)
I still find myself torn whenever the All Blacks are playing the Wallabies (I mean we all know who’s going to win, don’t we)? 😉
And I get a chill down my spine when the Haka plays – sometimes I have to stop myself from launching into the actions. When I’m called on to recite a song (and this happens more than you might think) I always choose the Maori song, Tutira Mai Nga Iwi, I learned in primary school.
And I still miss certain things unique only to the Land of the Long White Cloud. Namely and most importantly my family members who still reside there, and I’m still partial to a Chocolate Thins biscuit, a Snifter or a glass of L & P.
People often tell me, the fact that Ava, our small person, was born in Hong Kong and lived in Asia until she was six years old will have a big impact on her. Will it, I wonder?
She’s what they call a Third Culture Kid (TCK) – a phrase coined by an American sociologist, referring to a child who’s spent a significant part of their formative years outside their parents culture. (Her Dad’s English just to add to the equation.) People who fit the TCK bill have a tendency to mix and merge their birth culture with their adopted culture, creating one of their own: a third culture. Born in Hong Kong to a New Zealand-born mum, an English dad, (both her and him with Aussie citizenship) and three formative years in Xi’an China. Where’s home?
There’s no denying she’s more at home with chopsticks; and dim sum and rice are her favourite foods. She’s more au fait with Chinese New Year than Australia Day, and perhaps it’ll be a favourite Chinese song she remembers in time over an Aussie one. Ask her where she’s from – it’s undoubtedly Hong Kong. But Australia’s blue skies and endless parks have definitely hit her sweet spot.
For me, living in Hong Kong and Xian, my roots became more poignant than ever. So far away from everything I knew, we celebrated ANAC Day and Australia day with more gusto than I ever had on home soil. Even Melbourne Cup pulled on the heart strings.
Experts say place does shape us at a fundamental level. We all learn to communicate and understand our world through sharing language, customs, behaviours, beliefs and values.
And in all reality, doesn’t each town, city, state and country has it’s own local vocabulary, accents, values, ideas, economies, industries, local newspapers and radio stations? In essence, it’s very own unique culture. Heck, in China each province has its own culinary delights.
Winston Churchill famously proclaimed that “we shape our buildings, and afterwards, our buildings shape us.
I’ve stolen this quote from Cup of Jo’s fabulous blog, by actress Helen Mirren, “Where you grew up becomes a big part of who you are for the rest of your life. You can’t run away from that. Well, sometimes the running away from it is what makes you who you are.”
Identity is attached to a sense of belonging, usually through family ties or deep emotional connections and it’s pretty evident we all bare some of the cultural and emotional legacies, whether good or bad from our hometowns.
Environmental psychologist Susan Clayton says: “For better or worse, the place where we grew up usually retains an iconic status.
Is it any wonder memories of finding and eating oysters off the rocks at five years old are forever etched in the bowels of my mind. The iconic Pacific oyster!
It might not be home now, but saying “Haere Ra…..” (Goodbye) forever to New Zealand was never really an option
And as Henning Mankell says, “You can have more than one home. You can carry your roots with you and decide where they grow.”
I like that idea.
What do you think? Do you have one home or many?
Read, about our repatriation back Down Under here…
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- Back to China: The Place Where Anything is Possible - May 3, 2018